By: Angela Ackerman
One of the struggles that comes with writing is when a character feels vulnerable and so tries to hide their emotions as a result. Fear of emotional pain, a lack of trust in others, instinct, or protecting one’s reputation are all reasons he or she might repress what’s going on inside them. After all, people do this in real life, and so it makes sense that our characters will too. Protecting oneself from feeling exposed is as normal as it gets.
But where does that leave writers who STILL have to show these hidden emotions to the reader (and possibly other characters in the scene)?
The answer is a “TELL”– a subtle, bodily response or micro gesture that a character has little or no control over.
No matter how hard we try, our bodies are emotional mirrors, and can give our true feelings away. We can force hands to unknot, fake nonchalance, smile when we don’t mean it and lie as needed. However, to the trained eye, TELLS will leak through: a rushed voice. An off-pitch laugh. Hands that fiddle and smooth. Self-soothing touches to comfort. Sweating.
For a story to have emotional range, our characters will naturally hide what they feel at some point, and when they do, the writer must be ready. Readers will be primed for an emotional response by the scene’s build up, and will be on the lookout for a character’s body language cues and tells.
Here is a list of possible TELLS that will convey to readers that more is going on with your Protagonist than it seems:
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