Lit Basics Week
Wow, yes, emotions; they stir us, they sometimes rule us.
For your written world to come alive this critical element must be rightly imparted into your work. Your character’s emotional state is something that needs to be grasped in meaningful ways in order for a reader to begin caring about what is happening to them. Likewise, poets who write verses that do not express an emotional range will have lines that fall flat and lifeless on their intended readers.
Emotions are not one dimensional – each has a broad range of expression. For example, anger can be experienced anywhere from a mild annoyance, prompt bitter retorts, or become a barely-contained, seething cauldron; long before exploding into an unbridled rage. Often, intense feelings move through several stages all in one event.
Additionally, emotions seldom appear that are pure in their source; celebrated author and counselor H. Norman Wright, MFCC, CTS describes what most people experience under great duress, such as undergoing a tragic loss, as a “tangled ball of emotions”. Any parent will readily identify with this when an impulsive action by a child causes an apparent injury. First a leap of fear or dread coupled with compassion and concern, and then if finding the injury to be minor, anger rears at their unsafe actions which is coupled with relief. This melts to a determination to apply corrective instruction—all within a few moments. To engage a reader in any depth these complexities must be reflected in ones writing.
A Vital Part of Communicating
Communication with people in real time is an exercise in continuous involvement. We take in not just the spoken word but their accents and inflections, tone of voice, and body language. Poor communication results when any one of these elements is overlooked or ignored. Speaking to these elements in your writing will greatly improve the reader’s ability to engage in the story and enjoy a higher level of satisfaction.
A problem in conveying intent when these cues are lacking is illustrated quite well in our online writer’s community, as being misunderstood is a common experience. On another front, ‘Tweets’ from celebrities are constantly seen trending that require follow up explanations, apology or retraction because of an unforeseen consequence or unexpected public response. Many in our DeviantArt community find ‘emoticons’ helpful to properly set the mood or express raw emotions; yet even these can be misunderstood. For example there is the enigmatic – Playful? Gloating? Sarcastic? Without a clearly expressed context even these sorts of things are easily misunderstood.
Body language contains too much potential for emotional impact to ignored in your writing!
For added depth, “Shela, enraged, leapt at him.” could read; “Shela's wide-eyed, open-mouthed shock quickly deteriorated to clenched teeth; eyes narrowing to grim slits she leapt at him.” This gives a brief progression to the emotions of the moment and adds those visual elements of body language.
“Ignoring Ben’s smirk, Rosa continued; Albert at least remained non-oppositional.” adds a nice group dynamic to what could be a numbing monologue and tempts the reader to briefly reflect their own experience into what non-oppositional may look like.
“While the tone was even in Henry’s speech, one couldn’t miss the twinkle in his eyes” makes implication of a quiet or underlying emotion that the reader is invited to ‘discover’.
Let emotional feelings emerge
Allow space for expressing complex emotions
Incorporate intentional movement in a scene, including time and body language to maximize reader involvement. For example, the simple “Having read the text Lars despaired.” Could be expanded perhaps to; “Lars drummed his fingers, staring blankly at the screen. Finally, reading it again – more slowly, he searched for some nuance that would mediate the rawest interpretation of what he’d read. With growing dread, he searched again, but the naked truth found no moderation—he sunk into the remorseless clasp of despair.”
Use words and phrases suggestively
Provide rich context for added subtlety
Give your readers credit. Allow them to discover and buy into the emotions of the character. “Having become flushed; she surprised herself.” Implies, as in real life, that a character is not always sure where the root of an emotion lies. A solid context then allows the reader to make implications from such statements. For example; "Glaven gave Marian a brotherly peck before departure – having become flushed; she surprised herself, they had been estranged for so long.” Is a much different feel than this use of it: “Having become flushed; she surprised herself – his reputation was as disfigured as his form. She returned his gaze unwavering.”
Employ creative form and punctuation for added emphases
Use the hammer sparingly.
You know the hammer don’t you; one example – “I HATE you!!!”
While the writer is seeking to impart power a reader often finds it trite; this is not at all what is meant in creative punctuation. Two examples follow that use flow breaks and creative punctuation to allow readers either feel hesitancy or urgency depending on their fashion:
“I’m sorry Ma’am, I…
well, I thought better of it.”
Coming up short she choked a horse whisper;
Shit! It's no good—run!"
The last encouragement rising to a near scream.
The State of our States
Where the writers own emotional state drives many young writers to begin expressing themselves through the written word, this source will be found to be lacking in the ability to attract wide readership in the long run. A writer must find and develop the ability to address emotional states much more objectively in order for characters to emerge that are not merely pale shadows of an author's current mood.
Well, there is much more that could be said of course, but there is a risk that an encouragement to consider a matter may become a tiresome sermon. I have much room for improvement myself. I hope my DA friends find a small nugget to grow by.
Room for Discussion
How does one write of emotional states they have not personally experienced?