Mistake 25: Overplaying Emotions

70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes by Bob Mayer, from The Writer’s Digest Writing Kit

Why this is a mistake: Have you ever been forced to watch awkward
public displays of affection when you wished you were someplace
else or just wanted to tell someone to go get a motel room?

Novice writers tend toward hyperbole in order to make sure the reader gets it, and this can lead to the creation of characters who always overreact. Characters whose emotions go with the wind are constantly reacting to a given scene. They might enter the scene smiling and in a good mood. Then something happens and they become angry. Then they hear something and laugh. Then they see something and become sad. Then someone says something that triggers a childhood memory and they cry. Then someone walks by and they’re in love, and all of this occurs in four pages. This, needless to say, is very unrealistic; the reader knows this isn’t a real character with real feelings.

The solution: In real life most people—unless they are very dramatic—are pretty stable and have a basic emotion that isn’t easily swayed or changed by external events.

Give your character a basic core emotion for each scene. Then, if her emotions are going to change, use a specific action to facilitate that change, and make it clear to the reader why they, too, would change their emotion in response to that action.

Try to visualize the characters as real people, with their scenes playing out right in front of you. How would you feel if you saw this happening? Would you be calling for the men in the white coats to take your characters away?

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