Characters and Emotion

Over at TheWildWriters last week, Claudia Cangilla Macadam wrote a blog post describing her method of getting into a character’s emotions. She acts them out! I can’t specifically recall ever having done that, but I’m planning to give it a try.

A way that I frequently use to pick up ideas for describing a character’s emotions is through watching movies. One of my favorites for that is Love Actually. I know. Some people think it’s really sappy, but we watch it every Christmas. There’s an amazingly poignant scene, when Emma Thompson’s character finds out that her husband may be cheating on her.

It’s Christmas Eve, and her family are each opening one Christmas present of their choice. She was expecting hers to be a gold necklace she’d secretly found in her husband’s pocket. She chooses to open the box with the right shape, with every expectation of finding the necklace. Instead, it’s a multiple CD set of Joni Mitchell. Realizing the necklace was not for her at all, but for her husband’s young, sexy assistant, she retreats to her room.

As she confronts her heartbreak, the look on her face is full of pain. She tries to stem the flow of tears, dabbing at her eyes, then her nose. With the heels of her hands, she rubs at her eyes, then shakes her hands out, as if saying, “Get a grip. You can deal with this.” Her last gesture is leaning down to smooth a coverlet at the end of the bed, an action she probably does dozens of times in a week. Something normal and comforting.

Of course, it helps that in the background Joni Mitchell’s moving rendition of Both Sides Now is playing!

Although there are countless other examples, this one stands out for me because of its raw emotion, and the way in which it touches us. And maybe because I’ve seen it so many times!

What helps you to describe the emotions of your characters? What movie or book scene has had an emotional impact on you?







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