Is Showing Emotion in Fiction Always Necessary? Sometimes the facts speak for themselves.
There is a strong trend at the moment towards deep point of view and taking the reader inside the world of the protagonist. The idea is to describe everything the protagonist is feeling and to immerse the reader so deeply it is as though they are within the protagonist’s skin.
It is an intimate, visceral experience for the reader with the intention of drawing them into the story.
With deep point of view, there are no assumptions. That’s because different characters react to events differently and as writers, we need to show those reactions.
In my own writing, the recurring feedback was that I did not show enough of my protagonist’s emotions. Rather than simply telling them that Helen lost her home to financial trouble, missed out on her dream job and was cheated in business by someone she trusted, my readers wanted to know how she felt about these events.
I took their advice on board and showed Helen agonizing over what to take to her new home and what to leave behind, forcing a smile on her face when she met the woman who took her job and the wave of coldness washing over her when she realized she had been cheated by someone she trusted.
These were Helen’s reactions and they were particular to her, but a more highly strung character might have reacted differently. Helen is a measured, reserved character, but someone hot tempered may have thrown everything into a skip, turned her back on the woman who took her job and confronted the person who cheated her in business.
I am glad that I took the advice of my beta readers and I believe my novel is better for it. But having said that, there is also a strong case for writing with detachment; of reporting events as they happen and leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions about how the protagonist is feeling.
In cases of writing about serious trauma, writing with detachment can be very effective. Sometimes, people in these situations are so overwhelmed that they shut down. Unable to process their emotions, they become detached observers to the events around them.
In her memoir, Beginnings, author Millie Bayliss states simply My sister died the next year. This statement sits starkly between two paragraphs describing her blissfully writing songs and poetry as a child.
The sentence is jarring and out of place, like the death of her sister must have been to young Millie. There are no racing hearts, sweaty palms or floods of tears, but she gets her point across; her sister’s death was devastating.
So while I am a fan of deep point of view and showing a character’s reaction in motion, sometimes a simple statement of fact can leave a powerful impact on the reader.
Beginnings by Millie Bayliss, The Victorian Writer, December 2019 – January 2020