Thursday, June 17, 2010

Writing with Emotion

First Sale on the shelf at Walmart!
 Missy, here. Lately, I've been thinking about emotion in my own work and in the writing that I've been critiquing.

Have you ever cried while you wrote a scene? If not, have you cried when you read it later? Have you laughed out loud while writing or reading your own work? Have you felt your heart warmed? Have you been scared, your heart beating faster and faster as you wrote a chase scene?

You know, most of the time, our stories don't have much in common with our real life experiences. But we MUST have emotion in there, we MUST elicit the feelings in our reader. So what we have to do is draw on the feelings we've experienced that are similar.

For example, I've never been a single dad whose two little boys asked for a mother for Christmas like I wrote in A Forever Christmas. But I know how awful it is to feel like I've failed my children in some way--that sick feeling that I didn't quite get it right and might not be providing exactly what they need at the moment. I also know how awful it feels to let someone down. So I had to draw on those emotions to show how the hero in my story would feel--and hopefully make my reader feel his pain, too.

So how do you do that? I try to "go there" while I'm writing--sometimes even closing my eyes and imaging it. I also try to lead up to those gut-wrenching moments, setting the character up for the fall. Maybe everything has started looking better for my hero, then BAM, I hit 'em with the his worst fear or with something he's been avoiding. And it's always fun to drop hints that the reader will pick up on so she'll be reading along, thinking NOOOO. Don't do that to him!!  :)

I also try to write in a "circular" pattern. I use symbols or locations that can help play up the emotion. For example, I open Her Unlikely Family with my heroine working behind the counter of the diner and smelling the hero's expensive cologne when he walks in. It happens another time in the story where she wonders if she's always going to be behind that silly counter working when he comes in. So where is the character going to be at the end when the hero comes back to tell her he loves her and wants her back? Yep. You guessed it.

Opening and closing a story in similar situations or locations or with symbols can give it that feeling of coming full circle, which is nice for adding to the emotion.

By the way, the photo is included because of the emotion it elicits when I see it. It's the first time I ever saw one of my Steeple Hill books on a shelf! :)

So now, your turn. What do you do to add emotion to your stories? Especially if you're writing about a situation that you've had no experience with.


  1. Missy,
    I'm beginning to see the high value in interviewing people who have been in the situation I'm writing about. I may be interviewing them on a technical level, but the emotion almost always comes through.

    Most of the time I remember how I felt in a similar situation or will imagine myself in the situation of the character. Some of the emotions I would write about reflect those feelings.

    And you know, a lot of people will suggest to write about things that have happened to me, or my loved ones, but I don't want to go there. When I write, I write because I love it and because it is an escape. I love putting the character in an awful position and seeing them pull themselves out of it!

  2. I've had to learn to show emotion rather than tell my reader how the character feels. Rather than say she was afraid, I try to think of any physical reaction she might have that would show fear.

    I also use setting, but in different ways. The story I'm working on has a scene where the heroine is being watched. So, I put her in a public place where she looks around and wonders who could it be while goosebumps race across her skin? Nothing like a question you ask yourself that can't be answered the heighten that sense of fear, right?

    The final confrontation between heroine and villain, on the other hand, happens when she is alone and has no one to help her but God. Again, leads her to ask a question she has no answer for, but God answers relieving her fear and adding to her faith.

  3. Excellent suggestions, Christy and Dianna!

    But I have to say though, Christy, that we do need to make ourselves go there. Not necessarily writing about specific people or situations in our lives, but being honest about sharing the emotions. If we feel it, then our reader will probably feel it as well.

  4. On Sunday I wrote a scene in Highland Sanctuary that had me in tears. I don't know if it will affect others in the same way, but we'll see.

    PS - Celina wants to know if you're going to write about about Chase and Hunter's new baby brother/sister. She wanted to see the family continue!

  5. Tears while writing are always good, Jenn! :)

    I'm so tickled Celina asked! :) Tell her I doubt I'll get to do that type of follow up story. But who knows. I would love to write Richard's story someday, and I could add in that baby sister there. :)

  6. I'm really working on the emotion while revising my current ms. Like Dianna, I have to learn to show and not tell.
    Emotion and setting are two of my biggest areas I need to work on.
    And like Christy I find it hard going places that remind me of what I've been through, but I know those emotions could add another layer to the story.
    I tend to get teary at the end of the story while reading it through. Probably because I'm relieved it's done. :)

  7. That's a great photo Missy!

    Thanks for sharing it!