Tag Archives: emotions

Plumbing the Depths of Emotion

No matter if you write political thrillers, historical dramas, or speculative fiction, a certain amount of research is required for the reader to buy into your creation. Oftentimes we focus on researching hard facts, bits of information to inform the details that lend an air of credibility to our stories. There is one area of study I think is critical for anyone who writes fiction, but it isn’t something that you can read about in a textbook (at least not in any meaningful way), and that is emotion. More specifically, our own emotions.

Recently I canceled my cable TV subscription and opted to use just Netflix instead. One of the shows it recommended was an anime show called Elfen Lied. It was pretty highly rated and I was in the mood for something different, so I gave it a shot.

I was not prepared. Few artistic works have affected me as much as that show. It’s an uncompromisingly brutal and oftentimes disturbing story of a girl on a quest for redemption and the reclamation of childhood’s lost innocence (warning: I said brutal and I meant it. It’s not for the squeamish or faint of heart). But more important than the darkness of the story is its contrast to the moment it all leads up to, when redemption and forgiveness are achieved, when the veil of suffering is lifted to reveal love and hope. Never was such a destination so hard won, by the main character or by myself. It was devastating yet beautiful. It broke my heart.

Would that my own writing had that effect on people, which got me thinking: how was this able to affect me so? I realized that by introspecting my own emotional reaction to the show, I would able to determine what about it caused that reaction, and thus be able to use what I learned about myself as a tool in my own writing. I’ve done similar things in the past, but that’s been more looking at things that I thought could affect people emotionally, rather than looking at the raw emotions as they occur in myself. It’s always been a roundabout or subconscious approach, never direct.

In a book on fiction writing, I remember the author at multiple points recounting how he couldn’t finish watching a movie or reading a book (or some such) because it was too emotionally intense. I have never understood that. One thing art does well is convey emotion-so wouldn’t we, as writers, want to learn what we can of it? Experience and know the full spectrum of emotion, so that we can then imbue our works with emotional impact? After all, shouldn’t we be willing to suffer for our art?

Emotions are incredibly powerful, perhaps one of the more powerful forces in our lives; they can make our writing powerful, too. Being intimately familiar with them can allow us to implement them. From now on, I’m going to make an effort to embrace each emotional experience as it comes my way so as to better understand it. Hopefully I won’t become a neurotic in the process.

I’m always on the lookout for things that stir the emotions, so if you’ve got something that has done so for you, let us know in the comments! (And don’t mention Disney/Pixar’s Up. I’m already aware of its soul-crushing sadness-making ability)

Method Writing

Ever had your heart broke?  Or lost someone you love? Or been in a traumatic accident?  Or been scared witless?  Or held your baby for the first time?  Or got married? Or any host of circumstances where you felt an emotion strongly, so strong that even remembering it causes your heart to race or your skin to get goosebumps?  Method actors use sense memory to recreate an emotion they can tap into for acting scenes.  I’m going to suggest that writers do the same thing.  It’s not the only way – but it is one way.

If we can connect with our emotions to write a better scene, I think we should.  Not gonna say it can’t be exhausting, but then it depends on the emotion – right?  Being really in tune with our feelings is not always easy, remembering difficult ones  – even harder.  But, if I can make a reader cry because my character is sad over a loss, then I am doing my job.   

When I read, I read to feel a certain emotion.  David Wolverton/Farland said (and I’m paraphrasing) that we like genre fiction because of the emotions it brings out in us and they are mostly named for the sense of what they inspire in us – SciFi/Fantasy – a sense of wonder, romance – romance, mystery/suspense – a thrill of suspense….and so on…. Seems obvious, right?  But, I’ll admit I hadn’t thought of it until he said it.  And, I have to be in the right mood to read a certain genre.  And, I have to know what the genre is before starting or I will have an incorrect set of promises to be kept by the writer.

As a tangent – ever start reading something expecting one thing and then it doesn’t meet your expectations?  Every time this has happened to me, it was because the rules of the genre weren’t being met.  We make contracts with our readers (again paraphrasing Dave and others) by identifying with a genre.

When I read romance, I better know right away who my hero and heroine (h/h) are and no matter the ups and downs (required) they have to go through they better end up in love at the end.  That’s what I expect when I pick up a romance and that’s what I better get or I am going to be one unhappy camper.

Each genre has their own specific rules or expectations and we, as writers, need to follow them in order to keep our readers reading.  Tangent over.

Now – why are these emotions so important and why would I want to relive potentially painful memories in order to write?  Because if I can remember how I felt living that emotion, I may be better able to convey it to my reader.  I write romance, so when the h/h are having troubles and are feeling sad or angry over those troubles, I need to have my reader identifying with that sadness or anger.  I want them to cry or ball up their fists alongside the character.  I want them to laugh or get turned on right beside the character.  The emotion should resonate with them.  No matter what that emotion is.

So, I challenge you as writers to remember those strong emotions, recall what was going on with your body – shallow breathing, increased heart rate, tight chest, big smile, chills, and so on.  Remember and write from that place.
Gift your readers that experience.  Be a Method Writer.