Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tangling with Emotion

"I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions."
-James Michene
As a writer, I can tell you that for me, writing emotion is one of the hardest parts of the entire process. We are in the habit of description--if we go out to the store and see something interesting, we always come home and describe the scene or item to someone else--it's ingrained in us. Dialog is easy too--after all, we speak all day long every day, and it is not too difficult to transfer those conversations to the page. [Especially if you are in the habit of speaking to yourself in your mind as well as audibly. :]
But emotion! Emotion is the vapor of a moment--elusive, shadowy, abstract, yet so very important. If we had no emotion, there would be no reason to write. What a sorry world this would be if the writer put no emotion, no heart, into her words, and the reader took no interest, felt no quickening of his pulse, as he read. We would have lost the very keystone of a novel: to transport the reader to worlds, adventures, and stories not his own, but indelibly connected to him through human sympathies and emotions. Ah, there we go again with that emotion.
There must be some level of emotion in each scene you write--if it is overdone, you run the risk of being labeled melodramatic. If it is underdone, your reader will have no interest in turning the page. After all, he could gain more satisfaction from picking at the dry toast-crumbs on the tablecloth than reading yet another heartless description, or soulless dialog. Emotion is defined as "A state of feeling." As writers, it is our duty to conduct the feelings of our readers with our words so that the reader becomes the character in the book. As Emily Dickinson said, "There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away..." That phrase is our missions as writers. We work to craft our words until our readers forget they sit on a prosaic sofa in a shabby room, and believe--nearly--that they are the ones wielding the sword, slaying the villain, winning the maiden, waiting to be rescued, etc. It's a labor of love, for it is not easy, this passage to "lands away."
So we see the need for emotion, and the frailty of it. What now? How can we describe something that we ourselves often can't even put a finger on in our own lives? I would say, put on the part of an observer. Watch other people, and pay attention to your emotions, that you may learn how to write emotion into a scene. One mistake many writers make is thinking that there are three emotions--that is as false a statement as saying there are three legs on a centipede. (unless the said centipede is a veteran of a very cruel buggy-war...) But there they stand: Sorrow, Anger, Joy, and everything in-between is void and without form. This class of writers borders on melodramatic. After all, how many of you only feel those three emotions? Does it then make sense to subject your poor characters to such extremes? There are so many precious feelings in the midst of those three pillars. We can no more disregard merriment, or shame, or amusement, or wistfulness, or pride, or embarrassment, or yearning, or contentment than the centipede could walk as a three-legged bug.
Find a place for these emotions and learn how to write them in such a way that they are palpable. Your readers will thank you, and your characters [if they were real, and I'm not that certain some of them aren't. ;] will thank you. And, if it must be known, I will thank you. ;) ~Rachel
       "...These earth-people, always striving over something. And writers were the worst of the lot. Cecily wondered what they found quite so intriguing about the process. They could not be content with their own lives, but had to go poking about making more trouble for perfectly self-respecting characters who did not want to be bothered with kidnappings and murders and wars over kingdoms. She ought to know."
~The Scarlet-Gypsy Song by Rachel Heffington
P.S. I found a most astonishing development in The Scarlet-Gypsy Song: Cecily's story is the scribbling Mr. Macefield has been working on, and so when he writes that she is banished, she arrives at the Macefield Home, but then his children get into the story and he has to write them out, but he gets a fearful case of Writer's block in the meantime and they are stuck there, battling with Fitz-Hughes and trying desperately to set things straight with no way out but their father's pen. :) No, I'm not excited at all.


Josiphine said...

That developement sounds super interesting! Great post. I'm afraid most of my readers wouldn't care if my characters fell over the edge of a cliff. I need to work on it.

Rachel Hope said...

wow that sounds really interesting, what a development doesn't ideas like that in he middle of a story make things so much more exciting and interesting. I cant wait to read more. I don't really have a problem with emotion, at least I don't think so, but oddly enough I seem to have a problem with dialogue , even though I talk to my self all day long.
Rachel Hope
do you have any suggestions for writing a short story, its a real problem for me, I wrote about it here

Anonymous said...

That plot twist sounds amazing!

Unknown said...

Yes, I agree. Emotion is very hard to convey on paper.

Jenny Freitag said...

I think (I'm not certain) that I portray emotion with colour. That's a wretched beginning. I'm not sure how to explain how I do it, only I know that colours spark emotion in me: the red and golds of a fire make me furiously happy; the luminescent red of wine makes me content; the blue of an open sky is clean and free and uplifting and I feel like a bird on the wing.

I also find that, for many emotions, there aren't words to attach to them. You have to describe them in a round-about way. Additionally, I find that emotions are hard to pick apart: at any given time I or my characters may be feeling half a dozen things at once, all wrapped up and incongruous, but potent and fitting nonetheless.