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?