Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ever stopped to think just how many different emotions we experience in a day?  Anger, disappointment, envy, exasperation, gratitude and joy are tiny sampling of the way we feel in a twenty-four hour period. Most of us scribes seek to cover a range of emotion in storytelling.

In one of the links below, the writer states that there are three sets of emotions involved in a story – those brought through the writer, the characters’ and the readers’.  I agree with this analysis and would add that the writer’s responsibility is to build strong connective bridges to link the three.

My way of doing this is to immerse myself in the characters’ viewpoint. It can be a tad bit exhausting, but this method works for me. In 2004, I wrote a novel about an eleven-year-old girl who discovered that the woman raising her was not her birth mother. Christine combined a direct approach (asking a multitude of questions) with some underhanded stuff (going through her auntie’s letters) to find her biological mother.

That novel is under consideration with a publisher and even now people who reviewed the story years ago still ask what I’ve done with it and comment along the lines of what a vivid character Christine made. 

To bring that little girl to life, I had to walk with her through a season of discovery, grief, rejection, hope and joy. In short, I had to become her. Now I can’t and don’t recommend this for everybody, as it can get exhausting depending on the story I’m telling, BUT I write my characters that much better from having walked around in their skin for months on end.   

How do you capture your characters’ emotions?  Do you use your own experiences? Transfer other people’s encounters to your stories? Or do you go from plain old imagination?

Useful links:

 The food of the day is eggplant or what Europeans call aubergine(we call it garden egg). Dunno how it came to Jamaica, but since its origin is Asia, my best guess would be that the Indians and Chinese who came as indentured labourers brought some along with them. It’s diced and steamed with codfish, or it can be seasoned with onions, pepper, tomatoes and eaten as a dish by itself. Of course, if you don't like eating the aubergine/egg plant, there are other fun things you can do with it. 



  1. Emotion is a very important element to the story. It can become overpowering at times and will push readers away. I think about my experiences in counseling and how to empathize with my clients. This helps me get into character and to understand what my own characters are going through.

  2. Thanks for weighing in on this, Josh.

  3. I love this! I handle emotion in my writing a lot like you, by getting into my character's head. I usually start by figuring out how I would act emotionally, and then use that to feel how the character would act/react. For some reason, the contrast of my own reaction and the character's reaction makes it easier for me to write (especially if it's a reaction I don't understand).

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. I have to remember that even though everyone feels the same emotions, no one feels them in the same kind of way. So I dig into my own emotional experiences, but I use my imagination to create it just for my characters.

  5. You are so right, J.L. Emotions should trigger our writing.

    I also try to put myself in my character's shoes. It's worthwhile because you bring such realism to the writing.

    Excellent post.

  6. Glad to share, Shallee!

    Good point and approach, Laura.

    Thanks, Michael. You can't get much closer than getting into your character's shoes.

  7. Emotions a difficult to transfer onto the page, especially when they pull on your heart and fill you with sadness. As a novice writer, I stick with what I've experienced. There are times when I use a friend's emotions in a piece. Mostly, I just imagine myself in the characters shoes like you. Good luck with the challenge!

  8. I do walk around in my characters shoes at times. But there are also times when my characters are so different from me that this doesn't work--the shoes doen't fit. When this happens, I really have to think about and write about that character to get to know him or her better.

  9. Love this and penguin eggplant? how great is that? My characters do enough running around in my head so I don't have to follow in their footsteps, I have already been there. Great post.

  10. Laura, thanks for the good wishes. I guess we all pull on the resources we need to get the job done.

    Cynthia, there's no end to what a disciplined and dedicated writer will do to be able to write a genuine character. You sound like one of those.

    Siv, yeah, I thought the eggplants were cute too!

  11. I do the same thing - I have to walk in their shoes for a while. Sometimes I also have to make sure to write certain scenes when I am in a similar mood.

  12. Interesting! When I can I use my own relevant experiences or those of friends, but when I can't do that I research. Recently I was writing about an alcoholic, so I found web videos of alcoholics talking about their experiences.
    Sometimes I find using material from my own life a little too revealing;I worry about the reactions of people close to me. It's a fine line :-/

  13. Very interesting question...I haven't actually thought of that but it would be interesting thinking. I'd wonder expecially with my kids at school how many emotions I felt because of them :)

  14. What a great post! I'm an actress by nature so I can't help but to put myself in the other person's shoes. I do a lot of research - both hands-on and bookish. And I really try to get inside my character. Some are easier than others. And yes - the ones who are most like me are the easiest.

    Great post!

  15. I like this, and like everyone said above, it rings perfectly true.

    What we ideally wnt as writers is for our readers to correctly anticipate how different characters will react, just by us having characterization.

    The most successful TV series are those where the viewers have gotten to know the characters so well that thy can anticipate how each one wll react ot a certain situation.

  16. I try to imagine how I would feel in my characters' situations...
    I love the eggplant sculptures!
    Happy E Day!

  17. Great post! I do best by living through the character, but you're right about it being exhausting.

    I'll pass on the eggplant. :/

  18. Thanks so much to all of you for sharing your thoughts. One thing is true, we all have unique ways of getting into our characters' heads to write our stories. I'll be passing through your blogs ASAP!

    Donna, I feel the same way about the eggplant, but you gotta admit the sculptures are way cool!

  19. My! You must have had an exhausting season walking in your character's skin. On a lighter note,
    I am loving those eggplant pictures! I love eggplant--especially when it's grilled.

  20. Nutschell,

    Depending on what I'm writing, this storytelling business can get intense.

    Gotta come spend some time at your blog. I saw a great article you posted about dialogue. Coming soon!

  21. Yummy, I love eggplant!
    The best way I've found to get inside a character's head is to write a draft of a scene in stream of consciousness. Sometimes the most surprising word associations and character quirks emerge!

  22. I do the same thing. One of my wips is about a child who is evacuated from London during WWII, I'm writing it scene by scene and it is emotionally exhausting.

  23. I also find it amazing how quickly a person's feelings can change, i.e. from one split second to another, sometimes because of one little thing someone else says or does.

  24. I often ask my characters really difficult questions, the more accusatory the better, to see how they'll react even before I start writing. I find it easier to deal with emotional things thrown at them in the ms by having this frame of reference from the beginning.

  25. Great post on emotions! It depends on the story and what the character is going through at the moment, but I try to bring in experiences from my own experiences, but most of the time, I use my imagination.

    I've had eggplant before. It was pretty good.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting! =)

  26. Deniz, yet another way that people write their characters. I like that.

    Sharon, I feel you on that.

    Trisha, so true and it's not only in writing characters. I try to remind myself that the kind of day I have depends on me. Fall into a funk because of what someone said or decide to ignore that blot on my day and move on.

    Lisa, I had to take that tack the other day when a story I was editing wasn't fitting together all that well. Had to go back to square one with one character.

  27. Role-playing, music and dreams! I never wanted to be an actress, but I've always had a flair for drama. I use music for mood control, especially for darker scenes. I'm a sunny person, so it can be daunting for me to write sad/angry/etc., scences. Finally, I have very potent dreams, where I'll become several different people during one night. A lot of my stories are based on dreams, and since I went through it in my dream, I cand understand the emotion better when I write. Drives my hubby crazy to hear my dreams, because they make sense to no one but me!!
    Lizzy Ford

  28. I use my experiences as well as observed experiences. Sometimes I have to do a lot of research to tap into the emotions if it's an unfamiliar subject.

  29. I can tell you work hard to make your characters real, three dimensional and not just names on a page.


  30. Lizzy, your writing life sounds like a very involved process, dreams and all.

    Lynda, research is always good for those areas we don't know so well.

    Tea, thanks. I know what I like to read so I extend that to my writing.


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