Writing Emotions

One recurring comment in my recent beta round of Air Pirates was to add more emotion. "How does he feel about this?" "Can there be some sort of emotional understanding here, not just an intellectualization of events?"

Turns out this is hard for me. I'm not a very emotional person. I don't really trust emotions, and I've spent large chunks of my life ignoring them. So now I find myself Googling things like "What does guilt feel like?"

I guess my transformation to android is complete.

But I've learned a couple things which might help those of you who, while not fully cybernetic perhaps, have similar emotional inhibitors installed.

1) The Bookshelf Muse has lists of common external and internal reactions to tons of emotions. Scroll down the sidebar (where they also have details for various common settings, weather conditions, colors, shapes, textures, and even symbolism!). I do find many of the reactions to be more excessive than my characters usually are (big surprise there), but even so it helps me thinks of similar reactions my characters would have. This site is indispensable.

2) Put myself in the character's situation. I ask myself what I would feel were the same thing happening to me. I realize this sounds obvious to most of you, and even ridiculous that I'd even have to mention it. But understand that, were I in the same situations as my characters, I'd shut down whatever feelings I have and think my way through the problem.

Probably that's not really true, but sitting in my writer's chair--rather than a piss-scented prison cell aboard a pirate ship--it's hard for me to do anything but intellectualize.

Anyway, those are the only tips I've got. Like I said, I'm not very good at this. I bet you've got some tips though, yes?


J said...

Hmmm, well it was comforting to learn that I'm not the only one who struggles with this. Much of the time my reaction to the emotion question in critiques is to analyze whether my character would become emotional or have an emotional reaction to the event in question. Sometimes as readers we expect similar reactions to the ones that we ourselves have, but that isn't always how a character would handle it.

I find that observing how other people react to things works better than putting myself in the character's place. I grew up in a large family and it always intrigued me that an event could make one person joyous while angering another. People watching = not only amusing, but informational! :)

Angela Ackerman said...

Hi Adam,

First off, thanks for the mention. I'm glad you're using our thesaurus collections as a brainstorming center and it's helping you better come up with your own ideas.

Second, I wanted to pass on a book that might help you: Creating Character Emotion by Ann Hood. This book actually looks into what the cardinal emotions are, delving into the meaning of each, and shows scenarios where a person might feel each.

It doesn't cover all emotions, but most of the main ones and you'll have a much stronger understanding of emotion and how to show it better after reading.

Have a great week!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Joshua McCune said...

Yeah, emotions suck for us of the xy persuasion

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I guess my transformation to android is complete. LOL!

And you are so not an android. However, I may be writing an android character soon. Maybe I could consult with you? (kidding!)

Seriously, there was a great conversation over on Ink Spells after my post Showing Emotion: Boys vs. Girls about all the ways to show emotion, in case you hadn't seen it! :)

Myrna Foster said...

Were the readers female? Male characters don't analyze their feelings the way that female characters do, and that's okay.

Adam Heine said...

@Jayme: That's good advice. And I do like people watching.

Matthew MacNish said...

Thanks for the update, Hal 9000.

Seriously though? I'm very emotional, so this comes easily for me. And another thing you can do, depending on the POV your novel is in, is practice writing a scene from the first person perspective of the character whose emotion you need to show. This will help you get a feel for it, then you can adapt it to whatever POV you need for the actual story.

J said...

@Adam - people are the best! So much better than zoos, and they're everywhere....for free!

Stina said...

I love The Bookshelf Muse. I live there 24/7.

I've posted a number of times on writing emotion. That said, my CP still likes to ask me, from time to time, how my character is feeling. :P

(PS My parents used to live in Bangkok. I loved it there)

Keriann Greaney Martin said...

I think the hard part is imagining how your character feels in a situation, not you. And if you can't tell, maybe ask someone who's has a similar emotional range as your character to tell you how they would feel. Couldn't hurt!

Victoria Dixon said...

I was thinking of this just the other day and have to agree with Keriann. It's hard not to put too much of yourself into your character. However, I've never been in prison awaiting trial and execution while making friends with my guard. So I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer's letters. There's a situation out there for anything you write and you can find out how it felt with a little effort, though some resources are better than others. It helps to love research and history. ;D

Deniz Bevan said...

Hmm. I think it's a matter of putting myself into the character's situation, but not just by try to live through the experience in my head. I might have had a completely different experience but with similar emotions, so I try to recall that. I try to concentrate on word choices, making sure every facet of the scene shows the emotions involved. But hey, wait, that's more intellectualising...