Monday, April 19, 2010

Writing about emotion...


One of the most important ingredients in a romance novel (in any fiction really) is emotion. And one of the reasons people like reading fiction is that they can feel all kinds of emotions without suffering any of the consequences.
In fiction we try to reproduce the emotional impact of an experience. Our narrative comes alive and is made vivid and moving through significant detail. As every liar knows, details and colour make a story sound true.
‘I’m sure I paid that bill. I remember the guy standing in front of me in the line was wearing a vest and he kept on yapping about his granddaughters.’

(It's convincing, isn't it? How can he not have paid the bill when he remembers so much??)
Emotion is usually experienced as a physical reaction, so if you simply write, “she was afraid’, you will keep the reader at a dispassionate distance. However, if you give physical details --

e.g. Her heart was pumping so hard it felt too big for her chest.
Her fingers were too weak to dial the phone.
you allow the reader to share the experience.

So... in the interests of showing emotion rather than telling, I started making a file some years ago, so that I didn't always fall back on the same old ways of describing these emotions and their accompanying sensations. I made notes from a library book on body language (I'm afraid I’ve forgotten title and author).
This year, at our retreat in Sydney my writer friends and I took this a step further. We took four emotions (anger, fear, attraction and joy) and we made two lists. On one side we listed the (external) physical signs that show a character experiencing an emotion (clenching fists, slumped shoulders etc) and in the other column we listed the (internal) physical sensations that the point of view character might be experiencing (sick in the stomach, lightning in veins etc).

At our most recent North Queensland romance writers gathering, we extended this list further and added sorrow. We also added more details to the lists I already had (without looking at the earlier contributions first) and we had a lot of fun. Better still, we now have a resource that helps us find the best way to describe how a character might be feeling or behaving at certain times in our stories. (Great minds and all that.)

It's worth trying in a group if you're lucky enough to have writing friends close by. We all learned heaps and we're inspired to be more original and precise in our writing.


The fabulous resource that inspired this exercise for me was Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway.

2 comments:

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Lacey Devlin said...

Those lists are such a great idea!