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Friday, 24 February 2017
Writing About Emotions
Photo Copyright Janet Cameron
There are four basic human emotions.
The key word here is "basic."
Words that describe feelings can convey a variation in intensity of one of the above, or else a combination of two or three different emotions.
Just as a tickle is a tiny pain, so apprehension is a mild form of fear. Anxiety suggests a little more than apprehension while terrified is stronger. Some words are combinations of more than one emotion. For example, excitement suggests optimism with a touch of uncertainty, in other words, a combination of happiness and fear. This is, of course, a volatile mixture. A traumatised character experiences fear and sadness, perhaps with underlying psychological scars.
It’s important to get the right word for your character in any situation. Too many strong words at the beginning of your story could be detrimental to its final impact. Always choose adverbs and adjectives with care and use them sparingly, so that the action and crises build up and tension is maintained. Remind yourself that strong verbs are better than verbs with adverbs, for example: ‘She sobbed’ is better than ‘She cried loudly’.
The Underlying Complications
It’s fascinating to be aware of how many different words there are and how they fit under one (or two or three) of the above four basic emotions. When describing your characters, don’t rely only on choosing the most apt word, but remember to apply it in a showing way.
Look through a piece of your work and see if you would change anything and check again that you have used strong verbs and specific nouns.
These short exercises might help, or make up one yourself if you prefer.
Write a short character-study, expanding on one of the following. Show how they feel as they try to deal with their problem. I have written each piece as though it is a monologue.
Don, talking about his partner: She’s here, there, everywhere. Off to this meeting, then away to that appointment. It’s different for me. I work from home. I’m on my own all day, then she’ll rush in from work, all hyped up. She slings her briefcase on the floor, her coat over a chair. Grabs something to eat, changes, then she’s off again with hardly a backward glance. I’ve talked to lots of women in that position and I truly feel for them. I mean, I’ve been there.
Lois, talking about her lost opportunity: I meta man, quite a bit younger than me. We had a great thing going, but I gave up. He didn’t actually care a jot about my professional status or the age gap. He just wanted to marry me. But I cared and so did my mum. So, I let him go. I wish I could get him back, but I don’t know how.
Sometimes, it’s easier to write about feelings using a trigger? Gossip columns and problem pages are good for this.
The main thing is to feel for your character. Even be open enough to sympathise with your "bad guy" by seeing things from his/her point of view. It's challenging to adopt a different viewpoint, as it makes you think very carefully about choosing the best descriptive phrases and imagery.