What Did You Learn?

December 8, 2009

General Writing: Getting in Touch with Your Inner Feelings

Emotions are as much a necessary part of a good story as descriptive detail. A lack of emotion will generally lead to a detached feeling (so I suppose if you’re writing a story about a serial killer that’s okay but otherwise…) which is tough for a reader who wants to feel connected to and root for the protagonist.

I was thinking about this recently because of a submission I was reading at work. There are two different key sets of emotions that the author/narrator was lacking that made reading the story really frustrating.

The first, talking about 9/11. As it’s only been 8 years since the terrorist attack that brought down the World Trade Center, it is still an event that is pretty sensitive and evokes a lot of emotions from people all around the world. 90 countries lost citizens that day. America, and New York in particular, feels this loss the most keenly. As my dad describes it “it’s like there’s a hole in the NYC skyline.” As such, a New Yorker writing about 9/11 can be very interesting, so long as they capture the feelings involved. The feelings of themselves and of the city at large. The fear, the panic, the chaos. But to attribute feelings to people they don’t know (for example to say “she saw someone with a lump in his throat” or “they were crying for their lost loved ones” when you don’t actually know that’s why they’re crying or if they have a lump in their throat. You can guess, think, wonder, assume, but you can’t know for fact.

The second, general feelings. I’ve said before that using non-descript descriptive words is a frustrating thing. The reader wants to learn something from what you are writing so words like “sad,” “happy,” and “nice” don’t really cut it. You need to find the exact word for what the character is feeling, not a general, non-specific one. Otherwise, you’ve missed out an opportunity to tell the reader something about the character. The way a character reacts emotionally to an event (such as 9/11 for example) says a lot about them and as a writer it is your responsibility to really utilize those moments.

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