Monday, August 2, 2010

The Power of Touch

One technique I think JKR uses excessively well is to employ the power of human touch to SHOW emotion rather than to tell. Throughout her stories, JKR utilizes words conveying touch between her characters to express the heights and depths of what her people are feeling. You can guarantee, in a high-intensity scene, there's going to be a lot more touching going on.

Examine these examples, noting the bolded action, to see how in crucial, emotionally charged scenes, the physical act of touch is used to great effect:

Then a pair of hands seized him roughly and turned him over.
"Harry! Harry!"...
...Harry let go of the cup, but he clutched Cedric to him even more tightly. He raised his free hand and seized Dumbledore's wrist, while Dumbledore's face swam in and out of focus.
-- p. 671 GOF (Scholastic)

With touching words such as “seized” and “clutched,” the power of Dumbledore's fear and Harry's mounting anxiety are powerfully conveyed. The reader can feel the emotions, rather than being simply told that Dumbledore was afraid and Harry was traumatized.

Harry seized him and helped him back to his seat...
...And pulling Dumbledore's uninjured arm around his shoulders, Harry guided his headmaster back around the lake, bearing most of his weight...
..."I am not worried, Harry," said Dumbledore, his voice a little stronger despite the freezing water. "I am with you."...
..."When did it appear?" asked Dumbledore, and his hand clenched painfully upon Harry's shoulder as he struggled to his feet.
-- pp. 577-581, HBP (Scholastic)

How satisfying is it for the reader to see, to feel, Harry taking care of his mentor. Here Harry becomes the strong one, and this is actively conveyed through numerous “touching” verbs.

And just so we don't think that the power of touch resides only with our hero and his friends, this from HBP:

...Snape had burst into the room, his face livid. Pushing Harry roughly aside, he knelt over Malfoy, drew his wand and traced it over the deep wounds Harry's curse had made, muttering an incantation that sounded almost like song. The flow of blood seemed to ease; Snape wiped the residue from Malfoy's face and repeated his spell. Now the wounds seemed to be knitting...
...When Snape had performed his counter-curse for the third time, he half-lifted Malfoy into a standing position...
..."There may be a certain amount of scarring, but if you take dittany immediately we might avoid even that...come..."
He supported Malfoy across the bathroom, turning at the door to say in a voice of cold fury, "And you, wait here for me."
-- p. 489 HBP (Bloomsbury), p. 523 (Scholastic)

"Pushing," "knelt," "traced," "wiped," "lifted," and "supported." The power of human touch, of Snape's hands.

Look for places where you can weave more touch, in all its varied forms, into your story. Especially consider scenes of climax and passion. And don't limit touch to your hero and his friends. After all, not all touches are good.

Touch is elemental, archetypal even. It transcends centuries, and cultures, and the sexes. It has the power to convey emotions as far ranging as love from hate and trust from betrayal.

Touch is a powerful word-tool in your arsenal. How have you employed this tool in your story?


  1. Appreciate this very much! Excellent way of showing-not-telling the theme of your post. :)

  2. Thanks, Marisa. I appreciate your visit and your comment!

  3. I second what Marisa said! It's always so much easier to tell rather than show, but it's so much BETTER to show rather than tell, and I think that Jo does this really well. Obviously as you've pointed out above.

  4. You're so right, Jodi. I've got a lesson on how her work is almost all dialogue and action, with very little introspection. Which relates to show-don't-tell. I'll try to post it soon.

  5. Aack! I just discovered that my highlighted black text was not coming across in Mozilla, though it looked fine in Chrome. Have fixed now. Sorry about that! :-(