Thursday, July 25, 2013

An Emotional Connection

I believe that in order to understand how to write emotion, we must first understand why we read.Goodness, Cat, I can hear you all saying, there are any number of reasons a person might read. To learn, to fall asleep, to pass the time on a bus.

My response to that? Those are the superficial reasons we read. The deeper, underlying reason we read (or at least the reason we read fiction) is to feel. We want to feel, to experience, to escape. But we can't do that if emotion isn't present in the writing.

In order to write emotion that will cause a reader to feel, there are a number of things we must do, not the least of which is gain an understanding of what our character is feeling.

One way to do this is to step into the character's shoes for a bit, live his life, experience life through her eyes. Essentially we, as writers, have to feel the emotion that the character is feeling. We have to live it, in order to understand it enough to write it.

While you're in that emotion, pay more attention than normal to your body. Has the pace of your breathing changed? What about your pulse? Are you shaking or still? Are your muscles taut or loose? Are you taking long breaths, deep breaths, shallow breaths, rapid breaths? How does your stomach feel? Emotions create physiological changes within a person. In order to accurately convey an emotion, we need to understand what happens to the body.

Another option is to go people watching. Take a pen and notebook with you. Find a couple at the mall, or a mother and child at the park, and watch their interaction. Don't get close enough to hear their words. The words are superficial. Pay more attention to their facial expressions, their body movements, the way they touch each other. Based on those things, decide what they are feeling. Love? Anger? Betrayal? Frustration? Contentment? How did you decide what emotion they were feeling? Was it the particular turn of his lips, her energetic tone of voice, the way she crossed her arms over her stomach, or maybe how he had a certain glint in his eyes? Write down notes for yourself, so that you can remember later.

Now that you have a better sense of what happens when you feel a particular emotion, it is time to convey that within your writing. For a reader to fully understand what a character is feeling, the writer must attempt to make them feel the same thing. Simply stating, "He was happy," is not enough. That, my friends, is what is termed 
telling. We have to show the reader.

It is also not enough to simply list the things that are happening to the body. "Her pulse increased to a roar, and her muscles felt ready to snap."

Who cares? I know, I know. I already told you to have an understanding of the physiological components involved with emotion. You do need to include these things. They are essential. But they are only part of the whole. We also have to include Deep POV.

In my opinion, Deep POV is one of the most difficult concepts for a new writer, and even for many experienced writers, to grasp. We think that if we are sharing our character's deepest thoughts, we are attaining Deep POV. But often, those thoughts are shared in a manner that tells, instead of shows.

So how can you tell if you're writing in Deep POV, or if you're telling? Look through your work in progress for the following kinds of phrases: he saw, she noticed, he heard, she thought. If you have phrases like these anywhere near those deeper, internal thoughts, then you are likely not achieving Deep POV.

To illustrate, here is an example.

  1. Marcus saw Lady Helene walking towards him, like Athena floating across the ballroom floor. He noticed her eyes were filled with laughter, glinting in the flickering candlelight. He liked that. In fact, he felt his pulse quicken and thought he might stop breathing.
  2. Lady Helene walked towards Marcus like Athena floating across the ballroom floor. Her eyes glinted with laughter in the flickering candlelight. Good Lord, she was enticing. His pulse roared through his veins. The simple act of breathing might kill him.
These two passages are very similar, and they attempt to convey the same thing. But which one is more engaging, more effective to you, as a reader?

By eliminating phrases like he saw, he noticed, and he thought, the focus of the sentences shifts to settle on 
what he saw, what he noticed, and what he thought. In the process, the reader is better able to connect with Marcus. We experience alongside him, instead of watching from a distance as he experiences. In essence, we are able to hear Marcus's true voice instead of hearing his voice through a filter.

Another way of looking at these examples is from a grammatical standpoint. In the first example, look at the subject and predicate of each of the sentences. Marcus saw. He noticed. He felt. In this circumstance, Marcus is focused on himself, when he should perhaps be focused at least somewhat on Lady Helene. However, in the second example, the subjects and predicates are: Lady Helene walked; Her eyes glinted; His pulse roared. In this way, the reader's focus is drawn to the same things as the POV character.

This is certainly not a comprehensive explanation of either writing emotion or creating Deep POV. So tell us: how do you enhance the emotion in your writing? What things to you look for as signposts that you weren't writing in Deep POV?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

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