Writing Emotions: Being Vulnerable

Yay, it’s Tuesday.  Except not yay here in the south, because we’re about to get slammed with yet another winter storm. That means picking kids up from school early, driving through ice, being stuck inside for days on in, etc.  It’s time for Spring, I say!

On a  happier note, I would like to say how surprised and happy I was to see so many people register for my blog last week.  I was starting to worry that no one was reading except my husband and my mom. So thanks guys, you made my week!

Today I want to talk about writing emotion.  Not because I’m an expert by any means, but because I think it’s interesting to hear how different people go about writing emotions in a book.  In order to make your readers feel something for your characters, you have to make their emotions feel real.  You have to create characters and situations that people can relate to, and those can fall flat if the emotions you are writing about don’t feel authentic.

To make emotion feel authentic, I have to let myself be vulnerable.  I have to use my own emotions and my own pain to paint my characters’ pain.  I don’t mean that my characters are little versions of myself who speak and act like me.  I simply mean that anyone who creates uses their own experiences – good or bad – to help give their own creation life.  For example, the physical pain that I feel with Crohn’s disease doesn’t mean I understand what it’s like to be a victim of abuse, but I have an idea of what it’s like to endure something you cannot control, that causes you harm.  I don’t know what it’s like to have lost a child, but my miscarriages give me an idea of the pain that would cause.

That’s part of what makes writing so hard.  You have to bring those emotions to the surface, explore, and understand them.  If you cannot understand and suffer with your characters, how can you expect your readers to?  While I was stuck in the airport a few weeks ago, I was daydreaming about what memories or feelings from my teenage years still cause a reaction.  I remember that to me the two most painful emotions as a tween and teen were unrequited love (or “a crush”) and the feelings that everyone you trusted and called friends were growing up and experiencing things that you could not understand.  These things still leave a hollow feeling in my middle when I think about the pain they caused my younger self.  I was a late bloomer, and was frequently the one still caught up in childish emotions and concerns, while my peers had moved on to relationships and feelings that I was not yet able to understand.  It left me with the feeling that perhaps something was wrong with me.  It was a very lonely feeling.

Those are the feelings to take out and explore.  The memories that still, twenty years later give you pause.   Those are the emotions that will fill your writing, your art, your acting, etc with true emotions. When the emotion is real, it feels genuine.  And that’s true art.

I would love any feedback.  How do your emotions, pain, and memories color your art or your life?  Can you name books or movies where the emotions feel genuine as opposed to false?

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