In an earlier post, I mentioned how some books have the ability to make us cry. Now, to be fair, I never cried reading a book until after I had some kids. Then, suddenly, something happened to my hormones.
The first book that made me cry was Linda Howard's (ironically) Cry No More. She did an excellent job with showing in this book. In the prologue the heroine's baby is literally wrenched from her arms. Kidnapped. First chapter is years and years later. I can't remember if the reader is told that the heroine is still grief-stricken, that this event forever changed her. What I do remember is the heroine's hair, and the silver streak that appeared after her son's kidnapping.
Another book that showed a woman's grief using a physical characteristic is Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic. In this book, the widowed heroine loses her ability to see color when her husband dies. Eventually she sees color again, but never red, the color of the stop sign the teenagers ran when they killed her husband. It's been at least ten years since I read this book, and I still remember that.
We're not told "The heroine is sad", "the heroine is heartbroken". No, these clever authors gave their protagonists a characteristic that forever marks them as wounded, as changed.
It's a good lesson for me to remember when creating my own characters.
Do you use physical details to "show" the emotional/mental state of your characters?