Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
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Book Review:
Creating Character Emotions By Ann Hood

Reviewed by Elizabeth Shack
© 2006,
Elizabeth Shack


While creating a character can be tough, showing that new creation off to the reader can be even more difficult.  In 37 chapters, all but the first on a different emotion from anger to worry, Ann Hood's Creating Character Emotions teaches fiction writers how to convey the feelings that bring their characters to life.

Several years ago, a woman critiquing my draft told me, "All your characters sound like transplanted Vulcans."  With that blunt sentence, I finally realized that while my characters were real people in my imagination, their emotions on the page were muddled or clichéd, when they existed at all.

I began to search for advice on how to depict characters in a realistic and interesting way, but many books on characterization talked about creating the characters, not about getting that creation across to the reader.  Hood's book is different because it helps writers find ways to portray the characters that they've already created.

Each chapter has a few paragraphs about an emotion, three examples of what not to do, three good examples from a variety of published fiction, and three exercises.

Including three different good examples for each emotion makes it easy to see the range of options available for showing that emotion.  This lets writers find a way to show that a specific character, not some generic person, is feeling the emotion.  The examples include a mix of scene and narrative, interior monologue and action, and person.

In the chapter on anger, the bad examples include a cliché and an emotionless fight.  Hood contrasts these with a first-person narration by an angry character, a snippet of dialogue between two people, and a bit of a scene.

The exercises, which give readers a chance to practice what they've just read, refer back to the examples.  Hood provides an objective for each exercise to help readers understand the purpose of the technique.  Many of the techniques could be applied to emotions other than the one in the chapter in which they appear.

For example, in the anger chapter, Hood uses a few lines from James Joyce's story "The Dead" in which a character feels anger changing to lust.  The exercise that goes along with that has the objective "to write an emotional arc for a character to move through."  Hood provides a situation -- a woman giving another character some surprising news -- and asks the reader to write a response that moves the character through at least three emotions, not necessarily including anger.

Another exercise in the anger chapter plays off a passage from a story by Stanley Elkin in which an angry narrator talks about people he hates.  The exercise asks the reader to pick two emotions that can feed off each other, such as hate and anger, or passion and love, and to write a passage that mentions one emotion while using the character's voice to show the other.

Objectives for other exercises throughout the book include using figurative language without sentimentality, using both internal and external description to show emotion, and showing how two different characters describe the same feeling.

With 36 different emotions, Hood doesn't stick to the obvious choices: anger, happiness, love, and fear.  She also includes more nuanced feelings that are just as common and just as necessary to portraying characters.  Anxiety, curiosity, despair, guilt, hope, loneliness, revenge, and suspicion are only a few of the feelings a character might experience throughout a story or novel.

The first section of the book provides general advice about characterization, including many techniques that turn up in the bad and the good examples later on.  Hood briefly discusses what to avoid -- cliches, lack of detail, and inconsistency -- before turning to how to do it right -- drawing on your own emotions, using fresh language, and understanding that emotions are complex among other things.  While this section is interesting, the following 36 on specific emotions are truly the meat of the book.

Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood.

Published by Story Press Books, 1998.

ISBN 1-884910-33-5