When book club meets, we talk about more than this month’s book. In September we read If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin. We also talk about the other books we’ve been reading. When someone mentioned a particular title, I had to admit that I hadn’t been able to finish it. The characters were too over-the-top in terms of their emotions.
Some writers do this to create tension. And since the tension has to grow throughout the story the character’s emotions get more and more extreme.
And didn’t realize that I rejecting the character’s melodrama until I read this post by Mary Kole, Melodramatic vs Dramatic, A Definition. There are times that a character is going to have a big emotional reaction but if this happens every time they get a bad grade, spill their drink at dinner, or can’t find their favorite top? Over-the-top.
Here are three ways to tell that your character’s emotions may be over the top.
Check your punctuation
If everything your character says is accompanied by an exclamation point (!) or twelve (!!!!!!!!!!!!), they are probably over the top.
Check your dialogue tags
Said or says. Those are the gold card standards of dialogue tags. They disappear into the background but are enough to help readers tell who is speaking. If you are tempted to use screamed, shrilled, shouted, swore, exclaimed, yelled, shrieked, wailed, howled, screeched, or anything oalong these lines, your character may need to tone it down.
Check your verbs
What is your character doing while delivering her dialogue? Is she stomping or slamming? Throwing or battering? Rending or flouncing? Those last two are a nod to the purple prose that Kole mentioned in her post.
Trot this type of display out too often and you are going to burn out your reader. I’m not saying that all of the above should be avoided 24/7. But save it for a special occassion like getting dumped.