iLesson: Fake people, real emotion

(Eeep! I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday and forgot to post the iLesson! Hope you don’t mind it being a little late this week. Today’s lesson is a teaser from my class “Even Heros Get the Blues: Putting genuine emotion on the page.” Which I’m teaching this weekend at the DFW Writer’s Conference.)

Modern fiction readers want to be fully immersed in the emotions of the story. They want to live the story through the character’s eyes, and the only way for them to do that is for YOU to do it first.

Writing is, at heart, a roleplaying experience. That means that what the character is feeling, you have to put that out there from your own heart. Our characters are not “us,” and the situations aren’t exactly the same, but we’re drawing on our own emotional memories.

Here’s an exercise you can do in your writing journal. This is sort of like an acting technique I learned in school, but applied to writing.

  1. Recall an event that made you cry, or terrified you, or made you weak with shame, or triumphant with revenge. Try not to just remember it, but relive the moment. What were the sensations of the emotion? The sting of tears, the stuffed up feeling of trying to hold them back. The laughter of the class as they see that you’re crying in public…
  2. Write a fictional scene about a character feeling those same emotions and sensations. It can be as short as a few paragraphs, just enough to set the scene, show the cause, the response, and what the character does.
  3. Don’t hold back and don’t edit yourself. Just pour it all out. It doesn’t have to be great literature, you’re just trying to get the most vivid impressions into words. Use all your senses! Be as over the top as you want.

The goal of this exercise is to get you to connect with your memories of how those emotions feel and then describe them on the page for your reader. Here’s a trick: the stronger the emotion, the easier it is to recall with vivid detail. But because those can be very personal feelings, some authors hold back. They may keep to the polite emotions, or tell us what the hero is feeling rather than showing us how it feels to be heartbroken, or homicidal, or despondent.

So next time your character is in the suds, think back to a time when you felt the same emotions, even if the situation wasn’t the same. Then use those memories to give your character emotions–deep emotions–that feel real and important!

P.S. Today is Genreality Day. This week’s topic: Behaving yourself at writer’s conferences.

P.P.S. Don’t forget about the Mosquitos Suck contest! It runs all month!

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