Hi SEers! Denise here to talk about emotions and writing.
Last month was National Poetry Month, and I celebrated it by reading poems. Most of the poetry books I read evoked emotions from me. Those that did not, I stopped reading. I didn’t feel wonder, anger, amusement, fear, curiousity, sadness, or hope. It left me with nothing because I wasn’t emotionally invested.
With poetry, there are a limited number of words to capture the reader’s attention. A poet has the hard task of doing this immediately. When I’m reading, I must feel something, even uncomfortable, and it has to be within the first couple of lines.
This got me thinking about fictional writing. Do these same emotions pull me into the story? They do. Like any good relationship with people, I have to care about the poem or story. Otherwise, I move on.
Of course, I’m more drawn to certain types of feelings, but if an author can make me hate a character or feel their heartbreak, I will not put that book down.
Let’s explore what evokes those emotions and what doesn’t.
1. Example of what doesn’t work in a Senryu Poem.
Walking my old dog
We stepped into the crosswalk
When the light turned green.
My first response would be—And or so? I’ve read poems that had the same effect on me. See why I stopped reading?
What about this one?
My ex spotted me
Thankfully, the green light flashed
I took up jogging.
Here I felt the person’s embarrassment, and then I smiled at the solution. This poem worked for me.
2. What if a story started like this?
I walked down the sidewalk with my old black dog, Sadie, leading the way. It was a nice day, and I didn’t mind waiting at the stoplight to cross the street. I noticed my ex-boyfriend getting out of his red truck. We waved to each other as he entered the hardware store. Then, the light turned green, and Sadie and I followed an old couple holding hands as they crossed the street.
I enjoyed the rest of my walk home on a beautiful spring day, knowing I had a delicious chicken dinner cooking in my new crock-pot. Maybe I’d read that new book I’d bought. I broke into a jog for the last block to give Sadie a bit more exercise.
This passage wouldn’t have held my interest or touched any emotions, even though there was a dog. I would have stopped reading before finding out what the woman’s story might be. Was she about to be a murder victim, meet the man of her dreams, or lose everything? I was out of the story before anything happened that made me care.
How about this version?
I let my old black mutt, Sadie, tug me down the pollen-covered sidewalk. I glanced at my cell phone for the fourth time in the past ten minutes. Nothing. I hoped my former fiancé, Steve, would realize his mistake when he broke off things last week with the standard it’s me, not you. I sighed and shoved the phone into my pocket when we got to the crosswalk. Waiting for the light to turn green, Sadie suddenly let out a high-pitched yip and tried to bolt. My grasp tightened on the red leash as I almost lost my balance before wrangling her under control.
I scanned behind me, expecting to see a squirrel in one of the oak trees. Instead, a couple was bearing down on me, Steve and his beautiful, blonde office assistant. The woman was wrapped around him like a fluffy blue blanket on a snowy day. My chest tightened. Was I having a heart attack? I took a deep breath, forced myself to appear calm while the pain in my heart subsided. Red-faced, I spun around, ready to jaywalk right when the light turned green. I made a quick decision that it was time to take up jogging.
I could feel her pain when she saw her ex, Steve, with another woman and they were walking toward her. That made me curious as well as her response to run. I would keep reading to learn more.
Characters in a book, like words in a poem, need to awaken my emotions. This can’t be accomplished by just crossing the street or taking a pleasant walk. Like a good poem or story, I have to feel, see, and take that walk with them inside and out. It may be a beautiful day, but I want to know the character’s flaws and secrets. Those details would encourage me to turn to the next page to find out what happens next.
What emotions draw you into a story? How do you apply that to what you write?