Emotional Writing

I’ve been editing my novel, “Read Me Dead” for the past couple of months.  I haven’t taken the time to work on other short stories much.  I’ve written one flash fiction piece but have yet to edit it.  Also, the day before yesterday, I started writing a short story.  The short story is meant to be an inspirational piece about life after the death of a loved one.  It saddens me to write this story honestly.  The emotions that are coming through in the story are so sad.

The dream, itself, was terribly sad, and I was shocked to find that I remembered it as vividly as if I had lived it myself.  The memory is so strong that I can’t just sit back and not write it.  This story has to be told.  I just hope that I do it justice.

But, it has me thinking about emotions in stories.  Conveying emotions is important in writing.  We as readers want to feel what the main character feels so we can sympathize with him or her.  But how do we do this without beating our readers over the heads with emotions?

We tell the story.  We tell how the characters feel.  We make sure that what we want written is conveyed properly.

Here are the opening paragraphs from my novella, “Piercing Through the Darkness”:

A warm, Mississippi breeze blew through the rolled down windows of his Altima. There was a time when he would have enjoyed sitting outside and basking in the early morning light, but since a year ago, so much had changed. He didn‟t enjoy anything anymore. He’d lost his life when the accident happened, and he knew that he would never get it back no matter how hard he tried.A strong gust blew their photo off of his dashboard. He grasped at it but came up short. His heart seemed to skip a beat in his chest. He couldn’t lose them again. He wouldn’t. He reached out and grabbed again. He caught the picture and hugged it close to his chest. He took a deep breath. He looked at the picture, keeping a tight grip on it so it wouldn’t fly away. Tears fell onto it, and he quickly wiped them away before it could be damaged.

In these paragraphs, we gather that one of my main characters, Jonathan, has lost his family.  Without just saying he’s sad about losing them, I show how he feels through almost losing their photograph that he keeps with him at all times.

I’m not saying, by any means, that this is the perfect way to convey emotions in your story.  I’m just using this as an example to show how I feel about it.  I don’t want to read.  “He’s sad he lost his family.”  I want to see how he’s sad.  I want to be shown.

Here’s another example using Jonathan:

He leaned his forehead against the refrigerator.  He had to do something.  He couldn’t live like this anymore, and he certainly couldn’t let her live a happy life after what she’d done.

He slammed the palm of his hand against the cool metal of the refrigerator.  In his frustration, he knew what he had to do.  It was the only thing to do.  He opened the drawer next to where he stood and pulled out a hunting knife.  He held it up, and the blade glistened in the over head light.  It hadn’t been used in a while, but now – now, he figured was the perfect time to break it back in.

We see how he deals with his frustration.  He desires to see Kandi suffer for her actions even though she doesn’t know what she’s done.

As with everything I write, I hope that I’m conveying what I need to in my writing.  I hope that the readers feel the emotions of these characters.  That they can sympathize with them or when the situation warrants, hate them.

There’s nothing wrong with saying how your character feels, but sometimes, it’s better to show it.

How do you work with emotions in stories?

6 thoughts on “Emotional Writing

  1. Great post on emotions, Emerald. My writing teachers taught me to go “on the body” to show a physical reaction that correlates to the emotion, similar to what your examples show. I’m not doing that as much in my new novel, due to lots of plot and still getting to know my protagonist, but I’ll probably have to add some of that kind of description back in on a later draft.

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    1. Thank you! In my 2nd rough draft of my current novel, I’m not even entirely sure that I’m doing it either. I’m trying to get it all together and on paper, so to speak, before I even bother with adding in those emotion details. So, I know exactly how you feel!
      My writing teachers taught me the same thing as well. It’s all about showing and not telling! 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

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  2. Great post, and great examples of your work to illustrate your point.

    I think one of the most important parts of getting emotions across in your writing (and a method for “show don’t tell”) is avoiding filter words like: thought, saw, heard, experienced, realised, etc. You do a great job of avoiding all of those words, and drawing the reader straight into the scene and the emotion.

    This was a timely reminder for me, as I’m in the middle of writing a scene where the protag is confronted by his best friend about the way he treats his girlfriend, and emotions are running high. I’d hate to turn such an emotional scene into a series of “he felt”, “she felt” moments!

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  3. Thank you! I agree about the filter words. It took me ages to get out of the habit of using them. And my ultimate goal is to draw the reader straight into these emotional moment.
    I’m glad my post could help in some way! I’m sure you’re scene will be fantastic! Thanks for commenting!

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