by Randy Luckie
Never underestimate the power of emotions
We have all heard the stories, or maybe we know one or two. Even worse, perhaps, we have lived one or two in our lifetime. Who doesn’t shrink away at the thought of an ‘emotional creature’? But what if there were no emotions at all? Some might argue that would be a much simpler life, without all that baggage to carry around.
However, it may be something worth examining. If you really think about it, emotions are the very thing that makes humans…. human. We are built with the capacity to be happy, sad, elated, and depressed, including every point between those few examples.
Emotions give us definition to our existence. We live by the things that make us happy, angry, excited, jealous and myriads of other degrees of feelings. In Creative writing, these are the keys to the kingdom.
When we remember, isn’t it really the emotion of the remembered event that is the marker for the memory? We tend to remember how the event made us feel. The more elevated the emotion of the event, the more vivid the memory is to us. Don’t we generally define the event by the emotions of the event? Consider your own memories, and think back, how do you describe the memory?
When a writer successfully portrays intended emotion, then they have created something memorable to the reader. It will make them feel a certain way. It is true, they may feel something different than the writer felt, but that has no say in the matter. The key is to make them feel…something.
I once took a master class, with Margaret Atwood, writer of “The Handmaiden’s Tale” in which she said, “Once a book is released, it is out of the writer’s hand as to what the book is about, each reader will decide what the book is about, from their own point of view.”
Margaret Atwood was right. This is because each reader will have differing values of emotions based on their own lives and rightfully have differing conclusions over what they read, which may have nothing what so ever to do with the reason’s the writer wrote any particular passage. Written characters will have to display, tell, think, or perceive emotional lives within the story. This, in turn, will cause the reader to have their own reactions to the actions or dialog on the written page.
Emotions are an imperative tool for the writer to master, without being cliché or obvious. Let’s look at some examples:
- Jacob got on the bus and went home. This tells us something, but not much.
- Jacob shivered at the thought of going home. His heart beat hard in his chest and he took a deep breath as he got on the bus going home. This example is a little better but is a very lazy attempt at the idea.
- Jacob always hated this, and he tried his best to keep from doing it. His skin crawled with anticipation and his guts were tied in knots. Just thinking of that old place caused Jacob to feel his pulse throbbing in his throat. He let a quiet sigh escape his tight lips. Jacob,with angry resolve, climbed upon the bus that would take him home. This construct invites the reader further, because now we know Jacob isn’t only going home, we know that there are some issues with the idea and we want to know why someone is nervous and angry about going home.
The last example gives the things readers are going to connect with. If you give just a dry facts and obvious motions and cues, examples 1 and 2, respectively, the reader will be board and most likely never finish the piece. In creative writing, the goal will always be capturing these emotions within the story to be told, giving the reader’s the emotional connectivity of living within the story as opposed to reading a report of what happened.
It is very important to remember, also, that readers are people, so there are just some things you don’t have to say. If Joan was kicked out of the band she was in, just saying she was mad simply won’t work. Who wouldn’t be mad? As people, we already understand that and don’t need to be told.
However, what if we added something like this; Joan, her eyes pulled into tiny slits, turned to Sally and barked, “I built this band! It wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for ME! You were my friend, I brought you into this, and now you are telling me I am out!” Then we have connections most everyone will, or could, connect with. Betrayal is a very strong emotion… even if you were never in a band that kicked you out.
You can use the examples as a seed to your ideas. Working the action with wording that evokes identifiable connecting points, compelling the reader to keep reading your story with interest. Your job as a writer will be to discern the mundane and known and instead embellish the emotions in ways that readers will appreciate and bond with, causing them to say something like, “I just couldn’t put it down!”.