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Showing the Feelings

Updated: Jan 18

Holiday Emotion Exercise

Ah. the Winter Solstice. The shortest day of the year, closing on the end of the calendar, and the time the world's cultures celebrate in ways designed to open our eyes to a picture bigger than ourselves. Those are grand plans, but for the majority of the us, we're just folk in our daily groove – or rut – as we navigate the holiday season.

The special days themselves pull us through experiences that fall on a spectrum between overwhelming family saturation and echoing, isolated loneliness. We have, on statistical average, crushing levels of credit card debt, the recent highs of anticipation for all those packages, boxes and bags… and now the let-down lows of having opened everything.

In some cases, we've shared time, maybe even quality time. If we're lucky, we've had some joy along the way.

These are moments, as writers, that we want to convey. The reader wants to soak these in, whether it lifts them up or captures their melancholy. Even when a scene is filled with sadness, it can comfort people, if only by letting the reader know they're not alone.

Emotion in Scene

Today, we're going to dive into the heart – as seen through the eyes.

First, let's look at some emotions that are common during this time of year:

  • depression

  • anxiety

  • stress

  • sadness

  • loss

  • melancholy

  • guilt

  • loneliness

  • comfort

  • happiness

  • joy

  • satisfaction

  • wonder

  • thankfulness

The Exercise

The ultimate "Show, Don't Tell" exercise, write a scene without ever using an explicit emotion word, starting with any of the words in the list.

You can, however, use any of the words above in another definition. Can you use "stress"? Sure, if you're talking about "structural stress." Can you use "thankful"? Sure, as long as it's not about the experiencing the emotion (you can use "thank you" in your dialogue).

Here are four possible topics to write about:

  1. The uncle is drunk at the family dinner.

  2. The family wants to do the religious thing and you're not feeling it. Or vice versa.

  3. The flight was cancelled, the hotels are booked and you're stuck in an airport you've never been.

  4. You're taking a post-meal stroll, letting the feast settle, when you see something in the distance.

If inspiration strikes, feel free to follow it as long you avoid explicitly naming emotions.

Establish the scene… then send it somewhere. Even if you don't give it an ending, give it some focus. Take us on a journey and show somebody feeling these things without ever saying it. Let your audience figure out the emotion for themselves as they feel the moments.

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