Recently, I stumbled across a post on Facebook about how a kindergarten teacher was proudly exclaiming how she and others in her profession “taught” children to control their emotions. As a parent, I was mildly upset, as I’ve always felt this was my job. As an author, I was horrified.
Why would one be horrified at a child learning to control their emotions.
Simply, without emotions, our books are nothing more than a recitation of the plot we’ve outlined. Oh, we can tell the reader about the character’s emotions. Many people believe that will work rather well. But that’s telling, and writing is all about showing.
To show emotions, our character must be invested in the story line. They don’t receive news in a stoic manner, with an adverb claiming they’re upset or happy. No, they dance for joy or cry tears of loss. They display their emotions for the world to see.
Can you imagine a teenager receiving news that they’ve gotten into the college of their choice and responding with, “Great.” Or would they more than likely be on social media sharing that news with their friends, screaming with joy, and in all ways reacting like a person who has received what they most want.
Yeah, the second option is far closer to the truth than the first.
We are human. That means we’re imperfect and wonderfully, joyfully emotional. We cry for those we lose, laugh out loud no matter where we are when we get good news or hear a great joke. We don’t view world events with a dispassionate eye, but react to the horrors reflected in the news.
Perhaps we should turn to Hollywood to express how emotions should be shown. The ending of An Officer and A Gentleman would have been so disappointing if Zach Mayo, played by Richard Gere, had calmly walked into where Paula Pokrifki, Debra Winger, was working and said, “I love you. Marry me.” And she’d responded with, “Sure,” and then they walked out. Instead of the scene where he strides purposefully into the building, drawing attention from all the other workers there, proposes with his love in his voice, and acknowledges her acceptance by sweeping her off her feet and carrying her out as a crescendo of music accompanies them, with the iconic song Up Where We Belong taking you to the finale. What about Top Gun? Would you have been cheering the end of that movie if Tom Cruise hadn’t given his all to take out the enemy aircraft and overcome the grief he felt for losing Goose? Doesn’t reliving that scene bring You Lost That Loving Feeling by the Righteous Brothers?
The emotions involved there are not contained. They explode and reveal our humanness. They proclaim that we are alive, imperfect, and ready to take on the world.