Monday, July 22, 2019

What My Happiness Looks Like

A part of the reason I got into writing was to process a lot of the things going on in my life. Thoughts about the past, present, and future all got a chance to be turned into words on the page. The more I let myself process these things, the more I was able to connect with the good and the bad in a healthy, controlled way. Writing about my joys and pains, my dreams and fears, helped me understand them and communicate them to others.

The tough part was finding an effective way to communicate emotions. Not as easy as we think.

The basic writer's toolkit gives us enough to explain our emotions. A simple simile can express our joy by comparing it to that weightless, unstoppable euphoria that makes us dizzy with happiness. Any emotion can be shown by merely describing what we feel in the moment. The mere mention a pit in my stomach, a warm rush through my body, or feeling my heart tear in half gives the reader an instant connection for that particular emotion. However, that's the basic writer's toolkit. Let's turn it up a bit.

What does love look like? What would despair sound like? How would you describe loneliness in sensory terms? To take this even further, how would you describe how those emotions change the world around the character? I am sure we have all had one of those days. You know them - they start with a bad mood, then before too long, nothing goes right. Eight red lights in a row, the other drivers are suddenly the worst ones you've seen, everything works against you. Now that bad mood comes alive.

When we write about a character's emotional experience, we need to make it resonate with the reader. The emphasis on that particular emotion should be as dramatic as its relevance to the story. If a character is struck with a wave of very loving feelings, it's always worth expanding upon; we just need to make sure that this matches the tone of the story. If the story is about a young person and their first time falling in love, well, that sensation should be painted all across the page. Every sense should be alive with wonder and excitement. Sounds should be clear and joyful, smells new and vibrant. When the character walks to work, deeply breathing in the traffic fumes and thinking about how exciting and fascinating city life is, the reader will know the character is in love. However, if the story is about a cop digging through a cold case unrelated to his life, that love thing might not need as much text.

The other important part of emotional description is personalizing it. Those previous similes about the pit in the stomach and so forth are good, but they're not very personal. They signal an emotional situation, but little else. When storytelling works well, everything brings out another facet of the character. This also counts as part of their emotional perception. When that character feels angry, what do they focus on? What changes in their perception? If they just see red, well, that's something, but it can be so much better. When the person gets angry does he remember something? That one person who betrayed him? The one time he failed to save the day? A horrible childhood memory he's never been able to resolve? As those are incorporated, they condition the reader. The character gets angry, those memories click in, and the reader takes note. Eventually, the reader is noticing when those cues show up, and they are considering how the character will be affected. Once the reader is that engaged with the character, you've done your job as a writer.

4 comments:

  1. Have you seen the movie "Inside Out"? It includes a creative look at emotions.

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    1. I know of the movie and it's representations. There was a brief series on Fox in the late 80s called, "Herman's Head" that did a similar thing.

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  2. Thank you so much for this! I am developing a character in my memoir (a lawyer, no less) and you have given good direction on describing her anger--by going back in time to explain why she has a short fuse.
    *Pasco Pam*

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    1. Glad to see this has pushed you in your process. I hope you pursue this venture, and try out a few techniques to portray the character's past development and experiences

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