Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A to Z Challenge: N is for Nervous

Welcome to the 2013 A to Z Challenge!

This year, I’m focusing on two themes:  Emotions and grammar,
depending on which letter we’re on each day.

I’ll be sharing mostly what I’ve learned about writing emotion into a novel, but I’ll also be throwing in a few key grammar lessons, pet peeves I’ve picked up while working as an editor.

Today’s an emotion day!   


N is for Nervous:  highly excitable, unnaturally or acutely uneasy or apprehensive; anxious; unsettled.

We’ve all been here, so we know how it feels.  But we also each experience it in different ways, so, as writers, how do we show it?  I had to tackle this one a few times in The Mistaken, and found, along with showing the physical signs, it worked better, felt more tangible, when I focused on the reason behind the character’s nervousness. 

What did he fear?  What was he risking?  That’s what drives anxiety, right?—the repercussions of failure, of exposure, of our inadequacies, or perhaps just plain old fear, especially what is unknown.  So, if all of a sudden, your character is thrust into a situation in which he has no or very little control, have him ponder the consequences should he fail.

Will he die or suffer physically, or will someone else he cares about?  Will he lose something or someone he loves or values?  Will another judge him harshly, or worse, reject him, possibly subjecting him to ridicule?  Does he fear the world will find him lacking or someone he’s tried hard not to be?

If you exacerbate his anxiety with fallout should his fear be realized, the reader will moan and groan in protest or cringe in sympathy.  Of course, in addition to spelling out this potential aftermath, you should show the reader what is going on inside his head, inside his body, as he ponders his fate.  Think about how you act when you’re nervous.

Your heart twitters and speeds up and almost feels like it’s in your throat.  You pace and move around, biting your nails, fidgeting with your fingers, or anything else you can get your hands on.  You cover your eyes or pull at your hair, your breathing quickens, you shake and twitch, bounce and jerk all around, you sweat and flush and stutter, maybe laugh inappropriately, followed by speed-talking or an abrupt change in the subject.  Your stomach tenses and burns and roils in nausea.  And if it all becomes too much, too unbearable, you might become light-headed or even pass out, that is if you haven’t fled already.

How does your body react when you’re nervous?


Carrie Butler said...

I watch the clock when I'm nervous, because I'm usually fretting about something time-sensitive.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

When I'm nervous I either try not to look it but my feet start shuffling if I don't stay on high alert. But if I'm unprepared it can show all over my face.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If I'm nervous before our band performs, my fingers pretty much stop working. Yeah, not good.
However, Cosbolt pilots ain't got time to be nervous. (Yes, that's a twist on a movie quote.)

JeffO said...

I can't concentrate. And, depending on the type of nervousness, I may find myself running in and out of the bathroom a lot (we'll stop at that level of detail, I think).

Heather M. Gardner said...

I wish when I was nervous I couldn't eat. That would be great. But, I'm the complete opposite.


Mark Means said...

I get that 'kicked in the gut' sensation, when nervous, and have to remind myself to breathe.

To illicit that feeling from reading a book is the hallmark of a great author!

Cherie Colyer said...

These are great tips. I've had to back up and ask myself these very questions when my character is anxious, only my words aren't showing it properly. I like reading how you approach this very subject. Thanks for sharing.

I nominated you for an award. Click here to learn more.

Robin said...

If I am really nervous, I literally feel like my last nerve is being stepped on. Raw. Jittery. I tend to be overly sensitive to things that I should not. In other words, I will over-react to the slightest thing. Someone may say something totally innocent, and I may very well take it the wrong way. I probably am a bit fidgety, too, because all of that nervous energy has to go SOMEWHERE.

The Desert Rocks said...

Super post. My main character disappears into imagination when she's nervous.

Empty Nest Insider said...

I'm with Heather. I also wish that I ate less when I was nervous, though sometimes it does work that way. I also wrote about a nervous family today. Nervous minds think alike!


Nick Wilford said...

Nervous and jumpy characters make for excellent tension! It's how some of the best horror movies are made. It tend to heighten the reader's senses, too.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I bite my cuticles, pat my throat, eat, chew gum, and stutter. Thank God I don't do them all at the same time!

klahanie said...

Hey Nancy,

I hope you haven't been nervously awaiting my comment.

I do also know that I can convey the nervous tension when I attempt to write such a scenario.

As for me, I try to utilise my nervous energy and try to have a laugh about myself.

Take care, Nancy.

Your starstruck fan,

Gary :)

Chuck said...

All those things depending on the situation. Although I have never gotten light-headed or passed out.

I try to stay away from things that make me really nervous. I like being in control of myself and my surroundings.

Chuck at Apocalypse Now

Choki Gyeltshen said...

I never like nervousness.

Followed your blog too!

Natasha said...

When I'm nervous, I do all kinds of weird things.
I sometimes babble, I sometimes go silent. I often grab a piece of paper, crush it into a ball, flatten it out and repeat the process again and again. I click the ball point pen again and again and again, even though the sound irritates me on normal days. Once I found my knees literally trembling when I was up there on stage, and nervous. Basically, when I am nervous, I do all kinds of crazy thing.
Luckily, I've managed to train myself to look at situations differently, so I don't get nervous much these days.

Juliet Bond said...

I think that I become very observant when I'm nervous. Just stopping by for the A-Z Challenge. Please check us out and sign up to follow if you like what you see. Juliet atCity Muse Country Muse