YOU MUST UNDERSTAND EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS BEFORE YOU CAN USE EMOTION SKILLFULLY
We learn best by discovering things on our own, so while an instructor or a book can point you in the right direction and suggest techniques, a lot of learning comes from discovering things on your own. Be active in the process of learning what affects you emotionally.
FICTION IS DRAWN FROM REALITY
One of the most irritating questions we can be asked is if we write from personal experience. Well, of course we write from personal experience. But do we do all the things and feel all the things that our characters experience and feel? Hardly. My answer is always, “My life is way too boring to write from personal experience.”
We become these story people, and we imagine what they would feel like, given their background and experiences and the things that are happening to them—because we’re creative and sensitive. We write from our deep creative wells of imagination, and we have lived and felt enough to be able to imagine how someone would feel in a given situation.
Miss Marples’ ice cream parlor wasn’t very busy that afternoon, and the pudgy woman herself waited on them. After taking Charmaine’s order, she asked, “And what will she have?” indicating Annie with a nod.
“Well, I don’t know, why don’t you ask her?” Luke replied. She’s in a wheelchair, but she’s nor deaf or stupid.”
You don’t have to have experienced something to imagine how it would feel. No one who sees an Amber Alert has to question how the parents are feeling. That’s a universal trigger.
One of the many things I do that drives my husband crazy is watch all the behind-the-scenes clips for movies. I know you’ve seen interviews with actors where they are talking about their character as though it’s a real person. To them it is. They become that person to take on the persona of the role.
It’s called method acting. It’s how actors dredge up tears and show drama. They put themselves in that person’s place and experience the scene as though it’s happening to them. I call it method writing. You have to know your character inside and out to write like this. Superficial writing will never convey deep emotion. The first thing needed is to have these people fleshed out on paper and in your mind. Know everything you need to know about them. Give them backstory. Give them goals—all part of the tapestry that makes up the creation of a story.
Use character charts or grids or interview your story people, but do whatever it takes to know them well. When you come to a scene of action or emotion, close your eyes. Think of the past experiences that this person has had. Let their life become real to you. Become them. This is how you will know how they will react and how they will feel.
We all know what pain feels like. We’ve all lost someone or experienced rejection. And we’ve all laughed at inappropriate moments. Our own depth of emotion is what we delve into to write about feelings in fictional situations. We’re human. Our readers are human. We connect through feelings. We’re not writing an autobiography; we’re tapping those core emotions as a resource for our characters.
A learning tool that is most beneficial once it’s developed is to understand—about yourself—what makes you have strong emotions.
What works for you? Do you get weepy at Hallmark commercials? If you’re a comedy writer, what makes you laugh? What are your deepest fears?
When you know the answers to those questions, you know the kind of books you should be writing and you can learn to write using your strengths.
HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR EMOTIONAL AWARENESS
Lists are easy.
Plop one of your favorite books on your desk or beside your comfy reading chair. Thumb through the pages; make notes in your notebook. Use the same notebook for the next few books you read. Keep track of everything that evoked an emotional reaction in you.
As my writing idol Dwight Swain said: “A story is feelings.” Once you’re aware of emotional triggers, you’ll be able to use them effectively to make your read care. And the number one rule of storytelling: The reader must care.
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