All right, as promised, here is the same scene I posted yesterday after working with the emotion thesaurus. I also wanted to talk a little bit about what sort of thought process I went through, just in case it helps you analyze your own scenes.
Sunny (A) half-nodded as Doyle reeled off the dates of the construction, looking with bemusement at the stone colors demarcating the two sections. If she looked very closely, the older stone was just a smidge darker. ”Was the new stone from a different area?”
“No, Miss. It came from the same quarry down by the lake. The smoke from the fireplaces has colored it over the centuries. The stone originally was, I believe, a very pale gray.”
“All of this was pale gray?” (B) Sunny scratched the wall with her fingernail, but the soot didn’t budge. Whoa. Hundreds of years of smoke exposure could sure do a number on solid rock. She hit her palm against the wall as something clicked into place in her mind. No wonder all the art in the entire castle was so dingy!
(yada, yada, yada)
“Why do they call my room the Rose Room?” she asked, then gnawed on her bottom lip, hoping Doyle would follow her lead on the change of subject.
(C) The butler raised an eyebrow, then turned away from her, talking back over his shoulder as they continued down the hall to the next room. “There are roses in the wallpaper and there always have been, as far back as we have records.”
Sunny shook her head at his retreating back, trying to recall the wallpaper in her room. Those didn’t look like any roses she’d ever seen.
Okay, so here is a brief description of what I did.
First I thought A LOT about what emotion Sunny was actually feeling as this conversation was unfolding. First, (A) why was she nodding? Well, the dates didn’t mean that much to her, plus it amused her that the butler could wax poetic about which wing was built when, and also the stone’s colors weren’t really that different, certainly not like Doyle is trying to say they are. So, in looking at the list of options on the Bookshelf Muse, I decided I would try “Amusement.” But those sorts of actions didn’t really describe was I was picturing. She was slightly amused, but not in a laugh-out-loud kind of way, more like just a quiet resignation kind of way. Finally, I settled on “Resignation,” and one of the actions in that list is “A head tilt and pause.” I pictured that and thought maybe that could be described as a half-nod, so I went with that.
(B) Originally, I had “surprised” here. Which she was, since now the walls were practically coal black. But again, when I looked up surprised in the thesaurus, those words didn’t really fit. Those seemed like more of a “someone-jumped-out-at-me-from-a-dark-alley” surprise rather than a “Really?” low-key surprise. So I looked again at the list of options and I tried “Doubt.” Nope. Finally I settled on “Confusion.” When I looked down that list, I saw the suggestion of “Repeating back a question to the person,” and I thought that would work great. So Sunny repeated his statement back to Doyle, this time framing it as a question and it worked perfectly. In my mind, I could picture her disbelieving him, trying to convince herself that he wasn’t lying. Then I just added a few more actions to reinforce that confusion. She tried to scratch off the soot, only to find that it had sunk into the pores of the stone; then I stuck in that part about the art, because she has noticed in past parts of the book that most of the art was so dark you couldn’t really see the subjects of the painting, and this was of course the reason, so it made sense to bring it up here.
(C) Finally, I needed to work on Doyle’s reaction, rather than just having him “look at her strangely.” But it’s important for the plot that he actually is a little condescending to her, so when I checked the options, I selected “Haughty/Smug/Superior,” but it couldn’t be too obvious. There was the infamous raised eyebrow (which I tend to overuse but it seemed to work really well here) and then nothing else really worked, so I thought rather than have him look away quickly like she was insignificant, if he just turned away and then walked away from her, that would have a similar meaning, making her trot after him down the hall which is of course a classic sign that someone is inferior.
Well, this post is going on much too long, but hopefully it has been helpful. I wanted you to see that the original emotion I had “assigned to them” in the telling wasn’t actually what I wanted at all. Doing this exercise forced me to really consider what they were feeling and how they would show it considering their stations in the household and what thoughts were running through Sunny’s head.
I’d love to see any rewrites you have done using this thesaurus, so feel free to link me or post short excerpts. How will this help you in your writing?