Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Emotional Overtones

I've written before about trying to draw your readers in emotionally.  However, you should also allow the reverse to be true - you have to allow your emotions to draw you, as the writer, into the story.

I'd written things before - a science fiction novel, several short stories, several stop and go stories about a dystopian future - but it wasn't until I wrote Salvation Day that I truly felt the work.  I used my experiences of what I'd gone through with the premature birth of my daughter to bring out the feel of the book.  Judging by the reaction I got from a few beta readers, I think I hit the mark.

We are better writers when we can bring the raw emotion of what we've felt into a story and then craft that maelstrom into something understandable.  It brings passion and let's the author let loose with things he or she might not even know they were capable of writing.

I've never been attacked by vampires or been the victim of a hit and run accident, but that doesn't mean I can't bring past emotions into the work.  We've all felt despair or anxiety at some point in our lives.  I've been stressed or worn down, and when that gets to me too bad, I do what I can to turn it into a positive by writing down what I'm feeling.  No, I don't mean some gloppy journal written by a 15 year old girl, but rather snippets in short sentences that captures the way I'm feeling.

When I wrote the Hell scene in Salvation Day, I went back to the darkest days of when I thought Rachel might not make it through her ordeal.  I looked back at what the days felt like and discovered I'd used words like "helpless and afraid" and "living from day to day" to describe what was going on.  When I saw these words again, they drew me back into the memories, memories I could now use as a focal point for the dark place the female character in the novel was going.

It's not all depressing - any strong emotion will do in helping you put your best foot forward.  I used returning from a long overseas trip and the joy I felt at the reunion with my wife to write the culminating scenes from Salvation Day and Akeldama.  So long as the emotion is strong and you have enough to go back and remember it well, you can use it to make your writing better.

Readers notice this too.  Think back to your favorite books, and they're usually the ones where you were caught up in the gripping emotions the author relayed.  At the same time, how many of you have read something flat and unemotional?  I know I have.  It's easy to tell when a writer's heart just isn't into the work, and that usually results in the reader putting it down and moving onto something more real.

Take the Harry Potter books.  The dementors in those books were among the most frightening and well written creatures out there.  You know how JK Rowling came up with them?  She drew upon her experiences from when her mother died, and the pit of despair she fell into.  That helped her create the creatures that not only suck the happiness from an area, but those same creatures also bring fog, drizzly rain, and insanity to whatever they touch.  The reader can truly feel the impact of the dementors, and it makes them a more believable and frightening part of the book.

I've written a lot about The Shining, but Stephen King did this with that books as well.  King admitted that as a young father, he was often horrifed by feelings of real anger towards his children.  He felt like bouncing them off the walls at times when they wouldn't go to bed or just wouldn't shut up, and in an era of Ozzie and Harriet, he didn't know how to take it.  He has since come to understand that a lot of parents have had genuine feelings of antagony towards their children, and that it's natural(so long as you don't act on it).  However, in his brilliance, King used these strong emotions to create Jack Torrence and his leap off the deep end of the Overlook Hotel to make The Shining that much more real and terrifying.

Don't hide your feelings - embrace them.  Write them down and remember what they really felt like.  Then, when you need them, call them out to help you create a better story, one that grips both you and your readers.


  1. You're so right about this. I'm bad at it. A fellow writer suggested the idea of an 'emotions bible' to record raw emotions and refer to them later. Now two fellow writers have suggested it. It's definitely worth a try!

    1. It's definitely how I've gotten some of my stronger work. I hope you give it a try.