Changing feelings into actions is the same concept as “show, don’t tell,” but the words are less terrifying than “show, don’t tell.”
A lot of times, overwriting is caused by spending too many words detailing feelings and emotions. This is downright wrong, and as a reader, no one wants to read that junk. What we want, and you’ll agree with me here, is actions that convey and evoke emotions.
I don’t want to read, “I was angry.” I want to read, “My hands fisted” or “I stiffen, my spine straightening from the threat of attack.”
Suggest emotions; they are rarely as blunt in reality as the statement, “I was angry.” In real life, we feel more than we talk–think about how body language works–so allow the reader to feel by constructing an experience for them through descriptive actions. (Descriptive does not mean repetitive, exaggerated, or detailed to the tee.)
You might think, “How is the describing of actions not overwriting? It’s definitely many more words than the simple, direct statement above it.” Well, yeah, but a rule of effective communication is that you must state what you mean to communicate, as well as provide the reasoning for it or logic behind it.
How can you easily follow those rules? Justify the feelings you mean to express by showing the actions, not telling the feelings – because stating things doesn’t prove anything, and it’s boring to read, but actions are solid proof of what’s happening and they imply why it’s happening as well.
By showing the action rather than telling the feeling, you convey what’s happening figuratively and literally at the same time. The action provides the logic behind the emotion. Why am I eating a sandwich? Because I’m hungry. Why is that guy shooting at me? He’s trying to kill me. Why are my hands fisting? Out of tension. See? There’s common sense, logic, behind actions. Give your readers some credit and don’t dumb things down for them by saying what is implied by an action when it’s common sense.
If you simply write, “I was aroused,” the question becomes, but why though? And why do I even care?
However, if you describe the action that causes an emotion, you get the reader to experience the same emotions that the character feels, and that establishes an investment of the reader in the character because the reader wants the character to succeed and be happy for the sake of their own happiness. It makes your work powerful. (The perks of doing the right thing are endless.)
I know how hard it may seem to show and not tell all the time, but keep it real with yourself. As an author, you want your work to be powerful, not boring.
The key is to remember that feelings are meant to be experienced, not told. Therefore, you must make experiences out of them in your own writing.
Making an example out of a feeling drives it in way more to the reader than telling it straight, where there is the risk of misunderstanding, not being able to relate/connect, and just plain getting bored of being told fact after fact, statement after statement.
Fiction is creative, imaginative. Don’t make it trivia.