Lesson 3: Emotion
Vague prompt: in 500 words, write a scene that emotionally resonates with the readers. Focus on conveying one character's emotions.
Specific prompt: Jenny's dog, Titus, has just died. She got him as a puppy when she was four. In 500 words, convey her feelings to the reader.
Jenny shoved his hand aside, leaving behind a streak of tears on his forearm. “I know!” she yelled, her voice cracking. A few choked sobs escaped from her lips. Her next words were whispered. “I know.”
Andrew shook his head and turned back towards the road, stepping on the gas pedal. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not with you,” Jenny said and hiccupped. She sniffled and wiped her eyes before glaring at her father. His face was expressionless as his eyes remained focused on the road. She hated how he was always so composed. “You never liked Titus. You hated him.”
Andrew remained silent as his daughter’s accusing eyes burned the side of his face. “That’s not true,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “You know it’s not.”
“He reminded you of mom and how she left you,” Jenny said, looking out the window with puffy red eyes. The jar that kept Titus’ cremated remains sat in her lap, the surface cold against her bare skin. Her eyes began to burn as tears sprang up and blurred her vision. “You were never there for me, but Titus was.”
Her hands grasped the jar in her lap as her face contorted while she hung her head. Her chest heated up as uncontrollable sobs wracked her body, causing strange squeaking sounds to escape from her lips. She had promised Titus that she wouldn’t cry. That their last moments would be one of joy. And in a sense she kept her promise. She held his hand as the needle entered his furry little leg, her eyes staring into his, watching his last moments of clarity. She wanted to believe that he was happy; that the arthritis was gone, and that he wouldn’t hurt anymore. She really did, and his eyes seemed to tell her that in his last moments. They told her that he enjoyed their life together, and that she would have to be strong on her own from now on.
She really believed it to be true.
So why did it hurt so much right now? Why was her chest threatening to tear itself apart? Why was her body shaking against her will? Her hands turned white as she pressed her forehead against the edge of the jar, tears flowing down the porcelain sides. She bit her lower lip, afraid that a single lapse in concentration would cause the dam within her to start flowing. And that’s when she knew. Her dog was really gone, and nothing could fill the void left in her heart.
Thanks for taking the time to do this. :)
"Hey, how are you feeling?" Carson attempted conversation but Jenny sat like a statue. Cold. Unmoving. Carson was unsure what to do with Jenny but suddenly a thought of inspiration tackled him in the brain and he lunged forward and gave Jenny a hug.
Due to this sudden action Jenny cried out in alarm before her dead eyes shifted to and recognized Carson.
"Ca.... Carson?" She exclaimed in surprise before struggling to push him away.
Carson only held on tighter hoping that his worry could be conveyed into his hug.
Jenny could only struggle more whilst repeating his name every once in a while.
After a while Jenny had stopped attempting to escape and just sat there while in Carson’s embrace. Carson moved Jenny’s head to rest on his shoulders and then hugged her a bit tighter. “Everything is going to be okay. Titus is in a better place now, you know he was getting old, now he can run freely as he used to” Carson whispered and Jenny’s body trembled. “Titus” she whimpered and Carson felt a force pushing into his shoulder, moisture started to spread from where the force met and muffled sobs echoed in his ears.
Carson stayed still as Jenny wept into his shoulders. Her arms engulfing his body and occasionally constraining him as if he was a squeeze ball. This went on well into the night and finally the sobs finally cleared up and Jenny sat next to Carson sniffling with puffy crimson eyes. “How are you feeling?” Carson asked her and Jenny sniffled and turned to face him “Stay with me….. Until I can settle my thoughts” Jenny asked and Carson only nods his head. “Anything for you.”
"My parents gave me Titus on my 4th birthday," she said, her voice quiet. "We grew up together. I didn't have many friends at school, but I didn't need friends when I had Titus."
She stopped speaking for a moment to run her hand across the wooden casket, her soot-black fingernails gently scratching the plywood.
"He wasn't always a good dog. He chewed on my dolls, my shoes, and dad's chair," she continued, drawing a few stifled laughs from the audience. "Sometimes he would pee on the carpet, and mom would chase him around the house with a broom. Once he even tore up my homework, though my teacher didn't believe me."
She paused to force back a sniffle. "Even if he wasn't the best dog, he was my best friend," tears framed her face, glittering on her cheeks. "I'm going to go home today and, for the first time ever, my best friend won't be there to greet me."
A tall bottle-framed man stood from his folding chair and approached the girl with arms outstretched. They hugged and she sobbed openly.
"We can get you another dog, Jenny," the man said in a quiet voice.
"I don't want another dog," Jenny replied, choking back her tears, "I want Titus back."
Nice job. Good use of body language description to help convey the physical feeling of emotion to the reader. I think you could probably write a scene that would make people cry.
Watch out for typos. "That their lasts moments would be one of joy." has an extra S on "last". The simple past tense of "spring" is "sprang", for your sentence "Her eyes began to burn as tears sprung up and blurred her vision. "
Your focus was on the wrong character. I don't know if it was because you feel uncomfortable writing from the perspective of a female character, but I didn't get much sense of Jenny's feelings at all.
There was a bit of inconsistency with Jenny's body language that broke immersion and made it hard to feel emotion. First there was "force back a sniffle", but if that worked, the next line shouldn't be "tears framed her face". Then she "sobbed openly" and the next line is "choking back her tears"; without an indication of the time lapse, these two things sound like they happen immediately after another.
I'd also advise you to get away from dialogue and focus more on Jenny. You only used ~250 of the 500-word limit, and it really wasn't quite enough to immerse the reader in emotion.
Specific Prompt - 524 words
"It's gone way too quiet." Jenny muttered under her breath while clutching Anders' hand between both of her own.
"Maybe those things finally went away." Anders looked at her with wide eyes. In between his words his mouth went slack. One of the lens of his glasses had been cracked by the earlier panic when he had been thrown across the room. He kept blinking hard to get the tears out his eyes. "Those shadows... What the hell are they?"
"I'm just glad they broke that window and went outside." A third voice chimed in from a dark spot near the edge of the disheveled room. The voice belonged to Carter. He leaned forward into the dim and orange-colored light coming in from the streetlights outside the house. "They tore my hand up really bad. I think I'll need stitches." He lifted his left hand up into the light, blood streaming down from torn flesh.
"Oh shit!" Jenny blurted out. "Titus!" She leapt from the floor of the living room and scrambled for the nearby patio doorway between the living room and the small kitchenette. As soon as she made her way to the handle of the sliding door Carter slammed into her with all his force.
"What are you doing?! You'll let them back in!" Carter smeared blood across the window pane of the sliding door as he struggled against the determined young woman.
"Back off, Carter! He's my dog. I'm not letting those things get anywhere near him." Jenny hit the wounded part of Carter's hand with the palm of her own and shoved him away from the patio door. She threw open the sliding door wide, causing it to crash into the stoppers with such force that Carter shielded himself in case the glass should shatter. "Titus!" She screamed as she ran headlong into the backyard.
Both young men emerged into the back yard trepidatiously, watching as Jenny made her way halfway to the far end of the yard. She stopped in mid-stride, almost as if the animating force that kept her moving was ripped right out of her. Anders ran for her and put his arm around her.
"What is it?" Anders called out; his voice cracking for a moment.
Jenny didn't respond. She held her head in her hands, her breathing became erratic as she was wracked with sobs. It took a few moments but she raised her head up and pointed to the far end of the yard. Her finger leveled on the small doghouse nearby, a chain trailing from the small wooden den to a collar left noticeably empty in the grass nearby. Blood was pooled all over the grass, with small bits of fur and gore trailing off into a darkened corner.
"I've..." Jenny gave a hard sniff and swallowed hard. "I've had him for nine years. He got me through the death of my father. He..." She threw her head down. Moonlight glinted off of tears that feel from her cheeks to the ground below her. "He was innocent in all of this." She began to beat her fists against the grass. "He was innocent!"
I think you definitely could have done a lot more with the emotional part of this exercise if you'd gone with a simpler premise that didn't take up as much of the word count. I don't know why you need three people in this scene at all.
In terms of reader emotion, I think this scene creates a fear/horror vibe that isn't really about Titus. Jenny's freaking out at the end, but her anger and pain, while depicted, don't evoke the same response in the reader.
Also, I think the "I've had him for nine years. He got me through the death of my father." part is a little bit too coherent for the average person whose dog has died, especially someone who would then lose physical control and start hitting the ground.
Jenny places a cold stone against a large gravestone. Chipped into the stone, is the name “Titus”. For a moment her thumb rubs over the name, her head hanging forward causing her hair to hide her face. In a cracking voice she whispers at the stone. “You were a good boy…. A girl’s best friend so to speak.” She giggles at her own play of words as a tear streaks down her cheek. “I remember how father complained when mother bought you and we brought you home.” The dam finally breaks and she lets out a soft sob. “You were so small, so warm.”
She stands up, placing her hand on the gravestone and tucking a strand of loose hair behind her ear revealing her puffy eyes and red nose. “I was too young to understand then, but mom somehow wanted to get something to fill a little bit of space for when she was gone.” Feeling a hand on her shoulder she looks up to see her father and leans into him. “Mom had cancer you see and she wanted to give me a new friend before she left. When she died…” Her shoulders shake and she sniffs before taking a deep breath and continuing. “When she died you were there for me. Something living left behind by mom to comfort not only me, but dad too.” Her father squeezes her shoulder lightly and she hears him take a deep breath. Knowing he is in pain too, makes her want to break down and cry all the more.
She falls quiet for a few seconds, taking deep breaths to compose herself. “I remember how dad was a big meany at first, but it all changed one day, didn’t it? I found him passed out on the couch holding a photo of mom in his hand. You were curled up on his lap and it was then that I realized that you carried a part of her with you. That night all three of us slept on the couch.” Her dad sniffs, but like always he is not a man of many words. He has always been a sturdy rock she could lean on.
She rubs his back, in her own way trying to comfort him as well. “I don’t know if a dog has a soul, but I do believe the part of her that you carried has now been returned….” She breaks down into sobs a soft cry escaping her mouth. “… take good care of her until we get there.”
Jenny turns around, no longer able to look at the monuments of two things she loves. She starts walking to the car in the distance, but stops when her dad does not follow. Turning around, she spots him placing a hand on her mother’s gravestone. She can faintly hear his voice, “we have a good daughter and you were right about Titus.” He chuckles. “You always were right about everything.”
Not sure how to feel about this scene. Honestly, I felt more when the dad was talking to the deceased mom than when Jenny was talking to the dog.
When it comes to private moments that touch the reader, they really do have to be private to feel real. The dad's presence while Jenny was talking was unnecessary and made it feel awkward. People simply don't pour their feelings out the same way when there's an audience.
A little too much talking, in my opinion. Truly deep emotion is felt in the primordial brain and blocks out higher functions like speech and reasoning.
Anyway, you not being sure how to feel means you felt something at least and no comments about my grammar which is by far my weakest point. So I am pretty much chuffed about that.
Once again, thank you for the feedback.
The dad's talking to the mom's tombstone was truly a private moment not meant to be overheard, which is what I was getting at was missing for Jenny. In terms of demographics, I am much closer to Jenny than her dad.
09/17/2016 03:58:06unice5656 Wrote: [ -> ]Specific prompt: Jenny's dog, Titus, has just died. She got him as a puppy when she was four. In 500 words, convey her feelings to the reader.
Another day. Just another day. Just like always the sun shone in the sky. Whatever may happen, the sun just shines.
Jenny was lying on her bed. Her lips were moving a bit, it looked like she was saying something in silence. Nobody would blame her, because her dog, Titus, died two days ago. Her parents thought that all this being locked up in her room was much worse for her than a single, emotional outburst, but it was still Jenny's pain. Not like her parents could truly understand her.
Titus and Jenny were always together, he was a birthday present she got from her parents when she turned four. So she certainly shared a deep connection with him. A very deep connection. But not like her parents or anyone else thought.
Jenny wanted a pet, when she was a small child. But a cat, not a dog. Titus was a Great Dane which quickly outgrew her and hit her with his tail all day in and day out. Great Danes often break their tails, because they're waving them strongly and with little control, so little Jenny got hit by enough force to break bones on a daily manner.
When she was old enough to walk the dog, she hated every single second of it. She could be with her friends, doing homework, watching TV or so many other forms of using her time more efficiently.
Only those who owned a Great Dane would know, how loud they bark. A big dog who could bark so loud, that little Jenny was so scared she would pee her pants occasionally. Her parents thought she blamed the dog because she was embarrassed, but which eight year old child still cannot hold her bladder?
In general, her parents thought that all the protest, all the crying, all the forms of denial she brought up was just a phase. Just a childish rebellion. She just needed to get used to it, to just accept it.
But what about all that slobber? Great Danes slobber like crazy. It got everywhere, on the bed, on the couch, on your stuff. It was disgusting! And all that hair! Even if Great Danes have short hair, if you didn't vacuum cleaned the room for two days, it's littered with so many short dog hairs, that it looked like the floor changed color.
Titus was dead. No more Great Dane. Jenny's lips were moving, because she sang silently.
? The dog is dead, the dog is dead.
The dog is dead, the dog is dead.
He will never bark, bow-wow, bow-wow.
He will never bark, bow-wow, bow-wow.
Bow-bow-bow-bow-wow, bow-wow. ?
Yes, she was happy. She was so happy, that she couldn't step out of her room without a beaming smile, which would creep everybody out who knows her. Instead she basked herself in the glee of the death of the dog which was forced on her.
Titus died of illness, that's the version everybody knew. Only Jenny knew better. She was the one, who slipped poison into his dog food, slowly weakening him. Then she got him infested with worms. A slow progression plan to make Titus suffer, without her parents noticing it.
And all came into fruition. Today again: Best. Day. Ever. "Hahahaha. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
Very creepy. Rather than shallow descriptions of how the dog was annoying, it would have been better to delve into some of those memories and really convey the hate Jenny felt.
Major grammatical issues going on. Make sure you keep your verb tenses straight. Almost everything should be in simple past tense.
10/14/2016 23:56:46unice5656 Wrote: [ -> ]Very creepy.
10/14/2016 23:56:46unice5656 Wrote: [ -> ]Rather than shallow descriptions of how the dog was annoying, it would have been better to delve into some of those memories and really convey the hate Jenny felt.
First, I like to say that the prompt said to convey the feelings of Jenny to the readers. Not about how she felt about the dog, not how she felt about its dead, but her feelings as a very general term. From there on, I try to explain you my intention and it would be great if you could answer me, how it actually worked out.
In this case, how shallow it may be, I think it struck something within you, since you refer to Jenny's feelings for the dog as 'hate', while the only time I wrote hate was about, how she hated the walks.
By depicting the way Jenny remembers these times and by choosing what kind of memories to look over, I gave an impression of her thinking, which may ignore the emotional part, but since thoughts and emotions runs paralell, it more or less was filled out by the reader, who related it to personal feelings, giving an impression of how Jenny may feel without dumbing it down by trying to convey the emotions into words, which actually make me often feel like they're shallowed and postered.
Btw, after reading it again now, I came to another conclusion, that Jenny more or less was afraid of Titus, who took over her life by things like walks or cleaning, who put her into shame several times, so while she is somewhat still in disbelief, the tyranny ended and she can't even express her feelings in an appropriate way. It's like being drunk on freedom.
Well, but I have to say, that I didn't want to get too much over the 500 words. It's about quality, not about using so much words, that it's clear as day. ^^'
10/14/2016 23:56:46unice5656 Wrote: [ -> ]Major grammatical issues going on. Make sure you keep your verb tenses straight.
Here you have to help me, since I'm a non-native and therefore have to rely on what people and the internet says me.
I think you refer to the times I write about Great Danes in general.
Wrote: The simple present expresses an action in the present taking place once, never or several times. It is also used for actions that take place one after another and for actions that are set by a timetable or schedule. The simple present also expresses facts in the present.
Do you want to express that something happens in general or that something is happening right now?
Use of Simple Past
In British English, the use of Simple Past and Present Perfect is quite strict. As soon as a time expression in the past is given, you have to use Simple Past. If there are no signal words, you must decide if we just talk about an action in the past or if its consequence in the present is important.
Note that the following explanations and exercises refer to British English only. In American English, you can normally use Simple Past instead of Present Perfect. We cannot accept this in our exercises, however, as this would lead to confusions amongst those who have to learn the differences.
So when I talk about how Great Danes slobber all the time all over the world, it would be Simple Present, since it's a repeatitive, always occurring activity, which doesn't end, right? The sun shines, she never stops. Great Danes slobber all the time, they also never stop.
If it doesn't work that way, please explain it to me, so that I can understand the logic behind it.
I used the word "hate" because Jenny ended up killing the dog, and I assumed that hatred would be the emotion that would drive such an action, not because I actually felt any hatred while reading your piece.
Detailing thoughts and past events and letting the reader fill in the emotion is a viable writing technique, but not the point of this exercise. Additionally, you have to be very careful that the reader actually fills in the same emotion you were aiming for. While I was reading the part about the dog being annoying, I thought you were doing the "affectionate faults" technique where Jenny would list all of Titus' faults and then miss him anyways. It wasn't really until the singing that I realized you were going the "psychopath pet-killer" route. At that point, the main thing I felt was creeped out at Jenny, certainly none of her hatred of the dog nor her current happiness at its death.
When you're writing fiction, you decide both on 1st person/3rd person PoV and verb tense. In the overwhelming majority of cases, 3rd person PoV goes with simple past tense (1st person has a larger proportion that goes with present tense).
When you start writing in simple past tense for a scene, it "becomes present tense" in your story. Anything that is happening "now" in the story uses simple past (he said, she did), anything that happened "before now" in the story uses past perfect (he had said, she had done), and anything that will happen "after now" uses conditional present (he would say, she would do). There are special tenses for referring to specific time points from other time points, but those are the basic three.
Because "present" events are written in simple past, if you switch to simple present for statements about the world that apply outside the story, you are making it clear to the reader that "outside the story" exists, which breaks immersion. Therefore, just write it in simple past.