June writing challenge

 In Writing Challenge

You’ve got to the end of a journey – literal or metaphorical – and what you discover there is very different from what you anticipated. Write a scene of no more than 250 words telling us of your surprise/disappointment/exultation.

Paste it into the body of an email and send it to us by midnight on 30 June.

The winner can expect our usual modest reward: a R250 voucher to the independent bookstore of their choice.

Writing tip:  Showing emotion in your character

Your character’s feeling, let’s say, extremely nervous as she approaches the board outside the examinations hall to check her results. So in describing her state of mind, do you say: A nervous Vanessa approached the board, desperate to find out how she’d done?

Well, no. What you try to do is show her state of mind. But that’s easier said than done.

What many of us are tempted to do in showing emotion, is to use the physical symptoms of emotions: the rapid heartbeat, the clammy skin, the shaking hands…

The trouble with these sorts of details is that they’ve been overused, and so have become clichés.

So how do you show emotions?

The first and most important tactic at your command is to slow things down. You do this by describing the details of her approach to the board, both concerning her thoughts, and her actions.

So she might think about the last disastrous exam she wrote, just after she broke up with Trevor. She hopes it’s not going to be a repeat of that. She remembers her father’s reaction to that news, and can’t bear the thought of a repeat of that.

Then she sees, gathered at the board, a group of students. One of them, an old academic rival of hers, is whooping her delight. Oh God, that probably means that she’s outperformed her…

She slows. Her rival runs past her, tells her she got a first, asks what she got. She says she hasn’t looked yet, prays that her rival didn’t check her marks, or if she did, won’t blurt them out…

By the time you manoeuvre your character to the board to start checking through the names, your reader will know that she’s nervous – and you won’t have mentioned her heartbeat, or the trickle of sweat between her shoulder blades, and, most important, you won’t have named her emotion, you’ll have shown it to us in action and in thought (which is, after all, invisible action.)


And if you’re looking for more essential tips about writing, why not explore Jo-Anne’s series we’ve called “Twenty essential aspects of writing”.

Click here to read the winning entries from the May writing challenge.

Upcoming courses

30-Day Writing Workout, Online – 1 to 30 August

Venice Writing Retreat, Venice, Italy – 6 to 13 September

Stow-on-the-Wold Writing Weekend Writing Workshop, Cotswolds, United Kingdom – 22 to 24 September

Click here for a complete list of our 2017 courses

Recommended Posts
Showing 2 comments
  • Keaobaka

    I like this. Which e-mail address should use to send a short story?

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt