Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Creating High Emotion in Fiction

Many works have been called masterpieces of literature. Some for their wonderful imaginative writing, some for their style, but all because their stories have the power to make us as readers experience, with the very core of our being, some emotion whether it be fear, hopelessness, astonishment, or laughter. Something true and similar to all of us throughout this world is our emotions. We feel the same range of emotions no matter what our ethnicity, income, or lifestyle. It is one of the most important things that make people love a work of fiction. It’s what readers hunger for.

Emotion, I’ve found, is also something many writers struggle to accurately portray.

Often an author will tell us how the character feels as in:

Johnny felt saddened, walking to his uncle’s shiny, dark casket. Tears dampened his eyes. The room was hot and quiet sobs drifted through the air as his mother led him toward the casket where he would see his uncle’s body, cold and stiff.

This works of course, but it doesn’t show anything of the character’s feelings. It simply states a fact and unless a reader has had the same or very similar experience, they will relate very little to the character’s sorrow, fear, or joy. Instead, authors should strive to show readers, as in:

Johnny’s palms grew sticky as he moved closer to the shiny, dark casket. The carpeting was soft under his feet, seemingly muffling all sobs and whispers in the room. His breaths grew shallow and the air suddenly became hot. He didn’t want to look at the body, pale and stiff. It wasn’t the way he wanted to remember his uncle. It wasn’t the last vision he wanted to lock away for revisiting. What he wanted was his uncle to toss a ball to him, to drive him to the swimming hole, and to take him for ice cream. But Uncle Gerald wouldn’t be coming in his shiny, silver pickup ever again. Johnny swallowed, forcing down the hot tears filling his eyes.

This second example puts readers in Johnny’s thoughts and helps them to feel what he feels, helps him become real.

Another of the most common things I find is overstatement. In this I mean when an emotion is told after it’s been shown as if the writer doesn’t believe the reader will get it the first time. This works just the opposite; it actually dulls the impact. In the second example above, notice that Johnny’s grief was never stated as sadness. Yet his sorrow is unmistakable. Often times a writer will create a passage like the second example above and then go on with a statement such as, "His sadness overwhelmed him." Such an explanatory statement ruins whatever impact the preceding passage had provoked. Another form of overstatement is repeating the exact same emotion over and over every so many paragraphs, as if the writer is afraid the reader will forget how the character is feeling. Once an emotion is established, it should be left alone — although the character should react in ways he would, feeling the way he is — until the emotion deepens, lessens, or otherwise changes somehow. When self-editing a work, a writer must be aware of these easily overlooked effects and weed out the explanatory and repetitive occurrences as much as they possibly can.

By T.C. McMullen
Star Publish Owner
Author and Artist

1 comment: