1. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress

    Putting emotion into writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by madhoca, Apr 3, 2011.

    I've just had a reply from a mag I submitted to:
    'I see in your covering letter you're a long time university teacher. This perhaps explains why yours is the cleanest and most logically set out short story manuscript we've read in a long time. But please remember that university writing is logical, emotions held in check. Your story, beautifully plotted though it is seems like it's bled white of all emotion. Please please go over this again. Forget behaving cool, James Bond--we want our emotions stirred and shaken! Exaggerate as much as you want--get the feeling for you hyperbole is what's called 'normal' for us folks. Look forward to a re-submission once you've dealt with this issue.'

    I'm sure they are right, but being a very logical person anyway I think I get impatient depicting characters with messy emotions! My kids told me to put myself into the character's shoes like a method actor, and get out of myself...

    Anyone got any other ideas how I can hype up the emotion?
     
  2. Elgaisma
    Offline

    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Messages:
    5,337
    Likes Received:
    92
    Maybe thinking about it logically would help? The Bookshelf Muse has an emotion and setting thesaurus. Think of it as evidence and context. When writing an academic essay I would take the subject and have to give it a context and also provide evidence for my view.

    I write my stories in a very similar way to my academic essays - always asking why is this so, how does it happen etc It is a very useful skill to have.

    Emotion doesn't have to be fussy to pierce it can be very simple. I personally find keeping the words stark and letting the images speak the emotion works best - those are the scenes where the readers have reported laughter, tears etc

    I personally find dialogue content is fairly unimportant (it needs to make sense and say what you intend), where dialogue for example comes to life is when you describe what the person is doing whilst speaking. It is their actions, facial expressions and body language that give it life.

    A good two to study are Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell - both similar kind of stories one has life, warmth, humour and emotion, the other writes like a science report her stories are interesting but dry.

    I find the casting of characters as actors as important because it gives me a 3D image of them and how they react and using songs as I write. I used Butterflies by Tone Damli for when Soc was getting ready for his date with Fy (he was feeling sick, nervous, heart pounding etc), when He is interacting with Nate I use Remember and You are Loved by Josh Groban.
     
  3. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    Thanks, Elg--I'll look up Kathy Reichs, I haven't come across her before. I'm quite a fan of Patricia Cornwell and also Anita Brookner--yes, both very dry in their writing style.
    I've just been listening to songs that move my emotions, wondering why exactly they do. I think it's partly to do with the foreshadowing of doom--I mean, in 'Emma' by Hot Chocolate, it's a corny story but the bass line and Erol's slightly shaky voice make you realise there's going to be a tragic ending, even though you wish there wouldn't be. The 'lying still and cold' bit at the end is a foregone conclusion, but it still chokes me up. I need to have the tension building up a lot more before the tragic finale...
     
  4. Elgaisma
    Offline

    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Messages:
    5,337
    Likes Received:
    92
    Songs are really good to study they pack so much into one short piece. For me Dolly Parton is maybe one of the best at this her ability to characterise and bring in emotion gives Shakespeare a run for his money. She can do what he does and give you whole life story and rounded character in less than fifty words.

    Emotion isn't all doom or dire though - it can be passion, humour, friendship, teasing, love, affection, or indeed misery etc I'm pretty much a traditional stiff upper lip Brit for me the most powerful emotion is dignity and strength in a situation.

    One scene I wrote was about a little girl found dead floating in the sea, the scene itself had happened twenty years ago - just the facts bring plenty of emotion for the reader so it just needed something simple from Socrates to highlight it, I just had him sitting next to the little pile of stones that marked her grave. He sits down and gets out his book, it is the anniversary of her death and just very simply he doesn't want her to be alone. He isn't crying nothing messy happens - he is still bothered he doesn't know where she came from or her name but he just feels he needs to remember her. It is one scene when i wrote it got to the ladies in my chatroom and the few people have read it have all commented on.
     
  5. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    You reminded me that I have some notes for a short story somewhere based on a fatal accident I saw a couple of years ago. I was passing soon after the accident had happened. A child was lying on the road, covered by newspaper except for just a foot is sticking out. That small pink wellington boot and the school bag beside her really, really got to me...
    I've been checking how often I say the equivalent of 'he was angry' 'she was sad'--I don't say it as crudely as that, but it's still far too often, much too much 'telling'...
     
  6. Elgaisma
    Offline

    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Messages:
    5,337
    Likes Received:
    92
    I try not to name an emotion and show it with body language the emotion thesaurus is useful as I tend to over use hands on shoulders, eyes looking down, grins, smirks etc
     
  7. marewolf
    Offline

    marewolf New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2011
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Reno, NV
    This is a tough one for me, too.

    Although, I don't think it's always about writing something sad or angsty, or describing an emotional experience. It's about getting the reader to connect with your character on some level.

    I think that's why romance novels are so popular, we can all relate. :)

    Anyways, goood luck Madhoca. I think it's really great to get feedback like that (even if it comes with a rejection), you know you're doing something right and the rest will come.
     
  8. HorusEye
    Offline

    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2009
    Messages:
    1,215
    Likes Received:
    48
    Location:
    Denmark
    Yes, most readers read fiction to feel something, not learn. Well, good books would be those which feelings made you learn new things about yourself.

    My first thought was Shakespeare. While everything he wrote was hugely melodramatic, it was never whimsical emotions -- there's a very real and logical reason for every emotion every character has. If your character is too collected and rational to cry, then squeeze the thumb-screw a little tighter -- she's gonna have to cry at some point!
     
  9. K.S.A.
    Offline

    K.S.A. Member

    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2010
    Messages:
    79
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    On a little lost island called Atlantis
    I'm a bit too logical and emotionless as a person but I find it easier to express myself fully when I write. If I'm feeling too shut off, a technique that usually works for me is a movie marathon. Now, I know that sounds silly but we all have certain movies that make us feel, well, something. For me, it's any of my 4 favourites - Green Mile, Schindler's List, Shawshank Redemption and V for Vendetta. If you're not in the mood for something that heavy, you could always try Korean movies that are less trouble for your brain but more trouble for your heart.
     
  10. katica
    Offline

    katica Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2009
    Messages:
    172
    Likes Received:
    11
    I agree 100% with this post.

    Like, you don't need to make characters that are full of emotion. You can make characters that are logical and methodical like you and you can add emotion by making those characters lives start falling apart in ways where being carefully logical and planning things out doesn't work! Or makes the situation worse.

    I'm sure you have had struggles in life. Think of those struggles, how they affected you, and how you handled them, and put some of that into your characters.

    You make stories emotional by giving your character some kind of weakness and talking about how they struggle to get through and triumph over that weakness. Make them more human and easy to relate to.
     
  11. popsicledeath
    Offline

    popsicledeath Banned

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2010
    Messages:
    1,037
    Likes Received:
    71
    There are two schools of thought on this. The first is that a writer can/could/should write as generically as possible, as is the case in a lot of popular fiction, so anyone can relate, as the 'anyone' reading has to supply their own version of the specifics.

    The other school of through is providing the reality and truth of a moment for a character, which will be highly specific.

    Ironically, the one the most people can relate to is actually not the most empathetic, connected reading experience. It's popular, sure, as it's more about the reader than the characters, but it's not better, necessarily.

    It's like connecting to a pop song. It's not actually connecting to the song, but more so connecting to yourself. So to with a lot of popular fiction where it goes with a generic, this-could-be-you approach so you can put yourself into the shoes of the character and pretend you're the star, instead of putting the reader into the experiences of a character and letting you fully understand the character's perspectives, feelings, believes, experiences, etc.

    Pop quiz: which of these methods gives you new insights on life and humanity, and which just basically holds up a mirror to yourself and the things you already know?

    Not saying either is right or wrong (though we all have our preferences), just that vague 'connect with the character' declarations about fiction are, well, vague, I guess.

    [transitioning into general comments]

    The odd thing I found about that response from the editor of the magazine (it was an editor, right?) is they didn't say anything about whether the emotions weren't calibrated, just that they like emotion and want more? And to exaggerate as much as possible?

    What a crock of crap. I personally would definitely take the feedback and re-examine the work, but I also wouldn't resubmit to that magazine again, personally. An editor (editor?) just making blanket statements about wanting more emotion cuz they like it lots, with no attention or regard to whether the story needed more emotion, seems a bit off. It's like rejecting a manuscript and saying it could use a motorcycle chase because omg they're fun, amirite?!

    I dunno, that response just struck me as not-very-helpful or informed, and seemed more like some of the vapid 'feedback' one can get in, ironically, beginning fiction classes at a university, where terms and ideas get put out there because they sound good and it's never wrong to say a piece needs more emotion right omg how could that be wrong? No thanks.

    The point shouldn't be to provide MORE emotion, but the RIGHT emotion.

    And if you manuscript was simply lacking emotion overall, then I'm suspicious of why they're then essentially excited about a synopsis for a short story.

    But, I guess that's not the question. How do you get the right emotion in a piece? Well, that's simple and the same advice with literally every single 'how do I' writing question ever: capture the truth of each moment. And actually, method acting is a great first step.

    But yeah, sorry, but I'm just struck by how awkward and amateurish I personally found that response. Sure, personal responses are always nice, but it's also smart to have one's BS filter up at times like these.
     
  12. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    - It was one of the two assistant editors. The story had got past the reader.
    - It was the full story, not a synopsis.
    - Most responses I've had from editors have not been very impressive in their use of English, I must say!
    - I've spoken to her on the phone and will be submitting again.
     

Share This Page