Monday, October 12, 2015

How an Unemotional Writer Writes Emotions



Roseanna M. White pens her novels beneath her Betsy Ross flag, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two children, editing and designing, and pretending her house will clean itself. The Lost Heiress is Roseanna’s tenth published book. Her novels range from biblical fiction to American-set romances to her new British series. She lives with her family in West Virginia. Learn more at www.RoseannaMWhite.com


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I can't tell you how many times I've heard authors say, "Oh, I just bawled while I was writing that scene!" Or even, "If I don't cry when I'm writing my black moment, then I know I haven't written it right." So many authors will say they laugh at their characters' jokes. Or they get angry at the villains.


So many writers write from an emotional place. So that's their gauge--if their scenes evoke their emotions, then they'll evoke the readers'.

But...what about those of us who don't cry at all, much less over our stories?



Let me tell you a little about me. When I was a kid, I was super-sensitive. I would cry over anything. Including if someone laughed at something I did. I would cry when I was embarrassed--and as a clumsy child who tripped over her own feet regularly, that was a lot. Then one day, when I was about 10, I decided I was sick of it. I wasn't going to act that way anymore.

And I didn't. I got a hold of my emotions...and then I wouldn't...let them...go.

When my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, the rest of my family cried--and I went back to my room and wrote a poem.

When all my friends and my sister and my mom cried over a story or movie, I noted what made it effective and determined to try it.

When everyone else was getting their first crushes, I was wondering what in the world they were wasting their time for and how I would ever know it if I fell in love, because seriously. Did I just not feel things like they did? (Let it be noted I fell in love quite young and have been married to my high school sweetheart for nearly 15 years now.)

I really did start to wonder if I'd just shut those emotions off fully . . . but eventually I realized that, no, they were there--I'd just learned to channel them into my writing rather than wearing them on my sleeve.

But then, how could I gauge if I were writing with enough emotion, when it wasn't something I expressed as I was writing? When I didn't laugh or cry? If I used the litmus test of some of those aforementioned writers, then none of my emotional scenes would have passed muster. They have never once made me cry--so were they emotional fails?

Apparently not, given feedback I've received from readers. I've succeeded in making plenty of them cry, LOL. So my litmus test? It's pretty simple:

Make it hurt.

Still emotional, see? It just doesn't show itself in tears or laughter. But if I'm pushing myself, tearing those emotions out and putting them on the page, it's going to hurt. It's going to have a level of difficulty, even if the words are flowing smoothly. If I'm not working at it, digging deep to try to understand the motivation and fears and hopes of my characters, if I'm taking the easy way out and letting them glide through the scene, then chances are good my readers aren't going to connect.

Case in point--I just turned in the final book of my Ladies of the Manor series, whose heroine's personality (eternally optimistic) is very much like mine. Writing Ella was easy. Too easy, I think, because one of the editors said she didn't connect as completely with her as she did with my other characters (who were nothing like me, and who therefore made me work to understand them).

The takeaway here was clear--if it's easy for me, it's not digging deep enough. I'm not ever going to cry for them, but I should still have to work at it. It should still hurt. Because in peeling back the layers on their hearts, I have to peel back the ones of my own. I just then express it solely through words, rather than through tears.

As the hero in that novel I just mentioned says, "The easy thing is seldom the right thing." It's true in life, and it's true in writing too. Yes, it's awesome when the scenes and chapters are flowing from our fingers--but it should still contain an element of work to it. We should still suffer, the unemotional perhaps even more than the emotion. Because sharing our hearts hurts--and that's what a good novel does.

32 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for this post, Mrs. White. I don't get emotional over scenes in my novels and have often wondered if the scenes would be effective, given I've heard so many other writers say how they cried over killing off a character or got angry with the villain, etc. Thanks for the encouragement. :)

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    1. Just goes to show that there's no "have to" to art. =) Some people have to cry...some people definitely don't, LOL. Glad I could encourage you, Linea!

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  2. I've had this exact problem! I hear so many writers talking like that too. And I just never get it. Awesome post :)

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    1. I knew I couldn't be the only one out there who had this experience, LOL.

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  3. Thank you so much for this post! Recently, I read a blog post that said if you didn't cry or laugh over your story, your readers won't either. That really made me nervous as I've never cried over my story. But your post today gave me heart! I've definitely felt hurt over things I've done to my characters so I'm glad that counts as being emotional.
    And I love what your hero says. That is very true, and I need to follow that rule a lot more in writing and life! Thanks for the encouragement and the challenge!

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    1. Never believe anyone that says "A writer must, or else..." ;-) We're all so different! I mean, if you're a person given to a lot of tears, then yes, your story should move you that much too. But if you're not, it's just a ridiculous expectation.

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  4. Oh my goodness. I think you may have just solved a GIGANTIC problem for me. Almost every article or blog post I've read on writing emotional moment talks about how The writer cried (or intensely felt whatever emotion was in question) and I just never understood that. It's made me wonder if maybe something's wrong with my writing because I don't feel that way. I HAVE written things that hurt, though. I just didn't realize that was another way to gauge it.
    Great post, Roseanna! Thank you so much. :)

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    1. So glad I could help! Yes, everyone feels things in different ways. Don't ever think that the way YOU experience it is wrong just because it's not how someone else did!

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  5. Wow, this post was awesome. THANK YOU!

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    1. You're welcome. =) It started out as something else, which I chucked when I hit on this as just one point--decided to make this the whole point, LOL.

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  6. Thank-you for this post! THANK-YOU! I identify very much with your story, and I'll admit that I've felt like a failure when, even at my story's most emotional moments, even when my characters are bawling, I'm dry-eyed. Oh, I'll laugh with them, but cry... I'm sorry, but I can't cry and think at the same time! My brain short circuits. I can feel the emotion, though, so I usually plunge through and hope for the best. (But I don't shy away from the hard stuff, either.

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    1. You're so welcome! Laughing is definitely different (though I'm more likely to bite back a grin that actually giggle while I'm writing...probably because I fear waking my family, given that I often write while they're sleeping, LOL). But some of us just don't process with tears! Nothing at all wrong with that!

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  7. Thank you for this! I'm so much the same way. Everyone tells me about their tears or attachment to a certain character, or getting angry or pumped up during a tense scene. I'm just sitting there going, 'How did you let that happen?' Emotional moments are much easier to write than to feel! :) Thanks again.

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  8. Thank you for writing this! I'm so glad to find out that I'm not the only one. ;)

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    1. Looks like there are quite a few of us! We'll just form the Stoic Writers Club. Our motto: Emotions belong on the page, not running down our faces. ;-)

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  9. This is amazing!

    I saw the title and I was like: "I HAVE to read this right now! It is perfect for me."

    I am the same way. When writing emotional scenes I've always tried so hard to cry with them. "I'm supposed to cry, right!" This makes me feel a lot better. I have hope that readers can still connect with the character and I can let them do the crying.

    Thank you so so much.

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    1. The very idea of "having to cry" makes me cringe. Just because you can't force a particular outlet doesn't mean you're not feeling it. So definitely take heart!

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    2. Yes. Thank you so much. :)

      I have permission to "bleed" on paper instead of my emotions. :)

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  10. I've thought about this so many times, and never have I seen it put into words so well. :) Thanks.

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    1. Oh good! Love it when someone does that for me, LOL.

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  11. This makes so much sense. I can get very excited while writing, but I don't usually cry. Writing a sensitive scene can really hurt, though. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one. :)

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  12. I'M SO GLAD SOMEONE UNDERSTANDS!!!!! It's really easy for me to laugh at what my characters do (humor is a BIG part of my voice), but crying or other emotional stuff? I want to be single, and have never ever found someone attractive outside fiction.
    I LOVE a good death scene too.
    I've always tried to listen to music that gets me to feel or at least sympathize with the emotion (I ALWAYS listen to music when I write anyway, and its my greatest inspiration). I'm glad to know there is an alternative to crying.

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    1. Absolutely! Not everyone feels, or processes feeling, the same way. So we certainly don't all have to cry!

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  13. This is a wonderful post!
    And though this is a bit off topic, it made me think of one of the big problems I see happening in fiction.
    One of the things I've always disliked is when an author hates their villain. I mean, they're supposed to have all their characters fully fleshed out, yet the villain is often thrust aside as a character they can hate or stereotype. I LOVE my villains, and if I don't I always make sure to go back and give them some backstory to get context from. When a character gets overlooked like this, the characters turn out dishonest, and the writer can't write them with the full truth as they should.

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    1. I know. This totally makes no sense to me. I spent so much time with my one villain he was almost more real to me than the MC. I love all my villains! I just don't see how writers can *not* love any character of theirs; even if they totally hate their personality, they should still love them. Writers need to flesh out their characters or, like you said, they're flat and stereotypical. Hating your villain would be like hating your child.
      ...And I'm pretty sure I just flipped, rinsed, and repeated everything you said, but...it just doesn't make sense!!!

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    2. I subscribe to the "characters you love to hate" philosophy. =) They have to have a reason to be who they are, and though that "who" might be awful, I do find it quite fun to write them, LOL.

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    3. Lol! You just needed to put it in your own words, Lily! As writers, we like to do that:) When I read stuff aloud I naturally rearrange and take stuff out! I loved "Hating your villain would be like hating your child". I will use this:)
      It's really funny when you enjoy the villain just as much as the hero, it keeps things interesting. I was working on a fairy tale retelling with a writing buddy of mine, and she kept hurting my child (the villain), Nottingham, and so I sent her an a thousand word rant about why Nottingham deserved happiness. It worked!!!!!

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  14. I love this post! I'm not exactly unemotional (I do laugh at my characters' jokes and get annoyed with them on occasion), but I generally don't cry about my stories or anyone else's. But remembering to make it hurt? That's a gauge I can work with. :)


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

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    1. Excellent! Glad to help provide a gauge. =)

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  15. This post is so useful. Thanks!
    My main character suffers through a lot and I never cried about it. (Though sometimes I feel pretty bad for him.) and he really isn't a hero much, and he deliberately tries not to be one. He often dosent really show his emotions in the book, he tries to cover them up.

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