Thursday, February 16, 2012


Much of writing fiction is about conveying feelings or emotions. The desire to feel something is shared by readers. If how a character feels and responds to the events surrounding him or her is phony, the story doesn't resonate well with the reader. Neither does the reader like to feel manipulated by calculated tear-jerker events. When the writer touches a reader emotionally, and when the reader feels what the book's characters feel, a bond is established and the story becomes a success. Creating realistic feelings is one of writing's greatest challenges. In this area the writer draws heavily from two sources; first from his or her own experiences and second from careful observation of the emotions of others.

Careful writers learn to distinguish between their own real responses to both good and bad situations and the feelings they think should be the response. They also learn that other factors may determine how intense the response might be. For the writer to be in touch with his/her own feelings or reactions to certain situations is not enough. The writer also needs to observe how someone else, particularly those with similar characteristics to the character involved, will react. This is where observation becomes an essential part of writing.

Writers who have never experienced an intense love relationship may substitute sex for love because it's easier to describe physical reactions than emotional ones. Happiness is often watered down or confused with possession or winning for those who don't understand it. Anger is easier to describe because few people get through life without experiencing some anger. Hate is something else as it goes far beyond anger to something dark and dangerous. Fear is another feeling that is experienced to some degree by most people and often is the emotion that carries the excitement that keeps a reader turning pages. Sadness, loneliness, arrogance, compassion, etc. all need to be portrayed in a believable manner that fits the character and touches a response in the reader. I'm not sure what that says about human nature that it is often easier to honestly portray the negative emotions than the positive.

Lately, myself and many others, have grown annoyed or angry over the profusion of hateful political messages and lies spread on face book, by telephone, by mean-spirited PACs, through radio and TV, and through telephone calls from so-called organizing committees and polls. This anger and our reactions to these things are entirely different from the anger we feel at someone who steals our identity, murders a child, or injures a loved one. It's important to remember when writing about anger to suit the reaction to the situation and the character.

It can be helpful to observe how other writers show emotion, but the best guide is a good look at ourselves and the observation of others. When we see a two-year-old have a complete meltdown we can learn a great deal, but it is important to remember that adult or teenage meltdowns may have some of the same elements as that of the two-year-old, but age generally comes into play in how this total frustration is expressed.

Very often it isn't the big dramatic reactions that teach us the most about feelings. Sometimes it's the tottering old man helping his equally aged wife from a car, it's the impatient customer tapping her fingernails against the glass counter, it's the man who checks his pockets then kicks the parking meter, or it's the little boy who asks Mom if Madeline can come to his birthday party. It's the outpouring of relief for tsunami victims, the need to hold our own children safe when two little boys are senselessly murdered by their father, or the laughter when the Globetrotters come to town.

Imagination is an important element of fiction, but feelings or emotions are too much an integral part of us for us to buy into a story where the emotions involved don't feel real. If the writer doesn't feel it, neither will the reader. If the reader's feelings are not engaged in a way that he or she can identify with, the story won't succeed. A successful writer must forge a bond of empathy with the reader through the emotional responses of a book's characters.


Roseanne's Spot said...

I appreciated your post - especially to the reference about sex. I prefer clean romances because I want to know about the relationship and how the characters feel about each other. I honestly believe it takes more effort to write a good clean romance than it does to write one full of sex. Getting the emotions right takes time and thought, and I appreciate the authors who take that time.

taylorfamily83316 said...

Jennie~ I saw something that evoked a wonderful feeling of love in my heart. In our ward, it was announced that as of that day, a new Bishop was being installed, and that in itself was emotional, as I had grown so close to the current Bishop, and thus I cried all through Sacrament meeting, both happy and sad tears. But, the touching thing came after Sacrament was over, and people were setting off to different meetings. The new Bishop's Grandparents were visiting and sat in front of me, and they are in their 90's. His Grandfather stood, and joked with his wife for a moment, then proceeded to help her put on her coat. To me, that simple act of kindness and love spoke volumes, and brings tears even now. I just wanted to share, thank you!