Writer Wednesday: Quick Tips for Writing Emotions
Happy Wednesday authors and welcome to the middle of the week! Today on the old bloggo we are talking about something that can be a trial for some authors and a learning process for others. Writing emotion is a trickier feat than one would think. You want prose that isn't too melodramatic or flat, but strikes a balance somewhere on the line of sincere. You want your readers to not only echo the emotions of your characters, but to pull them into the moment, to experience the same emotional punch of loss or elation, fear or rage. There is a wide array of emotions a character can experience in a single novel and being able to thread into the experience, no matter how outlandish the setting of a story, is every writer's goal. Today we are going over a far from exhaustive list but will also link some resources & further writing at the end, including a link to The Emotion Thesaurus website, an incredible resource for finding the right words for the write moment.
Quick Tips for Writing Emotions
Don't Hold Back
A scene done right can border on uncomfortable. Love it or hate it, think how deftly Game of Thrones wields this sentiment. The reader learns within the first book no one is safe, not even the supposed main protagonist. Popular YA like Fault in Our Stars and All the Bright Places both deliver on huge emotional impact moments because they took the safety net out from under their characters. It doesn't always have to be about death or loss however to create an incredible emotional impact. Think about characters who have been put through the wringer and the rush of relief you feel when they survive. Pain, physical, spiritual, and emotional, can be a catalyst for strong emotional points, but writer beware of straying into melodramatic territory.
Melodrama: Lead, Don't Force It
To be clear, melodrama is when the characterization is eclipsed by predominance of plot or physical action. Think the exaggerated gestures of actors on a stage, where the exaggeration works for an audience that must watch from a distance. Up close, the exaggeration doesn't hit right and cheeses out. Get too explicit with the emotional details, you somewhat box the reader. You want to lead the dance, a dance the reader can easily follow without getting tangled up in overcomplicated steps. Sometimes a bigger punch comes from just enough detail to send your reader off an emotional ledge, a single line or a couple of sentences that hint at the iceberg of feeling present in the scene.
To give a visualization of that sparse method, think of the episode The Body from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For such a fantastical and often corny show, The Body, and the subject matter it portrayed, was a literal punch in the chest because of what it cut out. The episode features no music, sparse background noise, and bare, heart breaking visuals centered around the sudden and shocking loss of a character, done better than many dramas on air at the time.
Word Choice & Varying Description
Hey, when writing a lot of emotional scenes, sometimes they run the danger of melding together into one big, eerily similar lump of danger drama. Word choice and mixing up descriptions can actually go a long way to helping various scenes gain greater distinction in the overall text, something that can be a bit trial and error until you find the right words to fit. This is where resources like the Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglist can be a huge help. Even if you can't spring for the books, their site is a wealth of tips and info to help fjord the choppy waters of emotional writing.
It is easy to say a character is angry, but peeling back the surface layers of anger to provide context and using the wide array of vocabulary under the umbrella of anger can create a whole new flavor to the emotion. Their anger can be wrathful, born of annoyance, or rage, or piqued by the injustice of a situation. Word choice and description also gives your reader a deeper understanding and perspective to the character's thoughts and motivations, which is goals.
Resources & Further Reading