One of the biggest challenges facing a writer is attributing real emotions to our characters, to make them come alive for the reader. I call this writing through your emotions.
The best writing has always been a collaboration between the writer and the reader, a connection between the two that transforms the written word into perceived emotion. Romance, horror, science fiction, thrillers, comedy – all rely on eliciting an emotional response from the reader. Great writers have all had this ability. Carl Sandberg, Walt Whitman, and Maya Angelou created vignettes of life through their poetry, using carefully chosen words and well-crafted rhyme to make us feel what they felt as they wrote. Mark Twain, Stephen King, Robert Silverberg, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck – the list goes on and on. Each one was a master at conveying strong emotion through the written page.
For most writers, this is a difficult task. We often write in a vacuum, toiling away in our carefully constructed sanctuaries, cut adrift from the daily turmoil and tragedy that many must endure each day. We read about it in magazines or the newspaper or see it on television. We hear about it from friends. It can make us angry, sad, or frightened, and yet we have trouble expressing it. We write about pain, agony, and fear, but seldom create it with our language or our words. We are often emotionally crippled.
Film and stage are both mediums that allow the actor or the director to express emotion through movement, sound, facial expressions, and scenery. Faces are the mirror to the emotions within each of us. How can we as writers present this face to the reader? The answer is surprisingly simple. Before we can convey emotions to others, we must first feel them. We must allow what our characters feel to become part of us, crying, cursing, laughing, or fearing with them and through them. We must become our characters. We must experience what each separate character feels, react as they would react to the situations in which we place them, and then choose the right words to express that emotion so that the reader knows exactly how that character feels. We must allow the reader to draw upon their own emotional experiences, transfer them to the character we create, and become a part of the story. We must allow, no, insist, that they cry, laugh, or feel anger just as our characters do. The written page must become the stage on which our characters act.
We can convey emotions through more than words. Each scene, each encounter can become a tool by which emotions leap from the page into the reader’s mind. Color, scent, taste, and sound are emotional hues available from our palate to paint emotion onto each page.
Show and Tell. These two terms are hammered into a writer’s head throughout their career. In Telling we become a bard, a campfire storyteller, someone who relates a good story to others but invest no emotional energy. By Showing, by creating fully developed, emotional characters, we immerse the reader in the world we create. Use your anger, your sadness, your uncertainty to channel those same emotions into your writing. Not only will you become a better writer, the process itself is cathartic, freeing you, as a writer, from your own chains.