Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Writing on the Wall

It's fun to study books on character expression and emotion. It's even more fun trying to come up with varied ways of describing what your character feels.

The other morning, reading a chapter in the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament, I noticed a verse that was interesting for writers who struggle to find the right description of an emotion. The author wanted to paint a picture of the king's status.

Back story:
Belshazzar and his revelers drink from the vessels of the temple—A hand writes upon the wall, telling of Belshazzar’s downfall—Daniel interprets the words and reproves the king for pride and idolatry—That night Babylon is conquered.

The disembodied fingers wrote these words:

מנא, מנא, תקל, ופרסין
Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin

In verse 6 we hear how Belshazzar, the king of Babel, reacted to seeing the hand write on the wall.

 Then the king’s acountenance was changed, and his thoughtsbtroubled him, so that cthe joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.

I like the Norwegian translation of this verse. It is even more colorful. It says, "Then the King changed color, and his thoughts troubled him; his joints became weak, and his knees smote against each other."

In other words, his face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.

Based on this scripture in the Bible about Daniel, and how the handwriting on the wall predicted the end of the kingdom of Babylon, the expression today means that something bad will happen. It is an idiom for "imminent doom or misfortune".

Showing character emotions in writing can be done in many ways.  Here are four points to focus on:

1. Body language - make he character raise his eyebrow, tap his foot, wring his hands
2. Show, don't tell - "He was happy" can be a bubbly voice, whistling, a smile, joyful tears, etc.
3. Dialogue - Precise conversation, questions, and answers to show happiness, fear, etc.
4. Interaction with other characters, the surroundings, how the protagonist sees the worlds around him.

I painted the oil painting of Daniel in the Lion's Den 29 years ago as a young mother living in Okinawa, Japan. On the second floor of our house I had an office to work in and kept my toddlers at a distance with a gate in the doorway. I remember I spent a long time trying to decide the scene, Daniel's age and the emotions of the painting. It's a painting I still have on my living room wall, no matter how many offers I have had to sell it.

The other painting today is Rembrandt's wonderful rendition, "Belzasar's Feast".

No comments:

Post a Comment