As I was reading this book, I noticed another technique the author uses to demonstrate the character's intense emotions:
Let me explain. Caitlin, the MC, begins the book with her response to the news of her best friend's death. And instead of saying, "OMG, I was so devastated," and screaming and crying, Caitlin does this:
But my hands are wild, they need to move, so I pick at a piece of the bench where the wood is splintering. I break a short nail on my right hand even shorter, but I manage to pull off a small piece of wood. I drop it into my cupped palm and pry off another ... My left hand is all the way full of wood now, and it's starting to spill over.At another point, she does this:
I'm pulling the fake fur from the front seat covers even though I love them. I can't stop my fingers; white tufts are falling everywhere ... the backs of the seat covers are furless. My hand aches.Whoa. Is this book about a kid with OCD? No! In these moments, the author is showing us just how deeply distressed Caitlin is by having her perform a seemingly purposeless, idiosyncratic behavior. Simple. Concrete. Fascinating. We're not being told Caitlin is crying/moping/sobbing/lamenting. We're being shown that there are things inside her, intense feelings, deep regrets, panic ... all screaming, growing, the pressure building up and ... it comes out in these behaviors. Something tangible. Something observable.
What I love about the way Ms. LeCour does this (there are many other wonderful examples in the book, in addition to it just being a great read) is that it's not expected. It's not stereotypical. It's not predictable. But, at the same time, it is BELIEVABLE. And I understand. Without being told Caitlin is really, super-duper upset, I totally get it.
Because this is the way human beings actually behave. We don't always know or say exactly how we're feeling. Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes it's not the right time to talk. Sometimes there's so much there that we can't even scream and cry. Sometimes that's just not the type of person we are. But sometimes, those emotions find their way to the surface through our random behaviors.
We pick at things. We move our bodies/fingers/toes/tongues in funny ways. We engage in odd activities and rituals, like scrubbing the dishes clockwise or counting the ceiling tiles. We touch ourselves in ways of which we're not even conscious (hey now, calm down), like tugging at our earlobes or pinching ourselves or pressing our fingers against a hard surface until the tips turn white. No matter what those behaviors are, they can be outlet valves, a pressure release. Things that keep us from exploding or collapsing or becoming completely catatonic. As writers, we can use that understanding to create 3-D characters. And we can use those idiosyncratic behaviors to make those characters stick with the reader long after he/she reads the last page.
How about your characters? How do you SHOW their intense emotions? How do you get beyond the basics--just saying "she was devastated" or "tears poured down her face" or "her head/heart pounded with grief"--and get to something deeper ... and maybe more basic? More believable? More demonstrative? Unique? UNPUTDOWNABLE?