How to Write FeelingsFebruary 7, 2020 Mary Kole
Wondering how to write feelings? This is a tricky craft element, but its crucial if you want readers to relate and hook into your story. Learn more in this video, and read the transcript below.
How to Write Feelings Transcript
Hello, this is Mary Kole with Good Story Company. This video is about the inciting incident. I didn't say exciting incident though I think it should be exciting. I said inciting incident. So, it means to incite the action of the story. This is a Hello. This is Mary Kole with Good Story Company. This video is all about how to write feelings. Now, it is crucial, crucial information for every writer from picture book to hard science fiction, you want a character that your readers are going to engage with, and that character ideally has feelings.
Now, one of the biggest errors that I see made in this category of writing is the naming of emotion. So for example, he felt sad. Sad doesn't really do any feeling justice because a lot of different characters have different modes of sad. People experience sadness differently. Also saying sad on the page is telling. It is boring. It lies flat. It doesn't do much for readers. It also will never make anybody cry to hear that somebody is sad. It doesn't activate our emotions and our emotive instincts to relate to characters.
So instead, I recommend the concept of interiority. I talk about this at length. It is the cornerstone of my writing teaching practice. It's what I've been teaching to writers for over 10 years. I'll include a link that explains and unpacks the concept. It is a lot more than I can explain in this scope of the video, but how to write feelings I would say if we zoom way out, avoid telling at all costs.
Try and use emotional words. For example, trudged compared to walked. Walked as emotion neutral. Trudged has a heavy, dark negative connotation to it. If your character is sad, maybe they can trudge. Then go deeper. How do they think when they're sad? What kind of words do they use? What are they sad about? I'm not really interested in just seeing their tears, I'm interested in the thought before the tears because usually a thought, a single sort of idea that we have touches off the tears in a character. So I'm interested in what that thought is.
And one of the things that I highly recommend is avoiding melodrama. Now, if you are sad and you say, "I feel shattered in the depths of my soul," that to me doesn't come across necessarily as very relatable or very real in terms of being genuine or vulnerable or authentic. All of these things that draw character to reader and come across as genuine emotion, they're not really present when we have such language, such sort of histrionic, grandiose language going on in the story.
So how else can the character express themselves without talking about the depths of their soul? What are they thinking about? What specifically do they worry about? What specifically are they sad about? The more you can sort explain via their thought process, what they're going through in a specific moment, the more specific you can make that moment and the more detailed you can make that thought that touches off their tears or the shattering of their soul, I think the more relatable it's going to be.
A lot of writers struggle with how to write feelings. One other big problem that I see all over manuscripts is the sort of physical cliche, the butterflies in the stomach to connote nervousness, the sort of glancing at the watch to convey that a character is feeling impatient, the sort of burying the head in the hands to convey that they're feeling sad or angry or whatever or despairing in the depths of their soul.
These things can only play at the surface level because they are surface level. They are physical cliches, the beating heart, the rapid breathing. These are cliches that we use because we've been sort of forced to show, not tell in our writing lives. It's been beaten into us that this is what we need to do.
Well, there's a middle ground there. I think that there's a bit of a gray area between showing and telling. That to me is the concept of interiority. You don't want to just funnel all of your feelings into the physical realm because there's no nuance there. You don't necessarily want to just tell angry, sad, happy, excited because there's no nuance there either. It's going into that interiority of the character that really makes them come alive to readers.
Check the links, subscribe for more writing tips. This has been Mary with a Good Story Company video, all about how to write feelings. Here's to a good story.
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