Conflict, action, resolution, emotion, and showing (versus telling) are the well-known critical elements to writing fiction. Emotion can be the trickiest part of life. It can also be the trickiest part of writing fiction. When a writer does it well the payoff is a reader identifies with the character, becomes the character and feels what the character feels. To do that, the author must get inside the character's head and feel what she feels, and then offer a glimpse of the character’s feelings and insecurities.
• If the character's emotions are not there, neither is the character.
• If the character isn't there, the reader isn’t there, and neither is the author in a way that satisfies.
Good fiction requires strong emotion. The questions is, how does a writer deal with such a tricky element?
A great technique is what author Nancy Holzner calls writing through an emotional filter. When done correctly, it fully engages the reader inside the character's mind and world. Rather than writing neutral descriptions, the author colors the description according to the character's state of mind. This helps to increase identification with the character and brings the reader more fully into what John Gardner calls the "fictional dream." Emotional filters show how a character feels, thinks, judges, & interprets—instead of telling the reader.
Say I look out my window and observe: "Two feet of snow covered the ground." What does that say about my state of mind? Nothing.
If I write:
• "The pine trees bent under a heavy burden of snow." or,
• "A pristine white blanket snuggled around the house," what happens?
Can you start to get a sense of how I'm feeling as I look out the window even though I didn't write a word about feelings?
That is running the description through an emotional filter.
Our stories have greater impact if we have our character interpret it emotionally. Involve the five senses to give your writing sensory texture and make sure you convey your character'semotional assessment of what she experiences.
• The emotional filter is always subjective. It presents your focal character's view of your story world, the situation, the other characters, and the conflicts.
• When we attach his or opinions to his observations and have him make judgments on everyone else's behavior, he not only becomes a stronger character, but our reader will form a stronger emotional bond with him.
• Every once in a while, we find ourselves writing a scene through the eyes of our villain or an unsympathetic character. Be sure to make his filter true to him. Present his warped view in the living color of his hang-ups and destructive agenda. If we do this well, the reader will love reading about him because he will be so compellingly unlikeable.
Don't self-edit during the creative process. If we find it difficult to include the subtleties of an emotional filter while writing our first draft, it is best if we write dialogue or action and add opinions and judgments on the second or third time through.
Invest heavily at those places where you have the most control (your own effort and emotions) and reap the benefits when the reader connects emotionally to your characters and loves your story.
Tips for Applying an Emotional Filter
1. Pay attention to verbs. For example, a verb like "walk" is pretty neutral. But the thesaurus reveals a host of synonyms, which are not only more descriptive, but which carry different emotional weights: plod, march, sidle, amble, glide, saunter, trip, and so on.
2. Think about the difference in the emotional states of a character who thinks, "He walked away from me" versus "He strolled away from me" or "He trudged away from me" or "He skipped away from me."
3. Carefully choose descriptive details. If you are describing a person, for example, it suggests a different state of mind if the character notices full lips or ragged, bleeding fingernails.
4. Go beyond the obvious. A cemetery in the rain is going to suggest a pretty gloomy state of mind. How can we get across a similar state of mind if the funeral is being held on a sunny day? In the latter case, the contrast between the setting and the character's emotional state of mind can strengthen the emotion.
5. In dialogue, keep the reader in touch with the character's emotions by what the character says, but also by what he or she is thinking and doing in the midst of the dialog.
6. After every sentence, ask yourself, "How does my character feel about that?" Make sure the answer is clear all the way through. (A character's emotions are likely to change as the scene progresses and the situation changes.) Focus on a character's worries, hopes, and fears as a way of getting at the character's emotions.
Sylvia Dickey Smith is a novelist whose fiction has won the hearts of readers everywhere, especially in the South. Often told in third person, her novels portray strong, memorable characters struggling with the same issues and timely situations that readers face in their own lives. The broad scope of her life includes training in hypnotherapy, dream analysis, spiritual warrior work under a shaman trained by the Lakota Sioux, development of her PSI abilities, and tarot card reading.
Smith is a native Texan, where she formerly conducted private practice as a psychotherapist while teaching as an adjunct professor at the graduate level. She has published stories and essays in anthologies, and her Sidra Smart mystery series received terrific reviews. Her most recent release, A WAR OF HER OWN, is a historical novel set in southeast Texas during WWII, yet it isn’t a war story. Instead, it is of the home front—a period of profound sociological change, particularly for women. Sylvia currently lives in central Texas with her husband, Bill.
Dance On His Grave, by Sylvia Dickey Smith
In Dance On His Grave, Sidra Smart plunges into a surreal world of passion, deception, and murder. The story takes place in and around Orange, Texas, in the borderlands where Texas and Louisiana meet, a region filled with colorful characters, good food, and dark secrets.
Link to Amazon and the book. http://tinyurl.com/cne2m9o