September 24, 2009

Subject: Exterior and Interior Emotions

Last night, I heard Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out, talk about her newest book, The Curse of the Good Girl, which is about helping girls live more confident lives free of the the "good girl" social confines. Simmons is a great speaker, and she did an awesome job reaching out to the middle school girls in the audience. One of the many things I learned was that "ehh" and "whatever" are not actual emotions.

Books like Odd Girl Out and The Curse of the Good Girl help me as a writer by reminding me of the issues that face my middle school and high school characters and readers. Sometimes through memories that I can mine for emotional responses. Sometimes through recalling experiences that seem trivial now but were a big deal as a teen.

They also help me with developing my characters' emotional responses. Simmons talked about exterior vs. interior emotions and using this distinction to get to the root cause of your feelings. Outward expressions like anger or frustration are exterior emotions that often hide other, deeper emotions such as embarrassment, fear, jealousy or regret. As a writer, this makes me think about combining surface level conflict with opportunities for the character to think about inner conflicts, needs and desires. Interior emotions seem to be the fodder for character thought, choices and growth.

Anyway, it was a great lecture at Town Hall that included some technical wizardry. Simmons encouraged audience members to get out their phones and text responses to questions like "What do you think of when you hear the term 'good girl'?" She showed the responses in real time on the screen behind her. (Can you imagine asking a group of middle schoolers to use their cell phones during a presentation? They loved it!) Go see Rachel if she comes to town on her book tour. And if not, check out her latest book. I'm looking forward to reading it.


  1. Good critical thought in this post, Heather. I will certainly apply your suggestions in my work. So, the texting thing went over big, ehh? -- Danette

  2. Hi Danette--
    Thanks for reading! Yeah, I thought Rachel was pretty brave for asking a room full of teens to take out their phones--but it was SO cool to see their immediate feedback. Very neat.