If you want to reveal emotional baggage, then find an active and ironic way to do so, instead of having your characters reveal their own baggage to others. Characters should never speak perceptively about their own feelings, especially to people they don’t trust. In real life, we don’t us really understand our own feelings anyway, and even when we think we understand them, we will almost always lie about them if asked.
- “Do you like that boy?” “No!”
- “Are you still in love with your ex-wife?” “No!”
- “Do you feel appreciated by your grown children?” “Of course I do, what a silly question!”
So how do we reveal our feelings? When our mouths lie about our feelings, our bodies and our actions betray us. Make your characters reveal emotion through behavior. It’s unlikely that a character would baldly state, “I want to stay a kid forever.” Instead, have the character ask, “Why won’t you treat me like a grown-up?” while wearing Spider-Man pajamas, or cutting the crusts off his sandwich, or sticking her gum under the table.
Unity of word and action is unironic. If word and action match, then you, as author, aren’t showing any powers of observation. The audience need not even pay attention to the visuals you’re creating, because the character is simply telling us what’s going on. If the audience is simply told to believe what your characters say, then there’s no way to interact with your story.
Your audience wants to play sleuth. They want to make their own observations about your characters, instead of being forced to listen to and accept the characters’ observations about themselves. Stories thrive on tension, both external and internal, but the most important source of all should be the tension between what people say and what they mean.
Next time, I’ll attempt an overview all of the ironies I’ve covered on this blog…