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Writing As an Emotional Outlet

For this go-round of the blog chain, Christine asked

How do you add emotional depth to your stories? How to do know when you have enough emotional content? And how to you keep it authentic?

Now, I'm going to be honest with you.  I stared at these questions.  And then I stared at them some more.  It's like I'm being asked how I breathe.  I don't know, I just do!  You know, breath in, breath out.  Easy, right?  Right?

I've been looking at other people's answers to this question -- Michelle's, for example, or Elana's.  I mean, Michelle talks about emotions she hasn't experienced.  Huh?  And Elana says she has trouble with emotional writing.  Wha?

For me, the problem is how to dam back the flow of emotion.  I once had a friend sit down across from me and say, "It's amazing how many emotions you must experience."  And I said, "Huh?"  And he said, "From your writing, there's such a rainbow of emotions.  I pretty much have two -- okay and pissed off."  And I thought, That sounds kinda boring.

I'm extremely comfortable writing about emotions, including the ugly ones--greed, lust, schadenfreude, envy, maliciousness, you name it.  I am an emotional maelstrom, and I'm happy to dump some of it off into my stories.  Sometimes I'd swear that's why I write in the first place -- it gives me an outlet for all of that emotion.

I guess the most pertinent question for me from the ones Christine asked is the last one: How do you keep it authentic?

The two things that are a challenge for me are 1) Making sure the emotion fits the character (I bleed into my characters from time to time, which isn't so good) and 2) Making sure the reader appreciates why the character is emoting all over the place.  Like Annie said, it's not so good when the characters seem to be freaking out over nothing.

I do make character sheets, but they don't include things like hair and eye color.  They read like psychological test results, and they help me keep my characters (and their emotions) in character.  I also do my very best to have characters respond at a level that wouldn't get them diagnosed as histrionic or borderline.  And when all else fails, I have my fantabulous readers to save me from myself!

How would you answer Christine's questions, dear Reader?  Feel free to play along using your own blog or the Comments below!

Sandra's post came before mine, and Kate's will come next!


  1. Anonymous said...
    excellent post Carolyn..I knew this would be no problem for you!
    Elana Johnson said...
    *bows to your emotional awesomeness* Yeah, I've read your stuff and you are amazing at emotion. You've read mine, so you know I'm not. It's all a work in progress, through, right? Yes. I still like your answer in one of our earlier discussions though. *wink*
    Annie Louden said...
    It's so great to have a take on someone who knows what they're doing, ha ha. And, I know from reading your stuff that what you say is true.
    I think with me, I'm afraid to "go there." Not enough practice yet. But I'll get there!
    Angela Ackerman said...
    Emotional writing is the single most important thing that will connect the reader to your writing, and a big struggle for many writers, including myself. Probably my biggest struggle is thinking past the first 'ideas' that pop into the mind to show an emotion--the hand wringing, the head shaking, the frowning--that type stuff. This is why we made the Emotion Thesaurus on our blog--to help generate ideas. So when I'm stuck on how to have a character show an emotion, I go there (I hate sounding like I'm totting my own horn, but the entries do help!). One of these days I need to add to all the emotions, because I have more ideas now on how to express knowledge is growing! Woot!
    Kate Karyus Quinn said...
    LOL, I had the same initial, "I don't know, I just do" response at first to this question as well. Hopefully, I will be able to piece together an answer as thoughtful as yours.
    Jennifer Taylor said...
    I think writers need to have a myriad of emotional experiences. In fact, that's why I think I've been through so much. I helps me have empathy for others and for my characters.
    Kathryn Hupp-Harris said...
    Now, I'm going to be honest with you. I stared at these questions. And then I stared at them some more. It's like I'm being asked how I breathe. I don't know, I just do! You know, breath in, breath out. Easy, right? Right?

    Me, too! Well, and then that Elton John song popped into my head and all was well again.
    Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...
    Writing is a good way to vent one's negative emotions. As for bleeding into your characters--that sounds like a story idea to me.
    Michelle McLean said...
    LOL I think I have that "I don't know, I just do" response to most of the questions we are asked in this chain. It takes a bit of thinking to actually carve out an answer :) And you are right, writing is an awesome outlet for the emotions...I just have problems fine tuning them a bit....thank goodness for crit buddies!

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