Monday, March 29, 2010

I Got Your Feelings Right Here, Part 2

In yesterday's post I wrote about some adventures in Revisionland, where I floundered for some time while trying to get my main character to express himself.

After revising based on some helpful feedback from other agents and then signing with Joanna, I still had more work to do.

For many of the revisions, I added some internal thought to help readers connect with the character more. Many scenes and chapters had ended too soon, without saying enough about what was going on in the character's head. Again, especially because it's told in the first person POV, the reader should be in the character's head with him, not wondering what he's thinking.

Today I'm posting some "before" and "after" examples from the manuscript, along with Jo's comments.

Before: I try my best to look brave.
But inside he feels...?
Um...not brave?
Revision: I try my best to look brave, but I worry I'll never feel safe again.

This is from a scene where Hastin surprises his mom with a visit after not seeing her for a couple of weeks, and he notices her smile seems forced:

Before: I run toward her, then stop. Doesn't she want to see me?
Jo: How does that make him feel? Tie it to his elation, then being deflated in some way.
Revision: I run toward her, then stop. Doesn't she want to see me? All this time, I thought she must be missing me as much as I've missed her, but not it feels like I've done something wrong.

Here, a character is giving instructions about trapping an elephant:

Before: "Come here each evening to see if we've caught anything," he told me as we stood at the trap's edge. "...After a day or two, we will have our elephant."
And the chapter ended there, so Jo asked me to elaborate on how he feels about this. In the revision I tied this back to Hastin's family, specifically his sister having to leave home for medical care after a bite from a disease-carrying mosquito.

Revised to add: And that elephant will not have its family anymore, because of us. My stomach sinks. I'm no better than the mosquito who bit my sister.

A later chapter circled back to that idea, when Hastin is making a promise to the elephant they've just trapped:

Before: "I won't leave here without you, I promise."
End the chapter with his final thoughts to keep us connected to how he's feeling.
"I won't leave here without you, I promise." And I mean it too, but I don't feel any better. I feel like a mosquito promising to take back its bite.

At times I used Hastin's actions to show how he was feeling. I hadn't shown enough about him feeling afraid when he was alone in the forest. He's an eleven-year-old from the desert, so of course he's not comfortable wandering around the forest by himself. He may not come right out and say "I'm afraid," but I try to show that fear by the way he freezes when he hears an unfamiliar noise, jumps away from a spider, or checks a tree branch for snakes and bugs before climbing it. (That also helped with another revision task, firming up the setting.)

In Part 1 of the post, we had some great comments about authors who have ninja-like skills at showing a character's feelings. When it's done well, you finish a book feeling like you've been on a roller coaster ride with the character. It's by no means an exhaustive list, but here are a few to start with if you need some good examples. Suggestions from yesterday's comments were Mary E. Pearson, Sarah Dessen, and Megan McCafferty; other authors I thought of were Sara Zarr and Jo Knowles. (I dare you to read Jumping Off Swings without crying!)


  1. Another excellent post! The examples are so instructive. It really helps to see something go through the improvement process. Thanks for that.

    And...your book sounds amazing! Best of luck with submissions.

  2. Thanks for sharing these examples -- amazing how the addition of a few choice words can really deepen the emotional impact of a scene!

  3. What a fantastic post! Thanks so much for writing about this (both posts)! I'm currently working on the same thing, so it was exactly what I needed to read. :-D

  4. Great Post, Lynne! I have always been reluctant to post samples of my manuscripts online, but you did it in such a way that was not only instructive and informative, but made me want to read this book - desperately. Also, of course, because it has an elephant . . .

    Good Job!

  5. Thanks for the comments, everyone! Glad you've enjoyed the posts.

  6. Nice posts, Lynne. I enjoyed these examples of your changes!

  7. Thanks for sharing this, Lynne. It's so much fun to read about your process, especially with the examples.

  8. You and I are leading parallel lives. That's exactly what I'm doing right now from suggestions from my agent! Her suggestions are amazingly similar to Joanna's. There really is nothing better than having an enthusiastic agent editing your work.

    Best of luck with your edits, and thanks for these examples. They're awesome!

  9. Thanks so much for this and your previous post on the subject! I'm currently revising a 1st person draft where I have too much emotional telling and not enough showing. I think I've been taking out too much though based on your post! Thanks ever so much!!!

  10. Great examples and love your mosquito metaphor. This seems particularly applicable to 1st person. I know I'm struggling with similar issues in the first draft of my WIP - which is 3rd close.

  11. Thanks so much for the comments! Great to know I'm not the only one who struggles with this & that you're finding the posts helpful.

  12. Lynne, this and the last post were fascinating and helpful. I'll probably reread these a dozen times before I query my wip.

  13. That's great, Vonna-- good luck with your queries!

  14. Those are great revisions! Great job.

  15. Great post! Thanks for the sneak peek. This was my favorite:
    My stomach sinks. I'm no better than the mosquito who bit my sister.

  16. Thank you so much for these two posts! I am heading for Revisionland myself and am writing a first person story about which my beta readers have said they feel lack of connectedness to my main characters. This is exactly what I needed to read!

  17. Hey people, agent-sister Linda Benson just did a great post about her Joanna notes too!


  18. love the before and after part of this post! I am very visual and that really helped a lot!