Class taught by Carol Brennan King
Assignment: we talked about taking 20-30 uninterrupted minutes to make a list of 100 of your memories, to be used as your own prompts. For this exercise, choose one of those memories as a prompt, or starter to write a scene that shows how someone felt and how they expressed it as emotion.
Feeling and Emotion, part 2
We have talked about how our readers need to be able to identify with our characters. That’s why what the characters experience and what they think about what they experience is so important. The reader may never experience exactly what the character does, but it is your job to write the scenes so that the reader can imagine his or her own response and consider what they think about how the character responds or acts. They cannot do that if we don’t give them a peek at the character’s thought life.
Readers need some processing of feeling to register it meaningfully.
This means allowing characters to think about what they’re feeling, which accomplishes two things:
- It makes the feelings both more concrete and more personal.
- It creates time and space for readers to process their own feelings. If empathy for the character has been forged, this allows readers to ask themselves: Do I feel the same way? Do I feel differently?
Such examination is best accomplished in sequel scenes, or follow-up scenes which normally occur after a particularly dramatic scene or a series of these scenes that culminate in a devastating reveal or reversal. These scenes permit characters and readers alike to take a breath and process what has just happened.
Remember, however, that the story’s action and its characters are vehicles through which the reader creates her own emotional experience. AND the goal is not to get the readers to feel everything as the character does but to stimulate the reader to consider his or her own response.
Your point-of-view character, the one who sees what the reader must
- experience something and then consider(or think about it – sometimes even out loud) how they are touched emotionally by that event.
- they then think about how this event affects their life, its importance and the ripple effects of it all.
- finally, they must figure out the best way to forge ahead.
Remember, readers will work through their own emotions and interpretation of events at the same time the character is even if they are unaware that is going on.
These analyses by the character must be brief because it is the action that keeps the reader involved.
So have your point of view (POV) character do any of the following:
- The character must dig deeper, as a starting point from which to explore what to do.
- It is helpful for you to find a metaphor or simile to help you show the reader what the POV character is experiencing. Or instance: The moment he heard the empty silence at the other end of the line, he hurled the phone through the window like a pitcher aiming at the space just outside of the batter’s swing.
- Compare the feeling. Can you find another example of your character’s emotional responses? Use that as a measure to show the difference this time. Is he more controlled? Or does this outburst outpace every other reaction?
- The character responded immediately and without thought before the action. Explore why this behavior is rational to the character.
- Or consider what this says about the character’s emotional arc. Is it an appropriate behavior? Does it show that he or she has regressed or grown? (Maybe they just put the phone on its charger, rather than hurling it through the window.)
- How does the character feel about what he or she has done?
David Corbett, and award-winning author of five novels says this about writing emotion and feeling:
“A character changes through the emotions she experiences, the refinement of those emotions into feelings, and the evolution in self-awareness that this process allows. This gradual metamorphosis creates the story’s internal arc, providing the character an opportunity to move step-by-step from being at the mercy of her emotions to mastering her feelings. And through the use of surprise and introspection, you provide a means for the reader to traverse an arc of her own, expanding her emotional self-awareness.”
Find more from him at davidcorbett.com.
Assignment: We talked about the 100 moments exercise. Choose one event from that list and write about it to show emotion.
Then we talked about how to write your own story with emotional truth.
Emotional truth allows your readers to feel a certain way about the experiences of your characters who may lead very different lives from yours. It is the tool through which readers can see themselves in a story and which creates a connection to the story.
How to tap into emotional truth in your story
Originally from https://www.janefriedman.com/emotional-truth-and-storytelling/
Here are 10 techniques she uses to write with emotional truth.
Be vulnerable. My debut novel, Malcolm and Me, follows a reluctant rebel with the heart of a poet as she navigates a school year fraught with adult hypocrisy. While my protagonist is wounded by a traumatic event involving her Catholic schoolteacher, I knew she couldn’t wallow in pain and self-pity for 272 pages. She doesn’t. She’s funny, often in “good trouble,” and a ball of confusion. Whatever Roberta feels so must my readers. Roberta’s vulnerability was rooted in my teen years. Nothing beats authentic angst.
Mine your secrets. Personal truth feeds the character’s truth. In writing my debut novel, I borrowed the emotional truth about my struggle to forgive, including those I love deeply, and gave it to my protagonist. I could not write that story with authenticity until I dug deep and understood why I had been stuck and what led to a breakthrough. My clarity informed and honed the behavior of my character.
Listen to the “page people.” Just because you created your characters doesn’t mean you know their every move. Sometimes they will surprise you. Let them. Yield to their whims. When they want to be quiet, don’t force them to speak up. Silence can say a lot, too. But know what does not fit with that character. Remember, you know all there is to know about them, so be faithful to who they are.
Create challenges. Understand what the protagonist and other characters want, then remove it or make it a struggle to obtain. We root for characters we believe in, identify with and want to see succeed. In other words, characters we feel. I once heard someone say that a novel is akin to taking a ride on an amusement park. Readers have purchased tickets and will feel cheated if a ride fails to carry them up and down and make their heart pound.
Balance action. Life is messy and so are people’s reactions to it. But not everything happens at a level 10. Mix big, dramatic moments and scenes with quieter ones, which can also amplify emotional truth.
Cultivate growth. Know the emotional state of your character on page 1 and be clear about the various emotional stages he or she will experience to make it to the end of the story. This growth may not be linear and could include setbacks, but the person must experience changes that feel authentic.
Use your senses. Do you have a song that transports you to your first dance? A perfume or cologne that reminds you of someone no longer alive? Sound, smell, taste and touch evoke powerful emotions to inspire you.
Pick from an “emotional garden.” Think your journal where you might or should collect bits of dialogue, favorite lyrics, phrases, discarded scenes, observations, and reactions—anything that provokes strong feelings and may feed your current or future story. Visit often.
Learn from other writers. Read often. Reading expands your vocabulary and imagination, shows you what works and what doesn’t, and exposes you to diverse worlds. Reading other authors may also inspire you to take risks with your own work.
Revise, rinse and repeat. Emotional truth is an indistinct quality that works when the characters stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Weaving it into your work requires patience and practice. Writing is rewriting. Make them real to you.