A lady in my writer's group posed the question recently: Is there a secret formula to capturing emotion? She continued, I know in an action scene you're supposed to keep your sentences short and tight so that people feel like they're reading as fast as the action is happening. Is there a secret like this for scenes you want to be emotionally powerful?
Her questions got me thinking. I had never thought about it before. But the answer I came up with (and I believe there are many elements that contribute to a scene being emotionally powerful) was that I think the same rule of "showing" and not "telling" applies with emotions as well. There is nothing more frustrating to me then when an author says something like, "she was very scared" or "she was very happy" as part of their narrative. It feels as though the author is trying to tell me how I am supposed to be feeling in that moment. And if I don't feel "scared" or "happy" I feel like the author is trying to force me to. Even if the character is crying a river of tears, I am not moved unless I have been given reasons to be. I would much rather hear thoughts or body language or setting being described (and then she can cry if appropriate). Take the following excerpt from "Harry Potter: And The Chamber of Secrets" as an illustration of my point:
He was standing at the end of a very long, dimly lit chamber. Towering stone pillars entwined with more carved serpents rose to support a ceiling lost in darkness, casting long, black shadows through the odd, greenish gloom that filled the place.
His heart beating very fast, Harry stood listening to the chill silence. Could the basilisk be lurking in a shadowy corner, behind a pillar? And where was Ginny?
He pulled out his wand and moved forward between the serpentine columns. Every careful footstep echoed loudly off the shadowy walls. He kept his eyes narrowed, ready to clamp them shut at the smallest sign of movement. The hollow eye sockets of the stone snakes seemed to be following him. More than once, with a jolt of the stomach, he thought he saw one stir.
Note, that JK Rowling never once told us how Harry was feeling. She didn't say he was terrified or nervous. But I felt both of those emotions because of how she described not only the setting, but what Harry was doing or thinking. How his body was reacting to his surroundings made me imagine those things (like a jolting stomach) and added to my discomfort as I read.
This is just one of the suggestions I had. What about you? How do you capture emotion in a scene?