When I work on a first draft, I'm not always sure how to best describe how a character's emotional state is physically impacting her/him. So I use placeholders.
Stomach twisting. Eyes burning. Weight lifting off chest. And, of course - letting out a breath one didn't realize was being held.
Then during the editing rounds, I look for new ways to say these things. Ways that haven't been used a million times before.
I try to re-experience the emotions the character is dealing with - only this time paying closer attention to what's going on physically during the experience. This means I've had to figure out what events best trigger which emotions.
For instance, a character I'm working with right now feels a little claustrophobic and a lot annoyed around her former classmates. Even though she knows that she's going to feel this way, she also knows that interacting with them is a but of a must right now. So, she works to control it. But even when those around her can't tell, she still feels it all.
Well, recently, I've been asked to go to a number of furniture stores in a helper capacity. And I've discovered something - I really hate furniture stores.
If Dante lived today, his Inferno would have a tenth circle. And it would look exactly like a furniture store.
They're so crowded with armoires and breakfronts and credenzas (don't ask me what the difference is) that even when there's a reasonable number of people in there, it's too many. I've caught my hip bone on more sideboard corners than I'd like to admit. And whoever coined the term "funny bone" was clearly being ironic.
And while I'm somewhat sympathetic to those working on commission, it's hard not to feel closed in when you know that a furniture store employee is constantly following you from a not-so-discreet distance and making comments on every chaise lounge your gaze falls on, interrupting your mental meanderings back to the relaxation patterns of ancient Greek gods.
One store also contained an inordinate number of tall, fake potted plants. The furniture store pursuant who claimed us at his own chose to stand behind the plants while we looked. At one point, he bolted quickly across a room full of sofas to stand just behind another plant by the far doorway. He only came out when another employee tried to talk to us.
It was an odd experience, but useful. Now every time I make my character walk back into her old school, I put myself back in the furniture store - sometimes literally, as I am lucky (unfortunate??) enough to live around a plethora. And this time I pay attention.
What's happening in my chest? Does my breathing change? My brain isn't racing, but it's probably doing something. What? Exactly how long does it take before I have to stifle the urge to throw some elbows?
Once I go through my check list, it's time for another pass on the scene. This time with hopefully a few less overused phrases.
Writers, what inspires you when you're writing about emotional reactions?