Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Adding Emotions to Your Stories



One facet of my writing that I’ve been focusing on lately is injecting more emotion into my chapters. I rarely think about this kind of stuff when I’m writing, at least not in the early drafts, so it’s no surprise that my prose is often little more than a flat recounting of the scene. Kind of a “just the facts, ma’am” approach to the words. So I’ve learned that it’s important (read: mandatory) for me to go back over my scenes and amp up the emotions. I don’t need (or want) to make every scene an emotional rollercoaster, but I do want to enhance the natural emotions that are already present.

Sometimes the emotional tone of a scene is self-evident—for example, when the main character is being chased by someone with evil intent. In those instances, even I can figure out how to add emotional cues that show the character is afraid. The hard part is working with scenes that don’t have an obvious emotional component. Consider a scene where a simple conversation takes place between two friends where necessary information is being exchanged. Where’s the emotion in that? Boredom?

In cases like this, the trick is to ferret out whatever small bits of emotion are present and finding a way to amplify them. Does one of the characters have a slight beef with the other because of some past event? Does one of the characters think the other is crazy for taking too many risks? Just because they’re friends doesn’t mean they can’t be mad at each other every once in a while. Bring those conflicts to the fore, even if they don’t have anything specifically to do with the conversation at hand. Your reader will thank you for it.

And if the characters don’t have a reason to be upset with each other, then give them one. That's what subplots are for. Whatever you do, make sure the reader feels some sort of emotion in every scene, no matter how mundane the scene is. In fact, now that I think of it, the more mundane the scene, the more important it is that you find a way to inject emotion into it.

In science fiction and fantasy, one of the most important emotions to evoke is “wonder.” It’s what keeps readers of those genres reading. So when my main character recently arrived at a strange mansion in the middle of the forest for a meeting, I went back through the scene and played up the “wonder” aspects, letting the MC marvel at all the strange things she sees. And if that wasn’t enough, I also had the character worry about what she might have gotten herself into. Just because I know there’s no danger doesn’t mean the reader shouldn’t be worried.

So what do you do to make sure your stories have plenty of emotional content?

ChemistKen


10 comments:

  1. Like you, I have to go back and amp it up. Writing to music helps. I can set the tone with a song, especially for high-energy emotional moments.

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    1. Music still distracts me too much. I have to listen to ambient sounds, or rainstorms, or the sounds of the Gryffindor common room. (http://harry-potter-sounds.ambient-mixer.com/gryffindor-common-room)

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  2. Great minds think alike. Like you and Alex, I add the emotion in later drafts. During the first draft, I am too focused on plot.

    Recently, Marcy Hatch shared a technique to help round out scenes of high emotion by digging deeper, past the obvious emotions, to a more complex layer. It recently helped me out with a difficult scene where my MG protag had been attacked by a poisonous creature and thought he was dying.

    Yes, he was scared. Yes, he felt despair. But the scene kept coming out flat until I tried what Marcy's post suggested and dug for the third emotion.

    My protag was angry. He didn't want to die stupidly, pecked to death by a poisonous bird. When I added his anger into the scene, it blossomed.

    Here is the link to Marcy's post: http://mainewords.blogspot.com/2015/12/building-better-characters.html

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    1. Nice post, and Marcy points to Donald Maass's post on the same subject. both ar worth reading.
      http://writerunboxed.com/2015/06/02/third-level-emotions/

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  3. See, I also have the problem with lacking emotion in my early drafts. But my problem is compounded by the fact that I can't tell when emotion is missing, or even what emotions are appropriate. I pretty much rely on my critique partners to help me figure it out. Thank goodness for them!

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    1. Yep, although sometimes I have to remind my crit partners to look for the emotions.

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  4. I have to do what you do, which is go back and add it. I feel like I'm either focusing on the exposition or the dialogue at first.

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  5. Great post. I know emotion is what makes me really enjoy reading a book. I try to use description action words to evoke emotion using the scenery. Or a character's reaction or feelings to another character to promote sympathy or the main to endure a sidekick in the story.
    Juneta @ Writer's Gambit

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  6. Sounds like you have it all figured out to me. If you know you have to go back and add this all in after your first draft, then you're doing good.

    I feel like this happens to me in a different way that seems less about emotions and more about POV, like when it needs to go deeper. When the "laundry list" thing happens, I go back and see how I could rewrite the sentences so it reads more interestingly and not so much like a check-list.

    Like, "Ken leaves work for the day" is so dry and bland. I just try to go with, "The orange and pink sun set in the sky outside his window and Ken's work day had finally come to an end. He would be back in his chair at home writing his cherished manuscript at long last."

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  7. In some cases, I find it helpful to have characters exhibit the opposite emotion to what you'd expect. I was particularly proud of a battle scene I once wrote where the combatants were rather bored by the whole thing.

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