Covert Emotion/Building Character | Pelican Book Group Official Blog

I am a character-driven editor – give me a good, solid character and you will grab my attention from the beginning of your novel.

How can you build character with covert emotions?

By allowing the hero/heroine to respond without consciously thinking about what is happening around them. When people think on purpose, it means they are conscious of the end goal. But the thoughts that come unbidden reveal a truer character.

Jim saw the accident and screeched to a halt, shaken from the resounding crash in front of him as two cars collided.

The sentence is too long. Too much information is loaded and it loses impact. Also, note that Jim is shaken. There is nothing wrong with being shaken, but in this case, the subliminal message is that Jim is weak. When crafting a hero, you do not want him to appear weak. Heroes can cry, they can be shaken up, but you have to use the context carefully to allow them to remain courageous, strong and prepared for any situation.

Screeching to a halt, Jim jumped out of his car and ran to the smoking wreck. Look for survivors!

Here is the almost identical sentence, using some of the same words. However, now we’ve implied a man who takes immediate action. The emotion is covert. Jim is responding. Not only that, he is subconsciously thinking about what to do. He is trying to solve the problem (look for/save the survivors).

As yet, Jim hasn’t spoken a word, yet his character is being built in the second instance. A man who takes action. A man who thinks of others…qualities a hero can have. The reader is now engaged. They want to know more about this man. Is this the hero? Curiosity is making them turn the page.

Consider your hero/heroine’s actions and his/her subliminal clues that impart knowledge of their character. Work your words to imply covert emotions, actions and intent. The result will be strong, likeable people who jump from the page and feel real to your readers.

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