Writing Tips: Showing Emotion

Lessons learned in today’s R&C

Every writer has heard the mantra: Show, Don’t tell. But believe me, that is harder than it sounds. On my first draft, I allow myself to use those dasterdly adverbs. She said happily. He stared longingly. He sweated profusely. But on the next go round, while I’m looking for plot holes and other big things like that, I start picking at those little suckers.

Some days, I can think of no other way to say, she smiled happily. But on a good day, my mind will start clicking and I can finally show how she smiled… like she had just been handed a sleepy dalmation puppy … or maybe she smiled with an uncontrolled grin, not even caring about the missing tooth she always tried to hide.

I’ve also been toying around with facial expressions and body language, you know, he raised his eyebrow, she swung her hand through the air, she sniffed. But Rich (our amazing R&C guy) pointed out that I was over-using it, and it just felt clunky. As always, he was right. I had sensed that, but didn’t really know what to do with it or how to fix it.

As Rich likes to say, “It’s an easy fix.” This time, I think he might have been lying, because I’m still struggling with the fix. But basically, you still have to explain the emotion. My character might be feeling shy, so I have her bite her lip. That isn’t enough. “I bit my lip, hoping that nobody noticed I had used 5 adverbs in one paragraph.”

So then I was perplexed, I usually write in first person, how do I explain the actions of others? “The prince swung his leg over the arm of his chair.” I’m wanting to portray that he is cocky and confident, but what if somebody just reads it that his back hurts? I tell it as my protaganist sees it. “The prince swung his leg over the arm of his chair, like he owned the whole room. He had never known a time when he wasn’t the most important person.”

So, I’m going to go off and try to edit my book, perfecting this concept like I’m Stephen King…


Dreams and plans change. But that is OK.

For years, Leny and I have discussed buying a sailboat and sailing off around the world.

Quite frankly, I think this dream terrified us a little bit, but we took some non-commital steps, like watching a million video blogs, buying books, and going to boat shows. Then we jumped in and bought a little 30 foot Hunter in Seward, Alaska, our Perspective. We took sailing classes, spent summers taking little weekend trips out into Resurrection Bay, and felt some confidence in our role as “sailors”. Not too much, but a little.

But then life took some unexpected turns. Leny got a job in Southern California. He got the job on a Tuesday, and the following Thursday, we loaded up our little Porsche Macan with the things we could fit, leaving space for Doppio, our black lab, and hit the Alcan Highway, for our 2,500-mile drive to San Diego.

On the way, we talked about moving onto a sailboat. We had looked at some, on an earlier trip, which were still for sale. But when we arrived in San Diego, the enormity of Leny’s new job seemed like too much to pair with jumping into a new lifestyle of living on a boat, so we rented a furnished apartment in a highrise downtown.

I’ll admit, it was a fun change. We LOVED the views of Balboa Park, and the bay, and the downtown. We loved being able to walk, everywhere. I did not love the 24-floor elevator ride every time Doppio needed to go for a walk.

When the end of our lease was approaching, we started looking for a house to buy. We looked in San Diego but decided on Palm Springs. We looked at countless homes, made an offer on one, but the deal fell apart. We made an offer on another, and it fell apart in an even more dramatic fashion.

We were in limbo! We moved our stuff into storage and rented an Airbnb. We were flying to Alaska for a couple weeks for our daughter’s wedding, and we did not know what to do. We went to an RV show, and then on the way to drop me off at the airport, we stopped and looked at a Four Winds Magellan at a small dealership. We loved the layout. The next morning, Leny went back to buy it, but it had just sold. We were crushed.

Leny joined me in Alaska for the beautiful wedding. He had found another Magellan in Georgia. We decided to buy it! The day before the wedding, we signed the papers.


We really didn’t want to continue leaving Doppio with the dog sitter, and there was no way she would be able to fly as she can be a gigantic mental case, and so we rented a car, and drove across the country. We picked up our motorhome and hit the road!

Our new adventure had begun!

The Dream….

So, maybe about ten years ago, Leny started dreaming about boats… sailboats in particular.  He talked about boats, he searched the web for anything and everything about boats…. and I, well, I, while initially terrified, started to take to the idea.

We had just completed a five month RV trip with our four kids, and had established that we liked the nomadic lifestyle, in a small space… a sailboat just seemed to be a much more dramatic version of that lifestyle…. I could do it.  Eeekkk.

However, the kids were now emerging teenagers, and only one of the four was at all game for that adventure, and then we took a big step which took us far from that dream, and opened a large bookstore and cafe instead.  Leny likes to say “a bookstore or a boat…. I lost”.  I’m rather sure that is an oversimplification of what happened, but we’ll go with that story.

Time moves on, we closed the bookstore (but continued selling books, much more profitable without overhead, let me tell you); all but one of the kids have left the nest, and she is mighty close.  Leny continued to follow sailing blogs, and look at boats for sale periodically, but all in all, it seemed like a dream that had passed.  Until one day, some friends invited us out on their sailboat out of Whittier, Alaska, and that was all it took… we were buying a boat.

We looked at Seven Stars, a logical beginners boat, in Whittier.  She was a 27 footer, very basic, no electric, tiny galley, and a little bit of an overwhelming smell of mold.  The owner was a great guy, whose new wife and no interest in sailing. She was a bit of a project, which we know to expect, but it seemed like we were starting out way behind.

FullSizeRender (1) Here is Delaney and her friend’s reaction to Seven Stars. ( Please note, that Delaney was not the child who was interested in sailing off into the sunset 10 years previous… that might be obvious).

It really was a nice boat, and it came with a slip, but thought we would be foolish to purchase a boat after only looking at one, so the next weekend we traveled to Seward, so see the much more plentiful options there. We had a nice visit with some folks in the next berth from one of the boats for sale…. after the owner, over the phone, gave us permission to go on his boat, we suddenly realized (maybe the underwear hanging from the ceiling gave it away) that we were on the wrong boat.  OK, embarrassing, awkward and all that … on to the next boat.  The most basic, boring boat I had ever seen.  Nope, gotta have a feel for it.  Time to visit Sailing Inc, and see the boats they have for sale. So, I feel in love with Gimli… a 28 foot Beneteau. Lots of light, and nice quarter berth, which didn’t fill me with clausterphobia, and a decent v-berth.  Please take a moment to note, that I know NOTHING about sailing, so while in reality, I should be commenting on the sails, and the rudder, and yadda yadda, I just look at the layout.  I liked this boat, but anyone who knows Leny, knows that he would NEVER own a boat named Gimli.  He has no use for Hobbits, or Viking Lore… the boat would have to be renamed….

Next we looked at two boats which were in a price range we had never discussed before…. A Catalina, who lost out, because of some engine issues and an atrocious choice of exterior paint color, tan and brown.  And then a nice little Hunter, named Perspective.  At this point, I was still rather focused on Gimli (I like Hobbits and I am a tight-wad).  However, this was a nice boat.  We like food, and cooking, and it had the biggest galley we had seen yet.  It had a giant back berth, and a v-berth, which felt a bit like a bedroom.  The lines were all in good shape, and piled neatly.  She was calling Leny’s name… and he answered.  We made an offer the next day, and it was accepted.