Thursday, August 16, 2012

Emotions in Writing

"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader."--Robert Frost

When I'm working on a chapter, there is an emotional through-line I want to evoke in the reader: love, longing, fear, excitement, wonder, curiosity, sadness. If I finish a draft and I don't feel that emotion myself, I must rewrite the draft before moving on. There is no dramatic context for the following chapter if I don’t understand how the reader is feeling when they leave the previous one. I could tell a story about Johnny Smith going on a grand adventure, and it might be entertaining, but emotions are the core of storytelling for me. If I can’t convey why Johnny is compelled to go on his grand adventure, I’m not doing my job. Telling you that someone is scared is an entirely different experience than making you feel their fear.

That isn't to say that the draft has to be literarily or editorially perfect--in fact it never is--it simply has to carry that emotional wave in order for me to move on. There will still be many drafts of that chapter to come, not only to make the dialogue more genuine, the environment richer and the senses more involved, but making sure that it blends with the context of both the surrounding chapters and the novel as a whole.

I’m the writer. Most of the time I have some idea of what is coming next. I can never guarantee that a reader will feel the way I want them to feel, but if I can manage to give myself the chills, feel exhausted after a chase scene, or laugh out loud at what one of my characters says, I’ve done my job for the day.

ADDENDUM: For parallels in roleplaying games, check out Depth of Character, Developing Character Arc at the Table.

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