Emotion in writing

Rhobin’s question for June, 2106 is: How emotionally involved are you in reading or writing some scenes?

I have a short and a long answer.

The short answer is to look at the derivation of the word “emotion.” Clearly, “e” refers to electronic, “motion” to, well, moving. This is all the same as email, e-book and e-reader.

Writing on paper means double work, because, to be useful, it still needs to be transcribed into a computer. And in our crazy world, paper means murdered trees. Besides, I can’t read my own handwriting. So, for many years now, I’ve learned to think on a keyboard.

Therefore, all my writing is e-motional.

Second, the long answer.

If a work of fiction is not about emotion, it’s not worth reading. Emotion IS fiction. When people pick up a novel or a short story, it’s because they want to be entertained. This means, they want to be temporarily taken out of the reality of their lives, to escape its tensions and stresses, or its boredom and meaninglessness. They want to have a holiday in the reality the author has created.

You won’t get such a holiday in an intellectual exercise. If that’s your aim, you’ll play a game, or read nonfiction.

Reading about the lives of my characters needs to induce people to feel emotions appropriate to the situation in the story. I need to portray the children of my imagination in a way to make that possible. And how on earth can I do that, unless I feel the emotions myself?

There is a guided imagery exercise I recommend to some writers whose work I edit. Get completely relaxed. Then imagine being the character whose point of view you are using to convey a scene. BE that person, in that situation. If you were to look in a mirror (which is hard to do when you’ve got your eyes closed), you would see your character, not yourself.

Now, feel what it is like to live in that body. I am bald, but my teenage hero has longish, straight hair. I can feel that hair tickling my ears, covering my forehead. I am a male, but the girl who is the witness to the current scene has rather big breasts. I HAVE them and need to adjust my back to take the weight. I am sitting quietly with my eyes closed, but the witness of my story is running hard, in pouring rain. I feel my pounding footsteps repeatedly sinking into soft ground, feel the rain lashing my face, my soggy clothes weighing me down…

Next, I need to be dealing with the situation facing my character. And if it’s worth including in a story, it’s a situation that advances the plot in some way. That is, it needs to involve emotion. So, being the character, I feel the emotion.

Then I can open my eyes, and my fingers will fly on the keyboard.

Personally, I don’t need to carry out such a formal exercise. I’ve been at it long enough that I can look at a blank screen, and know that I next need to write about my hero witnessing the death of one of his friends, who has just sacrificed his life to save mine… oops, my character’s. Because I AM the character, I am IN the scene, I don’t need to try to incorporate emotion. It’s there.

    Oh no. OH NO! Bill couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, just looked at the smoking crater in the ground where Olaf had tackled the man a second ago. The man’s head lay on the path, twenty metres ahead. Olaf’s legs were the only part of him left.

    Dinika vomited on the ground.

    Kallik said, “He is bound to have a partner. Brian, Dinika, we have to stop him.”
    Bill saw the three of them advance, but was unable to move, himself. Jarnie. Now Olaf. Oh no. He has just gained happiness. Wife, son. He died for me. Oh no. When will it end?

    His friends were walking back, with another man between them. Brian was carrying a steel box. Obviously, they’d got his bomb out.

    “Bill, my dear,” Kallik said gently, hugging him. “You know I’m a police sergeant back home. I’ve seen death before.” She looked at their captive. “This one is Les.”

    Two policemen stood in front of him. He hadn’t even noticed them approach. Kallik stepped forward and showed them a plastic card, then talked with them.

    One of the policemen pulled a phone from his pocket and listened. Bill could hear Brigadier-General Hutton’s voice. Brian and Dinika give their reports. Then Kallik led him back to the car.

    He knew if he tried to speak, he would howl like a child. The world was just too heavy, and it bore him down, and he couldn’t go on. How many would be murdered because of him? And all such good people. I should stop. Being on my team is dangerous. I can’t lead people if I then have them killed. I just can’t do it.

Have I managed to capture the emotion?

Please visit the other bloggers participating in Rhobin’s round. Leave a comment for them, but hey, before that, leave a comment for me!

Skye Taylor
Connie Vines
Anne Stenhouse
Rachael Kosinski
Heather Haven
Margaret Fieland
Rhobin Courtright
Victoria Chatham
Marci Baun
Diane Bator
Beverley Bateman

About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
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14 Responses to Emotion in writing

  1. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Thanks for visiting, Rachael. I find the mental invader is more effective than the fly on the wall.


  2. Bob, it was really cool how you described your thought processes on slipping into character. I guess I’ve always pictured myself as peeking over my character’s shoulders or tagging along on their adventures, rather than becoming them–a watchful Watson to all my Sherlocks. 🙂 I also never would’ve thought about your short answer on e-motion; it was good!


  3. wildchild says:

    You have, Bob. Capturing emotion is difficult, especially if you’re not connected to your characters. It’s apparent you are. 🙂


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you, Marci. Thought you could hide behind your publishing name? Well, the internet gremlins helped me.
      Actually, my characters TEACH me emotion.


  4. tugger1304 says:

    ‘He knew if he tried to speak, he would howl like a child.’ That’s a wonderful statement. Right from the heart. I like you e-motion lines, too. Very clever. We are what we write. That’s why I never write anything about my mother-in-law.


  5. connievines says:

    E-motion. It is interesting how we tumble into the story when we touch a keyboard.


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Well, not always. Today, I have the opportunity to practice Buddhist equanimity. I opened the completed 3rd volume of my series for another revision, to give me thinking time for my current work. I noticed that some parts I was sure I’d changed were NOT changed. It was only this evening that I noticed the file name. it was 160516 instead of 160616.

      I’ll leave people to work out the puzzle of why this needs to lead to Buddhist equanimity.


  6. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Thank you for visiting, Skye and Rhobin.

    At the moment, my writing involves a different emotional situation. Pig farmer’s son comes home from school, able to telepathically talk with the pigs. He tells his father of their grief when their young ones are taken away for slaughter…


  7. Skye-writer says:

    You got mine! I agree – without emotion, why bother reading the story unless it’s non-fiction and you’re researching or trying to learn about something.


  8. Rhobin says:

    While e-motioning you put much emotion into a frightening situations.


  9. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Thank you for visiting, Anne. It can be annoying when I am driving a car and take a wrong turn, or put down something and can’t find it — because in my head, I am within the story!


  10. Great post, Bob, and exciting excerpt. I, too, write straight to the screen and I do find myself working out the characters’ thoughts, moves and emotions all the time whether at the pc or away, when the work is flowing well. anne stenhouse

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Round Robin – Emotion and all That | Novels Now

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