Sunday, January 25, 2015

Three Ways to Put More Emotion on the Page

I snapped this pic yesterday for a Happy Caturday flash giveaway of a friend's book. It's the good life around here. :-)

So this week's topic is Putting Emotion on the Page - A How To. Pretty baldy stated, huh? No meandering about with theory or anecdotes. Nope - the calendar demands a How To and thus we must step up and deliver. I'm really looking forward to the posts from the other Word Whores.

Because I feel like I'm not very good at this.

A lot of it comes from my INTJ nature. (If you're not familiar with that Meyers-Briggs personality designation, INTJ is here.) The TL:DR upshot is that I'm a rational thinker and judger, rather a feeler and perceiver. If you did read that page, you will have seen how many times they mention that INTJ's are not naturally good at expressing themselves or explaining their non-linear thought processes.

(Hoo boy! I'd forgotten the bit about non-linear thought processes. This explains SO much about my writing process and why I can't pre-plot to save my life.)

In line with this, it was difficult for me, when I first began writing fiction, to get emotion on the page. I'm firstly more a fan of rationality over emotion, and secondly not that great at communicating the emotion I do believe in.

That said, I think I've gotten better at this. Reviews on my recent books say things like "this book is as touching as it is torrid" and "swooningly romantic."

So here are three things I've learned to put more emotion on the page

1) All emotion is emotion

I learned this from Sarah MacLean's workshop at RWA National. She said that if you can get your readers to feel one emotion, that opens the door to them feeling all the emotions. This was totally a Eureka! moment for me and I've found it's really true. More, it's so much easier to start the story with emotions like humor or anger and let those pave the way to the deeper, squishier and trickier emotions like love and desire.

2) Steal from the poets

The language of emotion is not the language of rationality. There's no room for complete sentences and rigid prose when conveying emotion. Instead, access poetic devices like cadence and assonance to create a mood that echoes the characters' emotional states. Pay particular attention to word choice in very emotional scenes. In writing novels, we frequently can't dwell on every word and phrase like the poets can, with their shorter works, but we can in certain scenes. Word choice - the sound, resonance, and assonance - plays into creating that feel.

3) Reach for the metaphor

A lot of emotional language has become cliché - partly because emotions ARE so difficult to put into words. We run to the typical metaphor - I love you with all my heart, weeping as if her heart would break, so angry she sees red - because those are shortcuts to describe huge emotions that defy easy description. When I'm tempted to use a cliché, I take that as a sign that something enormous lurks beneath that I'm trying to gloss. On those occasions, whether in drafting or going back over to revise, I try to dig deep for my own description. What does it feel like to ME in those moments? Whatever comes to me, that's what I go for, no matter how unusual or bizarre. It's about the poetry, not the rationality.

Anyone else have good tips to share?


  1. Replies
    1. So is KAK - a lot of us lurking in the background, thinking sciencey thoughts and writing spec fic. :-)

    2. All hail the INTJ!

      ~refrains from comments about Jeffe's non-linear drafts~

    3. You KNOW you have the lurv for my non-linearity. Admit it. :-)

  2. Interesting and helpful post, Jeffe. There are a lot writers out there who had real world work experience in disciplines that discouraged emotional thinking and behavior, so even if they weren't natural INTJs, they ended up as work-induced INTJs. The transition to expressing drama, excitement, and feelings is difficult after spending 40 years in the accounting or computer software field. :D

    1. That's a really good point, Pat! We really are conditioned in the work world to suppress emotion, not find ways to emphasize and emote! I'll have to mull that over more...

  3. Interesting post! I had fun reading the page about the personality designation.

    1. Do you know yours, Lexy? I've had to do the test a few times.