This week’s video shows how to evoke emotion from your text using the same minimalistic approach utilized by David Guterson in East of the Mountains.
Video Transcription: This is just a wild guess, but I’m going to go out on a limb and speculate that your story forces your character to experience some deep emotions. He might fall in love, he might undergo the agony of a family member’s death, or he might be wracked by guilt. Whatever the case, how do you go about portraying those emotions in the most powerful way? Easy—by showing them through the character’s actions.
We find a beautiful example of this in East of the Mountains by David Guterson. While spending the night hunting with his two Brittany Spaniels, the protagonist runs afoul of a pack of Irish wolfhounds pursuing a coyote. The wolfhounds and the Brittanies tangle, leaving one of the protagonist’s beloved dogs terribly wounded and the other missing. Guterson could easily have slipped into maudlin sentimentality in explaining the protagonist’s outrage and grief. But doing so would probably have served to distance readers rather than draw them in. So, instead, Guterson never so much as mentions the protagonist’s anguish. In sparse, delicate language, he shows the protagonist searching for his missing dog and eventually discovering it with a broken neck. We see him carry the dog across the sageland, dig its grave, and gently lay it into its final resting place. Not for one instant do we doubt this man’s love for his dog or his sorrow at its wanton and cruel death.
This is an exemplary model of how to show a scene so powerfully that readers understand the emotional impact without any extra explanation. Because the author already spent half the book establishing the protagonist’s character and his fondness for his dogs, we know without being told that the character will grieve the animal’s passing, and the unadorned portrait of his grief’s manifestation only drives the point home that much deeper.
Tell me your opinion: Do you find a subtle use of actions to convey emotions more powerful than stating the emotions outright?
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Story by K.M. Weiland