Thursday, January 24, 2013

Emotion In Our Stories



I’ve had a HUGE revelation this week.

I’m afraid of emotion.

I don’t want to face it. I’d much rather stuff it down and immerse myself in my projects in hopes that I won’t have to do deal with it. I know we all handle hardship differently, but the events of my life have put me in a state where I literally try to avoid emotion. I guess part of me would rather be a robot—throwing myself into work rather than feel and relive certain emotions.

But the catch is that this suppression shows in my writing—and it shows with what types of books I choose to read. 

Big problem.

The irony is I started writing because I wanted an escape. An escape from life, emotion, the whole deal. And now I need to face it if I want it to improve my writing. For so long, I thought my genre—YA fantasy—didn’t need to be deep. That I would be fine if I had an amazing concept and great writing. That characters could be surface because the plot was so strong.

I was wrong.

I just finished reading John Green’s The Fault in our Stars. This book has changed the way I will write. It’s changed my perspective. It’s a masterpiece—the way he’s able to balance humor and emotion… and the originality in the way he pieces words together and the feelings they evoke…

I’ve learned that even though I’m not a literary writer, it doesn’t mean I can’t make the passages beautiful and deepen the character so the reader has no choice but to turn the page and think about the story long after it’s over.

So not matter what kind of book you’re writing, I’ve learned that you HAVE to dig deep. Deeper than you think is necessary. It’s about reaching inside and finding the hardest emotion that exists for you to face—and stick it right in front of your nose and stare it down. STARE IT DOWN.

Because anything less won’t translate. I totally believe that.

Have any of you had this revelation? Or does emotion in your stories come easy for you?


Red. Head. Out. 

62 comments:

  1. I deal with difficult emotions in my writing because that's the only place where I feel comfortable dealing with it. If I inject those emotions into my characters, I get them out without them feeling too immediate.

    We all deal with emotion in different ways, but sometimes it's crucial to jump into the difficult things.

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  2. Great post, Morgan, and one I don't think a lot of...but I should.

    I try not to get too emotional in scenes for fear of it going overboard and becoming 'schmaltzy'.

    I think the biggest challenges I could have, as a writer, would be to write romance....lol

    Keep at it, though, and it will come with time.

    Practice, practice, practice!

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  3. I haven't thought about emotions being a problem for me to express in my writing. But I have wondered if my writing goes deep enough. In the YA market it can be so easy to not go deep in your writing. I've read some top selling ya books that are only surface but do well. Each writer has to decide for themselves how far they're willing to with their books. Thanks Morgan, this post has given me a lot to think about.

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  4. I make my characters face situations and hardships I wouldn't want to face to pull those suppressed emotions out. I totally understand where you're coming from. I suppress a lot of things and writing has been my healthy outlet for that suppression. Drinking used to be one of my very unhealthy suppression outlets. Characters can't come alive if they're void of emotion, and I want my characters to be very much alive. And I want to keep digging deeper!

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  5. Oh man...I just finished my revise and resubmit for an agent after a year. Originally the main character was so so angry and unlikeable. NO ONE liked her, not even my betas and CPs. Through about 8 revisions...I finally was able to send off a main character who was likeable, emotional, snarky and relatable. I had one reader tell me that the emotions the character felt were so true to life and spot on. I started tearing up... it took me so long to figure out that I needed to go to a place within myself (that I didn't want to do in the beginning, it was too hard emotionally) and write the book that needed to be written. (I hope the agent or future agents agree :))

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  6. I LOVED TFIOS. Beautiful, beautiful book.

    And I, too, struggle with emotion from time to time. I find I have to add it to scenes in layers. It takes a couple of drafts for me to get a scene's emotions where I think they need to be.

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  7. Umm, you haven't been reading my journal, right? :) I'm totally, totally guilty of this. I swear, most days I run around so busy constantly that I fall into bed exhausted. And I don't have to emote one little bit. I like it that way :) It's insanely not healthy though. And I seriously worry about it when it comes to my writing. However, for me, emoting through my characters really helps--it gives me a way to express emotions that are otherwise lost in the frantic nature of my days. At least, that's what I hope happens... (I need to read TFIOS but have yet to amase enough Kleenex to mange it!)

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  8. Yeah. Emotion. Powerful stuff when you can use it well. And if it's the way to get to the reader. Emotions--not the words for them but the physical manifestations--can be great ways to show, too.

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  9. I think that's why so many craft books recommend playing with poetry. I suck at it, but it does allow me to dig into emotions and think about rhythm, cadence and beauty in words. Good post Morgan. I appreciate your heart.

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  10. I try to develop my characters' emotions, but it's a huge challenge to have those feelings ring true. And because that can be so intensely personal I've always tended to be very private about my writing. Participating in the writing community has been a big stretch for me!

    I've been putting off reading THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, because the subject matter hits close to home, but I know I really need to sit down and read it. I've heard far too many good things about it not to. Another great post, Morgan!

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  11. I tend to stuff personal emotions down deep, too, so I try to put it into characters. Not sure if I succeed. I've heard a lot of good about that book, so need to check it out.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

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  12. I know exactly what you mean, Morgan, because I'm the same way. I'm not horribly comfortable with expressing emotion in what I write. Of course, I know that needs to change to make my writing better. I think THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is a great example of how to write the full spectrum of emotions. Such a great book for that reason in particular. :)

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  13. I think I am the exact opposite of you lol. Emotion is what makes my stories work (at least, I like to think so!)

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  14. Balance is what I struggle with. I have a lot of pent-up emotions, but letting it all out on paper creates a melodramatic mess of things, lol. Like MJ, I need to take it one layer at a time and refine the scenes with each draft.

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  15. Hmmm,

    Interesting question... and it's a bit *weird* for me, because my first book was a memoir of someone else, so I had to be careful with emotions... but on my blog... I do untap the emotional side of me - perhaps too often - but I is who I is... and you is who you is, Morg.

    Especially with the subject of this book... perhaps it struck a chord in you - and as the MOM you are always supposed to be strong and *not* show emotion...

    I dunno... I'm talking smack.. but my point is I do actually think you are vert emotional on your blog, so there.

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  16. Hi Morgan .. I hadn't heard of him or the book - so just had a quick look .. and the synopsis sounds excellent and then I can see where you're coming from ... so ok - it's on my To Be Read List .. I'm sure it will have some useful lessons in it ...

    Thanks for highlighting the book .. and good luck with your new style of writing - I'm sure you have it in you ... cheers Hilary

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  17. It's a fine line between being unemotional and melodramatic. And when it comes down to it the line is different for each character. You can write characters that repress emotion, but we have to see that it is there, even if the character doesn't want to deal with it. I think I tend to be on the reserved side because I'm afraid of being schmaltzy, but emotions are usually a huge part of my stories so they show up a good bit.

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  18. I'm a guy - what do you think?
    No, it's something I have to work on. Writing a female character and the range of emotions that brought was a real challenge.
    No that you know, you can work on it, Morgan.

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  19. I always have a hard time getting it in too. Feel like I'm overdoing it. And usually when I write, I'll miss a lot of the emotion. Then will have to go back and layer it in. Hopefully I'm getting better at it.

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  20. Don't be afraid of facing emotion. It might be scary but it feels real good when you win the staredown.

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  21. This is such a great post. I feel like I have this problem, too, and I've been dying to read The Fault in Our Stars. Emotion is really hard to convey, especially when you don't want to deal with it. I like the idea of staring down that fear and laying it on the page. Let me know how it goes!

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  22. I tend to be pretty stoic in real life and put almost too much emotion in my stories, so I guess I have the opposite problem. :) In the books I read, I need some emotional connection to the character. And yes, The Fault in Our Stars does that SO well!

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  23. Sometimes I worry if my characters are *too* emotional. They tend to do a lot of handwringing, and I worry if their reactions to every event are described in too much detail! It should be about making the reader feel the emotions without having everything totally spelled out - but it's a very tangential thing to get right!

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  24. Wasn't TFIOS amazing? I think it's great that you've at least realized this about yourself and plan to STARE IT DOWN. (I love that line, btw). Great post.

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  25. Writing has always been catharsis for me.

    In writing I can deal with a lot of things and explore a lot of things that I think would completely flatten me in real life.

    Lauren

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  26. I tend to focus on plot more so than emotion, so it's hard for me too. I just like my stories to be happy and "feel good" so it's hard for me to have those down moments, BUT, it's something I have to work on, because you have to have the down moments in order for the rest of it to feel good. Know what I'm saying? If it's just on the high, the whole time, then it doesn't have the same effect.

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  27. oh I just finished reading TFIOS and it was such a rollercoaster.. sigh. he is brilliant. just brilliant. and I get really inspired when I read stories like that, as well.

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  28. I frequently get emotional over things in my writing, even rereading those scenes or speeches years later, like death or a near-divorce or breakup. I'm going through the works right now, since I'm covering the Great Terror in the Soviet Union, when so many innocent people were arrested, tortured, and massacred, with families permanently split up or separated for many years.

    Then again, after so many years with most of my characters, they've come to feel almost like friends or family, not just names on a page.

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  29. Awesome. Emotion, for me, is the REASON I write; to invoke emotions in readers and, mostly, because the story evoked emotions in me.

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  30. Wow, great post! I've never really thought about it until reading this. I hope I'm a good emo writer. When my book comes out, you'll have to read it and tell me if I am. ;) I write YA/fantasy too, so I can see what you mean about focusing on plot and not so much on emotion, but I guess w/out emotion, our characters are stiff and readers can't relate to them. Once my editor starts on edits, I'll have to ask him/her to be on the look out for great character emotion. Thanks for this! :)

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  31. I found The Fault in our Stars rather average until the final third and then BAM - rip my heart out why don't you Mr Green!

    I have to admit I find it easy to bring emotion into my stories because I like to cry when I read. Sounds a little perverse, but I enjoy experiencing that whole range of emotions and so I want my readers to do the same. JK Rowling is a genius in making you laugh and then cry.

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  32. I think emotion in stories help readers relate to the characters. I know I personally have to work hard to make sure I have it in there.

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  33. I like to think I can keep emotion in my writing. I guess I'll find out when I really get into editing.

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  34. I love reading, and if a book moved me to become emotional then I know that book is well worth reading. SO emotions are a must for me in characters.

    Nas

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  35. i stay away from deep emotions too. not from experience, i just see them mostly as downers...but we all have them, so my characters do too... i'm not lierary either, i'm action adventure, nice to meetcha!

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  36. Emotions are hard, but needed. I haven't read the Fault in Our Stars yet, but I have heard great things about it. Guess I need to pick it up!

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  37. I've struggled with writing emotions in the past. A great resource that I learned about from another blog (I'mm sorry I can't remember which one) is the book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide To Character Expression. It is available on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/audsddx

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  38. I find it hard to put emotion in my writing. It's harder than what you think. I should start working on this more :)

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  39. I love writing stories with emotion. I've struggled with issues in my 20's, and now I can capture those emotions in my stories. It might be a lot tougher if I had never experienced being broken before.

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  40. Oh my gosh, The Fault in Our Stars was amazing. I totally cried. I love reading emotional books. Not too long ago, I finished "Night Road," where the main character loses a child. Oh my gosh, talk about emotional. The author did such a great job of digging deep and bringing true emotion to the story.

    My guess is that your stories have lots of emotion! But yes, we can always dig deeper and become better.

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  41. Morg- It's like you wrote this for me. Took the words right out of my brain. I totally avoid emotion. I refuse to cry over anything, but once in a while it catches up to me and I do it when I'm alone, curled up in a blanket and ready for bed. *sigh*
    I just love this Morg, and you're so right. We need to reach for emotion when we're writing. I think the emotion is what makes it powerful.
    Love you girl!

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  42. Oh, I have this on my kindle, but haven't started it yet...! I do think emotions dangle and we have to reel them in and deal with their tangle. No, I don't want to deal with them, either. I rather create, blog, write, bake or cycle myself silly and avoid those emotions~ Thanks Morgan for being open and honest, see you did it dealt with this emotion! I agree being creative is about digging deep and finding the sepia glitter! YOU can do it! :D

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  43. I nearly SPIT OUT MY COFFEE when I read that second line... Seriously. I had now idea you were afraid of emotion. That SHOCKS me.

    I am happy you had this revelation. As you may have guessed, I am one WALKING EMOTION. It is in my being and I express it well in my writing, art, friendships, and in my every day life. BUT what's the most AMAZING about emotion is it BRINGS OUT OUR PASSION. How BORING would life be without passion? I know I would be never get out of bed if I had to face an emotionless or passionless existence.

    We need it to pump our blood, to get under our skin, TO REACT! IT's a very HUMAN element. Emotions drive us forward in most cases, but they can very easily keep us caged. Such a fascinating subject Morg.I could only IMAGINE how much MORE awesome your writing would be with you feeling the emotion of your characters. My favorite books are ones where the characters have an emotional tie to each other... LOVE, the ULTIMATE and MOST POWERFUL emotion... HATE, almost as powerful but the possibilities are ENDLESS. JOY ... The shining light. HOPE... Where would anyone be without this?! AMBITION ... DETERMINATION .... I could write a book just about emotion. The LIST goes Beyond the written page because we are human and we are RULED by emotion...

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  44. Ug! Emotion is not my strong-point, although I'm working on it. I'm amazed again and again how some writers know just the right way to pull at the heart. Yes, I'd LOVE to learn how to do that.

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  45. Super post, Morgan. I'm that way with conflict. I avoid it in life, but avoiding it in my stories is *not* a good idea. I'm working on it...

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  46. I agree, we as writers must dig deep. Expose our innermost fears, obsessions and feelings. Great post!

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  47. I think that when emotion shines through in writing, the readers actually "feel" it...

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  48. Emotional writing will attract a different audience than non-emotional writing. It sounds to me that in reading Mr. Green's book, you discovered something about yourself that you didn't know existed (or maybe denied its existence) and that is you love humor and emotion. I think this is good because you identify with exactly the audience you want to have and will now write for this audience in mind and be ecstatically happy with the result.

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  49. I think the emphasis is on "dig deep"... which can be a frightening prospect as we unearth long-forgotten and sometimes unresolved issues that we've buried and don't wish to confront...

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  50. My thoughts exactly, but I also have to go with Michael on this one. I need some emotion in my stories (otherwise I'd feel dead, and the characters too), but too much of anything can avert potential reads. Too bad there isn't a perfect balance guidebook, right? :)

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  51. Hmmm, I've never thought about this one. I do have Fault in Our Stars on my bookshelf though. Maybe I should read that one next ;)

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  52. I'm like you. I tend to ignore emotions I don't want to deal with and have had to realize that and change my attitude to make my writing deeper. It's amazing when I tap into those emotions and my characters jump off the page.

    Hi, sweet friend! *waves* I feel like I haven't 'seen' you in forever! I've been a little out of touch bloggy-wise. So glad you've had this realization and it's helped your writing improve! Happy writing!

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  53. Ahhhhh, The Fault in Our Stars, I just finished reading it for the third time. I agree, it's amazing and there's so much we can learn from it.

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  54. It seems our posts talk about the same thing this time!
    I used to be very brainy in the past, which made my writing and acting attempts extremely boring, uninteresting, and devoid of life. I don't know if I'm doing it better now, but I no longer rely on brains. I let it come out, I leave it on my emotions, I use evocation, I try to go deeper in, even if it hurts sometimes; only then, when it's time to reorganize the material, will I use brains and smoothe the technique.

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  55. You wanted to escape from emotion by doing something creative? Wow. Even fingerpainting involves emotion. Just watch some little kids doing it.

    On a slightly different medium, Harrison Ford says the audience deserves a backstage pass to your emotions.

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  56. I deepen the emotions during revisions.

    TFIOS is a masterpiece, I agree. I'm going to reread it.

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  57. Emotions usually come out during my revision process as well. I think when I'm writing the first few drafts, I'm mostly concerned about plot and setting up the story. But emotions are a big part of what draws me to a book.

    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  58. Emotions are the stuff that good writing is made from...just go with it and pour words out onto the page. It works for me:)

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  59. The one thing I struggle with the most in my writing...is emotion. I beat myself up a lot because what I produce sometimes is the illusion of emotion. A cloned version of yourself that looks like you...but is slightly off. I'm working on it though! :)

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  60. I wrote a novel with the sole idea of making it fun...a fun escape filled with action and cool stuff. But as I'm going through the editing process, I surprise myself that there are quite a bit of literary elements in this thing.

    I guess it's because I studied literature in college. It just seeped into my own writing.

    Go figure.

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  61. Ah, this book. It's just...yeah.

    You and I have this in common, Morg. I tend to shy away from emotion IRL, too much of the time. And I try to get it to come out on paper, but I can't always quite get to the heart. I get close, I think, but it's something I need to work on.

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  62. I just had a mental picture of you doing that dancing like a robot edgy moving thing with your arms. You know what I mean, right? Anyway, it was classic! :) Next time we hang out, you'll definitely HAVE to do some robot dancing for me.

    Anyway, I try to have some strong emotion in my writing. It does take some work, though. And by golly exhausting. But isn't it great when these kinds of revelation ping us on the head. Brilliant.

    Hugs <3

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