Thursday, July 2, 2009

Blog Chain - Swimming in the Emotion Ocean

The incredible Christine picked the topic for this round on the Blog Chain, so please be sure to check out her starting post. And I’m first up….eep! Christine wants to know:

How do you add emotional depth to your stories? How to do know when you have enough emotional content? And how to you keep it authentic?

This is another of those elements where I hope I accomplish what I set out to achieve…but I’m never quite sure until my betas get back to me.

How do I add the emotional depth and keep it authentic?

I try to infuse my own experiences into my characters reactions. I’ve had loved ones die. I’ve been dumped. I’ve done the dumping. I’ve been thrilled, lonely, scared, ecstatic, terrified, in love, in hate….I’ve run a very large gamut of emotions in my twisted little life, and I try to add those emotions into my stories. I want to make my readers feel how I felt in certain situations. If my character is watching her love die, I want my reader to be sobbing in their easy chairs as they read about it.

If I come across an emotion that I haven’t experienced, I do a little research. Movies are great for this, for me anyways. Because I tend to be extremely (and perhaps overly) empathetic. I’m the chick bawling at the Hallmark commercial. But, while this can often be an embarrassing problem, when it comes to writing it is incredibly helpful. Because I can use the overactive imagination I was blessed (cursed?) with and put myself in the situation I am watching.

Maybe the emotions I come up with aren’t how I would really feel in certain situations. But that doesn’t make them any less real. I think as long as the emotions you are weaving into your books are real, and if they are backed by believable motivations, even if they are strange for the situation, they can be authentic.

Honestly, I just try to put myself in my character’s shoes. My character is holding her dying lover in her arms…how is that going to make her feel? Is she a tough character who never lets her emotions show? Will this wrench them out of her? To what degree? Will she hold it all in? How can I show that? Show the pain in her eyes, describe her shaking shoulders and trembling breath as the tears pour down her face and she screams her lover’s name? Maybe. If that works for the particular situation.

How do you know when you’ve got enough? Well, this is another instance where betas and crit partners can really help. Because there is a fine line between deeply emotional and overly cheesy. While it can be very subjective, if all of my critters are telling me to tone it down, I listen. I also let the scene sit for a while, and if it still gets me to that emotional place after a fresh read, it’s good. If I read it and my mind is wandering or I start thinking “Eh…getting a little cheese-tastic” then I need to amp it up or tone it down, as the situation calls for.

Adding that emotional layer can be tricky and it’s something I always struggle with and second-guess myself over. Which is why I thank my lucky stars for very talented critique partners who can help steer me in the right direction when I start wandering all over the map :)

Elana is next up on the chain (and it’s her last one so don’t miss it!!!) so be sure to head to her blog next for her take on this!


christinefonseca said...

Great post. I tend to cry at the Hallmark commercials too...(lol).

Rebecca Knight said...

Oh my gosh! This is me, too!

My husband walked in on me writing one day and stopped dead, staring.

Him: "Um... are you okay:"

Me: "Yep. Why?"

Him: "Well, your eyes were bugging out, you looked terrified, and you were making little gagging noises."

Me: "I was? OHHHH! I was just writing a scene where this lady is getting choked. So, that's probably what that was."

Him: "Oh...kay." *quickly leaves*

It's a miracle he puts up with me ;).

Unconsciously or consciously, I try to immerse myself in what's happening to my characters so I can empathize, too.

It's so cool to hear that someone else does that, and great idea about using movies as research! Thanks!

Michelle McLean said...

LOL that's too funny! Yeah, my husband loves when I write love scenes ;-) hates when I write depressing scenes, and just thinks I'm insane most of the rest of the time :D It's hard to disconnect from what your characters are feeling, although of course, that is a good a writer anyways - it must be hard being married to a writer :D

Tess said...

Yeah, I've cried at insurance commercials, tire commercials (precious cargo on those tires!) - it's pathetic really.

And, maybe it does skew my writing. Am I too mushy? Not enough? So hard to know!!!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Wonderful post. I especially loved this:

"I’m the chick bawling at the Hallmark commercial. But, while this can often be an embarrassing problem, when it comes to writing it is incredibly helpful. Because I can use the overactive imagination I was blessed (cursed?) with and put myself in the situation I am watching."

So very true and wonderful that you can see it's a gift for writing. I bet us emotional nuts are the ones that touch souls the most.

ElanaJ said...

You mean watching movies and commercials counts as research?? Man, I am such a researcher! I too, cry pretty easily, so easily that it's embarrassing. Oh well. All in the name of writing, right?

Great post!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I hear you on the crying from Hallmark commercials, especially right now what with being pregnant and all - there is really no stopping me at all. Pregnancy is also the reason that when you mentioned something being "cheese-tastic" my first thought was, "mmmm, yum."

I also agree that beta readers are the best judges of how well the emotions are coming through.

Jessica said...

I do like you and try to feel the character's emotions. I also add in physical reactions to complement the feelings.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Here's where my "old" age comes in handy. Not many of those emotions I haven't lived with or experienced a few times. :)

Nice blog!

Kat Harris said...

I get really nervous about the emotional aspect sometimes with rewrites because I'm afraid I've gone over the story so much I've conditioned myself to the emotion.

That's where it gets tricky for me.

Good post!

Annie Louden said...

Wow, do we all cry at Hallmark commercials? Stereotypes live!

You know, I often gloss over the emotional scenes because I don't want to ruin my day. This is not a good practice.

I also love the tip of movie-watching as emotional research. I think it works!