Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Power Of Emotions

So often as writer's we hear about the need to incorporate the five senses - taste, touch, hearing, sight and smell - in our writing. I completely agree with this. Without those elements in balance, the writing becomes flat. The reader finds it harder to immerse themselves in a scene if they can't smell it or hear it. A love scene loses its "oomph" if we don't know what the hero's hands feel like on the heroine's skin, what scents are there, what get the picture (literally).

But what about the power of emotions?

I think many times when we as writers get stuck in a scene or can't find words to fill a page, it's because we are dancing around the emotion. Writing emotion isn't easy. It requires an investment on the part of the writer. You must connect with what's on the page or that lack of connection will show through.

Think about the books that are on your keeper shelf. Why are they there? Did they make you laugh? Cry? Fill you with hope, longing, a sense of well-being? Tapping into emotion is what lifts a story from mundane to magnificent and makes it memorable (no more alliteration, I promise.)

What are these emotions?

The primary and most strongly felt emotions are love, happiness, hope, compassion, courage, pain, hunger, hate, anger, grief, fear and greed. The secondary and less powerful emotions are a sense of humor, loyalty, gratitude, pride, curiosity, self-pity, loneliness, jealousy, vanity, timidity, inferiority, envy, suspicion, revenge, guilt, shame and boredom.

The challenge.

Pick a scene that's not working for you and read through it. What emotions are present? If you can't tell or you're too close to your own work, have a friend or CP read it, then ask them what emotions they get out of the scene.

Were the emotions the ones you were going for? Did a character come across as angry when you meant for them to be afraid? Maybe there wasn't much emotion in the scene at all. Look at your word choices. What can be stronger? More distinct? Look at that list of emotions and see what you can pull in. Of course, there's more to emotion than what characters say. Emotion shows in our body language, our facial expression, the tone of our voice...we convey emotion with our whole being.

Some Help.

Not sure how to tap into your emotions when you write?

Music can be a great aid in this. Pick something that fits the mood of what you're writing. Listen to it once through. What does it make you feel? What sort of actions does it make you think of? Channel that into your writing.

You might also try making a list of your "triggers".

Are there particular movies that make you weep? Laugh? Scared? Why? How? Watch some of those movies and take notes on how the characters move, what their faces do, what their voices sound like.

What about those books on your keeper shelf we talked about earlier? Pull a few of those down and read some of your favorite passages. What's going on there that makes the story so powerful? Look at the language, the word choice, the sentence structure. There are so many ways to change the tone and mood of a scene.

And remember, no story is one dimensional when it comes to emotion. I tend to write with a humorous voice, but there are still poignant moments in each of my stories. Connecting with the reader and making them feel makes for great reading.


  1. Excellent post, Kristen! Definitely good reminders! I love how different CDs can elicite just the right emotions I need to experience when writing different scenes. Music has always played a big part in sparking joy, melancholy, nostalgia, excitement and trepidation. And you're so right about going back and watching certain favorite movies as a quick fix in stimulating a particular tone. I find that If I don't make use of these tools when I'm creatively blocked, my writing comes out dry and flat. Hmm, I just might be in need of breaking out those CDs and DVDs to put the spark back in my creative fire. Thanks for the reminder! :-)


  2. Thank you, Kristen, for posting this. Sometimes we get so absorbed in our stories, that we forget the senses. Great refresher course!

    Your blog is beautiful and I love it!


  3. Anonymous11:00 AM

    Great post, Kristen :)

  4. Great post Kristen! Very good reminders and I'm gonna do your exercise when I get home. :)

  5. Dang Boo! That was a great post!

  6. Hello Kristen,

    I think you hit on one of my challenges with my writing - showing more emotion. I think that's what I need to do with my second edits (I'm working on my first novel. I totally agree with what you say - now I'm working hard to get there!

    :) Abby

  7. So true! I've put three books down this week because not a one of them made me connect emotionally with the story being told.

  8. Kristen,you give good food for thought. And definitely if our scenes are lying on the page listless and flat, what's likely missing is the emotion.

    That being said, I think, often, writers tend to overblow the emotions, without trusting the reader's empathy. If one describes the scene concretely, the emotions will come through loud and clear. But isn't that always the hardest thing to do.

    This has been a subject of thought for me this last week, how to show those ol' emotions without saying. Thanks for the bump to clarify it to myself.


  9. Great post, Kristen, and a great reminder.

  10. Good post, Kristen!