Feelings are much like waves, we can't stop them from coming but we can choose which one to surf. --Jonatan Martensson
And the time, many years later when I was a chaperone for a youth group on a trip to Washington D.C. and sported a brand-new camera. There I was, standing in awe in the middle of our nation's National Archives building, surrounded by twenty-some teenagers (for whom I was to be an example) and as many signs that practically shouted, NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY. And, with this being a new camera and all, I thought the flash was off when I aimed to take a picture...and of course it wasn't. I can still feel the breath of the guard who was there in a nanosecond, and hear his reprimand. The color in my face didn't come back until we were sitting in the dark of Ford's Theater several blocks away...
Then there was the time...oh, I think that's enough!
Embarrassment. An emotion of the third level according to Buzzle.com, right under sadness and neglect. Robert Plutchik, Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions, named what he saw as eight basic emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy. However, if you count through all the first, second, and third tiers, you come up with close to one hundred emotion variations.
Portraying a character's emotions following the cardinal rule, "show, don't tell," is one of a writer's greatest challenges. If you say, "She was embarrassed," you've told how she felt, but give readers no emotional anchor to hold on to that helps them care. But if, for example, you say, "She slipped, fell, and smacked her face hard against the dirty tile outside the chemistry lab just as her ex-boyfriend rounded the corner" (ahem, sad to say, another true story), you're more apt to catch their attention.
I was reminded of all this when I learned that the children's magazine Highlights for Children is sponsoring a contest, "Fiction Involving an Embarrassing Moment." All entries must be postmarked between January 1 and 31, 2011 (details here). I think I'll take a short detour from my WIP and play around with the idea for a couple of days. I need the exercise. Maybe with a little practice I won't fall on my face?
How are you doing in your attempts to show emotion, not tell, in your stories? Have you drawn inspiration from a real life moment? Maybe you could try your hand at the Highlights contest, too.