Sunday, July 05, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Can You Feel It?

For this round, Christine picked the topic:

How do you add emotional depth to your stories? How to do [stet] know when you have enough emotional content? And how to [stet] you keep it authentic?

Annie posted before me, and Archy will follow.

Before I get started, here's my theme song for this topic:




I'm going to answer the questions out of order.

How do you add emotional depth to your stories? I actually took an e-mail course on Empowering Characters' Emotions several years ago through the Romance Writers of America. Unfortunately, I don't think they offer the Killer Instinct classes anymore. We covered too much material for me to summarize it effectively, but I can offer a few tips (and examples from my own work). One of my techniques is to consider physical responses to emotion as a sixth sense, one focusing on the body. This means I sprinkle in physical responses to emotion as I would any other piece of description. Here's an example from my short story "A Reptile at the Reunion"; I wrote this paragraph as a writing exercise for my course:

Anger seeped like acid into my stomach, then erupted, burning my face and pooling in my palms. Even the hair on my forearms felt repulsed by it. My jaws ached like overstretched rubber bands as I clamped them shut.

(The examples were supposed to be over-the-top, but I don't think it's too much.)

Emotions also affect characters' perceptions, so I have them color how the character views a setting. Here's an example from my current novel, Across Two Universes. The main character, Paul, is at his mother's funeral:

Paul’s inner strength melted when he reached the funeral home’s entrance. He sagged against the black iron railing. Below him, fresh green grass and yellow flowers taunted him with their exuberance. How could anything be normal or joyful again?

How do you keep it authentic? Here, I do what most writers do: draw on my own experiences and my observations of other people. Even if I haven't experienced exactly what my character is going through, I can project how I might feel onto him or her. I have to have some empathy for his or her situation; after all, as Robert Frost said, "no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." (I like this quote so much I've used it in another Blog Chain post.) I also try to make sure the emotions flow naturally in the scene and that they are appropriate responses to stimuli. (I learned this from Jack Bickman's Scene and Structure.) Sometimes this may require rearranging scene elements.

How do you know when you have enough emotional content? When my readers react the way I want them to react. I'm too wrapped up in the story to judge it effectively, but if I can make a reader feel my character's pain, then I've done my job.

Feel free to follow the other links in the chain to learn how other writers handle emotion. Tune in later this month for another Blog Chain topic!

7 comments:

christinefonseca said...

Great advice Sandra - and I love your examples!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Thanks for sharing those examples from your own writing! I also loved the Lion King music to set the mood;)

ElanaJ said...

I love how the anger seeped into the person's body and pooled in the palms. That was awesome. Great examples.

I also love the quote by Robert Frost; it's so true.

Kat Harris said...

Paul’s inner strength melted when he reached the funeral home’s entrance. He sagged against the black iron railing. Below him, fresh green grass and yellow flowers taunted him with their exuberance. How could anything be normal or joyful again?>

I love this! This is the kind of good thing that comes about when you know your characters!

Seriously, this is great.

Kat Harris said...

And BTW, I'm glad I'm not the only one who had that song pop into their head when this topic came up. :-)

Michelle McLean said...

awesome post! I love your statement about making the physical response to emotions a sixth sense. That is something I struggle with at times...those darn physical responses :) In fact, in my first drafts, they are often missing entirely, on purpose. When I go through the second time, I take my boring "She was scared" sentences and flesh them out. It's those responses that really make the reader see and feel what the character is going through. Excellent post!

Annie Louden said...

Now I will have this song in my head all day.

I think that's really good advice about remembering the environment in relation to how the characters are feeling.

Site Meter