Book Notes: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid & Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

All the stars aligned, and something very wrong happened when I read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid at the same time.

I read Little Fires Everywhere with a friend who is far better at pacing herself. When I got too far ahead, I put it down and picked up Such a Fun Age.

My local bookshop could only manage copy of Little Fires Everywhere with the Hulu series adaptation cover. I was forgiving. Now I’m kinda grateful.

While I waited for my friend to finish Little Fires, I wrapped up Such a Fun Age and binged on the Hulu series adaptation of Little Fires Everywhere.


Together, these stories articulated to me the unutterable—unutterable not because it shouldn’t be uttered but because some things are just too big for words. I can’t summarize what together they taught me about being Black in white spaces, especially ones that invite you in and beg you to stay. It felt like Little Fires Everywhere would start a sentence, the adaptation would rephrase it, and Such a Fun Age would finish it off with such potency that I’d have to sit back in quiet for a bit.

Pearl & Emira. I held them in parallel and saw what Reid’s and Ng’s characters couldn’t:

Everyone wants something from her. Those who love her await some kind of award. Those who give to her hold her as indebted.

Well-meaning white lovers refused to acknowledge the Blackness of their Black lovers: “I don’t see color.” White men fetishized Black women, even while they loved genuinely. White people collected Black friends like badges of wokeness. Black women internalized the message as some flavor of self-loathing. For Mai Ling, Chinese culture was equated to American fortune cookies, and everyone insisted that race didn’t matter.

All this savored and digested, I finally got to chat about Little Fires Everywhere with my friend. We’d only started when she corrected me: “Mia and Pearl are white.”

“No, they’re not.”

“Yes, they are.”

We googled Ng’s intentions. White working-class women. Hulu had taken inspiration and given it wings.

Well. I have rereading to do. Main themes remain intact—race is important in both stories—but I found parallels where there were none, or perhaps there were parallels, but ones that confronted the condition of women more universally, or social class as much as race. All I can say is that I’m ready to re-read and learn again.

Book Notes: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Noise, noise, noise filling the roaring silence. This was an uncomfortable read. The narrative was incessant and seemed always to roll right past me, leaving me with the feeling I’d missed something.

Nothing was happening. But I couldn’t put it down.

In the end, I found what was missing: It was Kathy H.’s outrage and despair. And this is where Ishiguro’s genius lies.

From cover to cover, our protagonist chatters on about the small and the meaningless, and with painstaking detail. Yet in all her obsessive rumination, she never once contemplates the horror that frames her entire short life and how she knows it will end. It’s like watching someone live in a rotting corpse of a house—ghosts and all—intent on filling its corners with gayly colored second-hand gaud and hiding its putrid walls beneath cheap chintzy wallpaper.

Ishiguro’s themes mirror the ongoing oppression in our social realities and the blind arguments we make to excuse them and keep them alive: They’re not like us. The subjugation of people of color by white power. The cruelty of the meat industry. Cold indifference. Outright denial.

But on a more personal level, I had to admit that Kathy H.’s (infuriating) dissociation was familiar. Don’t we all worry about lost cassette tapes, dirtying our favorite shirts, and petty arguments that we’ll soon forget, all the while ignoring bigger pain? Don’t we all just do what we can, with what we have, as long as we can? Distracting ourselves and filling the deafening silence with noise, noise, noise.

How’s that New Year’s writing resolution going?

One-twelfth of 2018 has come and gone, and as February rolls on, there’s a bit more elbow room in my yoga classes, my personal trainer’s schedule has opened up, and all over the world, stick-to-it planners are starting to collect a little dust. As that New-Year vigor begins to lose momentum, how’s that writing resolution of yours going?

I’ve just had a chat with Raphael, a would-be writer friend of mine. “How,” he asked, “can I finally overcome those (unnamable and unfathomable) barriers that have stopped me from seriously investing time into writing something meaningful?” It’s a dream that has whispered patiently from the back of his mind for years, but creating a writing habit that endures has eluded him.

For those of us who want our writing habits to be so much more than a well-intended push that’s bound to sputter and die away, how do we finally make good on those aspirations to write, to keep writing, and to finish something?

How to Make Good on Your New Year’s Writing Resolution

Developing any new habit is a challenge, but this can be particularly true for writing, which is so often pushed aside as less-than-a-priority on busy days. Here are some ideas for keeping this New Year’s promise to yourself and your future readers.

Photo by on Unsplash

Make it Easy on Yourself

In Lieberum’s ridiculously straightforward manual for finally bridging the gap between ambition and action, he addresses the strain on willpower in these earliest stages of habit formation. His advice is to make it easy on yourself.

What that means when developing a writing habit depends on when in your day you aspire to write, which tools you need, and what usually gets in the way. I like a first-thing-in-the-morning session before starting my workday. I must, therefore, make sitting down to write with my first cup of coffee the easiest thing I could do in the morning. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, let’s take a look at what usually gets in my way:

If I wake up with time to write, I tend to go straight to the kitchen and wake up the Nespresso machine. While I’m waiting for it to warm up and then to brew, I start tidying up the kitchen or the living room. Before I know it, I’ve finished my coffee and my house is neater, but I’ve got no writing done and it’s time to get focused on work. Other days, I spot whatever book I’m reading and think, I’ll just read a chapter and then get to writing. Or, worst of all, I make my coffee, forgo the housework, resist my book, and get onto my laptop, but then I get lost in my inbox or on social media.

The solution? Well, at night, after Paul and I finish dinner, we tidy everything up before heading to bed. Then, after a little pre-sleep reading, I tuck my book away into my nightstand drawer—I won’t even see it in the morning. And for the final bit, which is admittedly less than ideal for me, I have to write on paper to avoid the internet and its countless distractions altogether. I pack away my laptop at night and make sure that my notebook and my favorite pens and pencils are sitting exactly where I like to have my morning coffee.

Get Held Accountable

Each week, I have two calls with a lovely client named Desiree. We meet for some negotiated editing and slowly, her manuscript is moving along. Over these last several months, a pattern has emerged: Whatever progress Desiree has made since we last spoke was accomplished exactly just before or after one of our calls. Anticipating our session pushes her to be prepared for the next call.

Photo by on Unsplash

Of course, paying an editor for weekly coaching or writing support isn’t accessible for all of us. Luckily, there are several other options for finding accountability. On, for example, there are creative writing groups who meet biweekly or monthly to write together or give feedback on each other’s work over brunch, creating a sense of community and a built-in accountability group.

What tends to work for me are “writing dates.” I’m lucky enough to have several friends who write for various reasons, so I often plan a date with one of them, at a cafe or on a video call, and we’ll talk about what we’re working on and then use pomodoros to structure our co-writing sessions.

Give Yourself a Daily Objective

If you’re simply working on developing a writing habit but don’t have a particular project underway, give yourself an objective for each session. Planning to sit and write whatever comes to mind is problematic for those of us who may end up putting it off when we’re not sure what to write about.

Photo by Jess Watters on Unsplash

For Raphael, who’s been traveling nonstop for several years and who is now considering writing a memoir, I suggested that he research several literary concepts and writing techniques. His memoir would cover the unreal experiences he’s had all over the world, the random strangers who changed his life, and most importantly, what it all did to him. I assigned him the following tasks:

  • Read up on the character arc and the three-act structure and spend some time each day outlining several approaches to the themes and organization of your memoir.
  • Spend a week playing with show, don’t tell. Pick some unforgettable moments that you’re sure to cover in your memoir and give the scene a go, focusing on show, don’t tell. Practice describing specific emotional experiences on different days.
    • Monday: Outrage (e.g., an experience, for example, that left you feeling cheated, mistreated, or angry)
    • Tuesday: Euphoria
    • Wednesday: Jealousy
    • Thursday: Vulnerability
    • Friday:  Gratitude
  • Take show, don’t tell into your character development. Instead of summarizing the personalities you’ve met along the way, show them to us in a scene where we can make our own judgements based on what they say and do. Focus on a different person each day.

Whatever your writing endeavors are, there are endless techniques and aspects of writing that you could focus on for a session.  Having an objective gives you a focus and therefore fewer excuses for putting it off. If you’re like me and the gratification of checking things off of a to-do list motivates you, definitely give this method a try.

Got more ideas on how to develop a writing habit? Please share them below. Tell us what works for you!




“Only idiots need editors.”

Ouch. I’ve literally just heard someone say, “Only idiots need editors.”

“Tell that to J.K. Rowling,” my husband responded. At that, my inner Macaulay Culkin (circa Home Alone 2) dropped on one knee and fist pumped with an emphatic “YES!” because:

(a) my guy reflexively stood up to a bully for me (which is awesome),
(b) he appreciates Rowling (which means he mustn’t hate the countless hours of HP talk I’ve subjected him to), and
(c) he gave me a great argument to use here in this article. Thanks, Paul!

Editing is a rather broad term that fails in every language I speak to cover the breadth and depth of what kind of support it actually is. This is why I think the perpetrator (insert stink-eye emoji here) probably meant no harm but spoke (at least primarily) from ignorance.

Editing is not spell-checking. Otherwise, you could ask just about anyone to review your writing, and even your word processor can tell the difference between their and there in context. (And by the way, it doesn’t take an idiot to overlook a spelling mistake.)

Instead, editing is an integral part of any manuscript’s lifecycle. Spelling is, of course, a concern, but there are different kinds of editing, and each is approached with a specific focus and varying degrees of intensity.

If you want to be less ignorant than that guy, check out this page for more on the kinds of editing that masterful authors have always depended on for professional, objective feedback and guidance in the development of their stories—fiction or otherwise.

P. S. A humble shout out to writer and J.K. Rowling’s editor, Arthur A. Levine, who doesn’t, in fact, work for an idiot.

Now Reading: Now is the Time by Melvyn Bragg (A Review)

When I first discovered Melvyn Bragg, I was told he was something like a national treasure here in the UK. And after reading the Adventure of English: The Biography of  a Language (nonfiction), I was sold. The Adventure of English revealed the tiniest sliver of at least a hundred stories I wanted to hear. English is our protagonist, a bit of a victim to the whim of culture and conquest through the ages before growing into a blazing language of power—solidarity, global connectedness, and hegemony included.

41wulq8oswl-_sx324_bo1204203200_So then imagine me stumbling upon Now is the Time at the book store: Melvyn Bragg? A historical novel? A gilded matte-finish cover that begs to be handled? It was like falling in love at first sight—completely reckless.

I was prepped and primed for Now is the Time, the telling of a medieval peasant’s revolt, which (not coincidentally) also sheds light on part of English’s struggle to survive to serve as a language of state and religion.

As I write this, I have already finished the novel (misleading title, I know), and I suffer from a guilt-ridden ambivalence toward Bragg’s narrative approach. I so wanted to love this book into a 5-star review.

First, the praise: I love that Bragg chose to tell this story. It’s a fascinating moment in history that reminds us how much (and how little) our social worlds have changed since 1381. The portrait of the sociolinguistic context was perfect and can serve as a insightful reflection of power in modern diglossia. (This is particularly fascinating since most of us have a difficult time imagining English with the short end of the stick.)

BUT… I can’t help but feel that Bragg tried to accomplish too much in 350 pages. I wish that he had simply committed to fewer aspects of the revolt and its major players. The storytelling felt crowded with actors and motives, which left little time for settling in with any single character. Point of view shifts often and the pages are flooded with names that I have already forgotten since their last mention. Imagine an entire season of Game of Thrones (plus all the relevant background information) packed into a single episode or two.

For writers of many genres, there’s definitely a lesson to learn here. All the research and development of your characters and their worlds is bound to be fascinating (even if only to you). But (unfortunately) that doesn’t mean that every bit of it belongs in the telling of a single story, especially one with multiple plot lines. More on this in another post, I suspect.

I’ll finish with a final bit of love for the book and Bragg: The last paragraph, which I wouldn’t dare share here (even though I’m tempted cause I love it so much) is gorgeous homage to such ‘blips’ in history. First they are—audacious and undeniable. Then they are weathered—still there, even if only as a shadow. And finally, they are no more. That is, of course, until gems like Melvyn Bragg dig them back up and invite us to remember. For that, I’m grateful.

Why You Should RUE: Resist the Urge to Explain

RUE (i.e., resist the urge to explain) is a brilliant yet common-sense concept from Browne and King, the authors of one my favorite editing resources, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print. Importantly, this is not just a wise warning for fiction writers but a principle to be observed by nonfiction and academic writers as well.

What resist the urge to explain means is (hopefully) self-evident, but the grounds for RUE may be less so. There are plenty of reasons to avoid unnecessary explanation, but let’s skip the mindless enumeration and take a look at an example of R.U.E. in action.

Last night I watched Hidden Figures, a nonfiction-book-based film1 that follows three female African-American mathematicians working for NASA during the Space Race with the USSR and, importantly, the U.S. Civil Rights movement. Let’s explore R.U.E. using my favorite line from the film, a simple yet powerful response delivered by Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy Vaughan, an acting computer supervisor who is repeatedly denied an official promotion and the corresponding raise. After a brief but icy exchange that follows weeks of sharpening tension, her immediate supervisor, played by Kirsten Dunst, stops Spencer on her way out of the newly desegregated ladies’ room:

“Despite what you may think,” Dunst says, “I have nothing against y’all.”

Spencer stops. Turning to look at Dunst, she says, “I know you probably believe that.”

Bazinga! Simple, yet powerful. As Spencer exits (leaving behind a thoughtful Ms. Dunst), I’m grinning like a buffoon and throwing a million mental high-fives in Spencer’s direction from my beanbag.

But what’s this got to do with R.U.E.? Let’s explore another take of this exchange:

“Despite what you may think,” Dunst says defensively, “I have nothing against y’all.”

Annoyed by the fact that Dunst clearly doesn’t get it, Spencer stops and turns to face her. “I know you probably believe that,” she says ironically. “Maybe you think you’re not racist, and maybe you aren’t consciously, but if being Black means that I’m less fit to be a supervisor than you, then I’d say, yes, you’re holding something against me: my skin color.”

Dunst was bewildered by Spencer’s accusation. She stood in stunned silence as she watched her leave.

Okay, I added a bunch of rubbish here, but hopefully I made my point. Not only have the explanations (of emotion, manner, and the meaning of the utterance) insulted our intelligence by assuming that (a) we wouldn’t have been able to figure it out on our own and (b) our imaginations wouldn’t have been able to fill in the blanks, the exchange has also completely lost its bazinga! factor. By adding “defensively,” I’ve intruded upon your interpretation of Dunst’s character and her statement. I’ve made it one-dimensional and “boxed it in” by limiting the way the readers’ imaginations may have played the scene out. Furthermore, we certainly didn’t need clarification that Dorothy’s statement was ironic or that her supervisor’s cluelessness really ground her gears.

In the case of fiction and creative writing, Browne and King’s discussion of RUE specifically addresses the naming of the emotion behind a character’s behavior or language, as in the addition of defensively and ironically to the dialogue tags and the description of the emotional states bewildered and annoyed. The trouble with descriptions like these are connected to the Show, Don’t Tell rule:

[The] tendency to describe a character’s emotion may reflect a lack of confidence on the part of the writer. And more often than not, writers tell their readers things already shown by dialogue and action. It’s as if they’re repeating themselves to make sure their readers get the point. So when you come across an explanation of a character’s emotion, simply cut the explanation. If the emotion is still shown, then the explanation wasn’t needed. If the emotion isn’t shown, rewrite the passage so that it is. (Browne & King, 1993, p. 17)

In nonfiction and other genres, writers have to be cautious to avoid providing unnecessary explanations (like my addition of the meaning behind Spencer’s original line). Yes, of course, you should explain concepts or arguments that won’t be clear to your readers otherwise, but every reader can be assumed to have some level of critical-thinking ability, so don’t think for them.

A final quote from Browne and King on the work of a writer who managed to RUE throughout her novel. Although they’re still talking about fiction, the principle applies equally to all genres of writing:

Also, by never explaining her situations, by trusting her readers to keep up her, [the author] pays her readers the compliment of assuming them to be intelligent. And that’s a compliment any writer would do well to pass along. (Browne & King, 1993, p. 37)


1based on the autobiographical novel by Margot Lee Shetterly

Character Voice & Individuality: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent is the most eloquently written novel I’ve read since McEwan’s Atonement. Luckily, it’s far less depressing (not at all depressing, in fact, despite a theme of death carrying the first two scenes). Somehow, the narrative maintains a sense of levity and humor, even in moments we might expect to be… moodier. One of the greatest strengths I’ve found in the writing so far is the texture and individuality of character voice.

Take a look at the correspondence between our protagonists, Cora and Luke, presented in the same order in the book:


I’m going to deprive myself the pedantic pleasure of exploring every semantic, pragmatic, syntactic, and lexical difference between the letters (and the respective voices), and instead, I’ll point out two obvious differences. (Sigh.)

  1. Word count. 416 vs. 59. Luke’s response is about 1/7 the length of Cora’s.
  2. Terms of endearment/expressions of affection. I counted 8 in Cora’s and 0 in Luke’s. We might be tempted to explain this difference with unrequited love, but if you’ve read the preceding 69 pages, you’ll know that’s not true. In fact, we know that Luke believes himself to be in love with Cora, while Cora has, as of yet, failed to betray any romantic attachment to her dear imp whatsoever.

So how do we summarize what makes them different? Voice.

Dissecting and quantifying the elements of a character’s speech or written dialogue is unlikely to be helpful in creating or gauging individualities, but this exercise certainly illustrates Perry’s ability to replicate a crucial truth about the human voice:

Individuals think, and therefore, speak and write differently.

Sometimes these differences are attributable to gender: Studies comparing male and female language have revealed distinctions in the distribution of certain types of words (e.g., descriptive words like adjectives and adverbs) and utterances (e.g., requests over commands), as well as the subconscious intentions that underlie such language choices. The speech of U.S. women, for example, tends to be characterized by utterances that create or reinforce solidarity between speakers, whereas U.S. men’s speech often creates or reinforces lateral social distance, reflecting perceived differences in power.

But, importantly, it’s not just gender that makes the difference. Character voices with individuality betray personality, emotional hang-ups, moods, ulterior motives, cultural backgrounds, social class, education and profession, the relationship between the characters speaking, etc.

If your editor has warned you that the voice of your characters are flat or that they lack individuality, consider the dramatic differences in Perry’s example. Luke uses no pet names, no intensifiers, no formatting for emphasis, and absolutely no redundancy. He is succinct, almost terse. But his letter isn’t lacking in humor, nor does it fail to reveal perhaps a little more than he intended to about his feelings for Cora. His addressee, on the other hand, writes with deep description of setting and emotion, even if only exaggerated to make a point. She repeats herself multiple times and her wordiness provides a stark contrast to Luke’s economy of words.

As I get to know these characters, I like to imagine that, although their letters are different in scope and size, Luke spent no less time composing his letter, at least in thought, than Cora did. As a reader, I project such meaning because the individuality of character voices creates, in the mind, a world with two unique individuals with subconscious (or otherwise) agendas, hopes, desires, and tells.

Can you think of any other brilliant literary examples of voices that breathe life-like vibrancy into their characters? Please share!

Now Reading: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The characters and circumstances in Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last creeped and crawled under my skin, and I both loved and hated the roller-coaster ambivalence I felt toward Atwood’s dystopian near-future and the people in it. It served as a gorgeous example of how powerful it can be to avoid describing a protagonist’s character or qualities and, instead, to let your reader be the judge.the-heart-goes-last-for-the-love-of-the-story

As I eavesdropped on the lives and thoughts of Charmaine and Stan, I assessed them as I would a stranger on the street and projected my judgements onto them—only to have these projections blown away by the unexpected bits of darkness and light lurking beneath. I empathized as often as I shuddered in revulsion. The protagonists and their choices were surprising, and there was absolutely no guessing the twists and turns awaited me on the next page. It was terrible, naughty, and deliciously perverse.

What did you think? And who did you love-hate most?



Now Reading: The Circle by Dave Eggers

It’s been years since I read Eggers’s Zeitoun, a compelling true story that carries a message that is, unfortunately, as appropriate now as it was during the post-911 zeitgeist dominating the early 2000s. I say this because it was that same sense of relevancy that excited me about The Circle, published in 2013 and (apparently) widely acknowledged as one of the year’s best books. Yes, I’m rather late to the game, but I am, again, applauding the timeliness of the themes that emerge in the very first pages.

I’m a complete sucker for explorations of sociocultural forces that shape our reality (or our perceptions of it), especially when we get to dig into the implicit and the unspoken. Combine this with dystopian fiction and I’m hooked immediately.

One-Woman Book Club: Dave Egger’s The Circle

the-circle-dave-eggers-for-the-love-of-the-storyAs I write this, I’ve just finished the first few (unmarked) chapters—a dizzying introduction to Mae, the Circle, and a Brave-New-World-meets-Black-Mirror version of the near future. I feel quite like I imagine Mae did on her first day at the HQ of the dominating force in technology, innovation, and everything: eager, overwhelmed, and sure that I’ll have forgotten everything I’ve learned by the end of the day. Importantly though, I’ll not forget the sensations that each encounter and discovery left me with. I’m quickly developing the (vicarious) sense of excitement that only comes from feeling part of something big, a distaste for certain Circlers, a connection to others, a practiced eye-roll for the social media culture that pervades Mae’s context, and a healthy anticipation to learn where Mae’s journey will take me.

So far, it’s got a nice, quick pace, and I’m connecting fast and hard with the protagonist who’s all too easy to identify with: a serial major-changer in college, buried in student debt, and disenchanted with the traditional 9-to-5. Even better, the narrative is woven with subtle hints of sinister on the horizon—nothing compels me more!

Have you read it?

Show, Don’t Tell: Anger, Nervousness, Fear (Example)

Anger, nervousness, and fear: These are the names we’ve given to poignant and complex emotions that can overpower even Zeno of Citium himself. As children, we experienced these emotions purely with neither the Freudian ego to reign them in nor the two-syllable words with which to label them. As we grow, we learn to recognize them in ourselves and others and acquire words for them: angry, nervous, scared. This is useful for communication in relationships, but in creative writing, these words are regrettably weak in capturing the intensity and texture of real human experience.

He was angry. I was scared. Show, Don’t Tell!

Think of the last time you had the misfortune to witness the raw, unfettered wrath of a red-faced toddler when Mummy said no: tears, saliva, fists clenched, a shriek that makes your blood curdle, and violence to boot—teddies and small fists are flying. There is not a word soothing or firm enough to penetrate the deafening shield of rage that pulsates around him. Think demon possession. And well… he’s angry.

This is what anger looks like before we learn to control or be embarrassed by it. Although we learn to deal with the emotion as we mature, what we feel in response to an unfair accusation or an act of betrayal is just as brutal. It can take over us; it’s blinding. It’s difficult to think clearly and nearly impossible to communicate effectively or fairly.

Regardless of where on the scale of intensity your character’s emotion falls, say, slightly miffed to murderous rage, there’s much to show for it beyond the woefully insufficient label “angry.” Describing these nuances reify the emotions in a way that simply naming them cannot. What does anger really feel like? What sensations are there? In the skin, face, finger tips, chest? What unreasonable thoughts or imagined scenarios of revenge pop up in our minds? If it’s expressed externally, what does it look like? Instead of telling us that your character is angry, use sensations, behaviors, or train of thought to show us.

Textual Mentor: How to Show Angry, Nervous, or Scared

So let’s let Stephen Kelman show us how he approached the expression of anger, nervousness, and fear in a scene from Pigeon English. Eleven-year-old Harri and ginger-haired Dean are intercepted by an intimidating gang of bullies. In a first-person past-tense narrative that uses screenplay-like attribution and internal dialogue, Harri’s responses to the unpleasant encounter invites us in to feel with him.

X-Fire wouldn’t let us past. They were waiting outside the cafeteria. They were all standing in our way and they wouldn’t move. You didn’t know if it was a trick or for real.

Dizzy: ‘What’s up, pussy boys?’

Clipz: ‘I heard you failed the first test. That’s weak, man!’

I wanted to be a bomb. I wanted to knock them all down. That’s what it felt like. I kept waiting for him to laugh but his face was still hard like he meant it. Like we were enemies.

X-Fire: ‘Don’t worry, Ghana. I’ll think of something easier for you next time, you’ll be alright. What you got then, Ginger?’

Dean went all stiff. My belly went cold.

Dean: ‘I ain’t got nothing.’

Dizzy: ‘Don’t lie to us, man. What’s in your pockets? Show me.’

We couldn’t move. He had to show them or we’d never get past. It wasn’t even fair.

Anger: Harri’s anger is illustrated by an urge (i.e., to be bomb, to knock them all down). We benefit from the ideas and images that bomb evokes: to burst, to explode, destruction, strength, blinding light, victory, revenge. But it’s even more complex than this; it wasn’t even necessarily unadulterated anger. He was angry, but he sought confirmation that he should be angry, that it wasn’t a joke. He reads the anger or disappointment on Clipz’s face and shows it to us though visual description (i.e., hard) and the implications (i.e., we were enemies).

Nervousness/Fear: Simply and effectively, Harri shows us Dean’s fear through body language (i.e., Dean went all stiff) and his own fear through sensation (i.e., My belly went cold.) He could have merely told us that they were nervous, but it would have greatly diminished its effect on us.

Kelman’s choices provide imagery that informs us that Harri is angry and that he and Dean are scared—both without once using either emotional label. This is what writers should strive for. Instead of telling us that your character is angry, show us. How? Start by stripping away names of emotions and revising until the emotions are evident without them.

Know of a good textual example of these or any other emotions? Please share!