If someone asks you to draw a person, what do you draw? Do you draw a stick figure (which experts would say is the point beyond which you no longer developed your drawing ability in early elementary school)?
Or, do you draw a body and head that looks like a cartoon? Or, do you draw a more representational body with hands and realistic face features?
The point being that we develop alternate ways around drawing representational figures when our skills are lacking.
Do you also find alternate ways around drawing an emotional picture of your protagonist?
Last week I talked about how we can limit ourselves in our writing regarding technology depending on the point past which we will not go in our personal life. We could do research, but we might feel it is not worth going through the process of learning all those new technologies and terms when, what the heck, we personally don’t care to go there.
Do you do the same thing with emotion?
Check yourself regarding your use of emotions in writing:
- What emotion or emotional experience drives your character?
- What emotional issue is your character dealing with?
- Do you give your characters the kind of depth and reflection that turns them from wooden stick figures to full blown people?
- Or, do you keep them as talking he-said, she-said mannequins?
When authors use the Red Smith quote about, “opening a vein and letting the blood out onto the page” they are talking about emotions. We must become vulnerable and give our characters real emotions for readers to be able (or want to) relate to our story. If we protect ourselves and hold back our deepest emotions, readers will be unmoved by our character’s struggles. Our characterization will be weak or worse, fall flat.
You say your character is in pain—not good enough. Show us why, when, how she came to be in pain—what does that pain look like:
- in the way she lives
- through what lens does she view the world and relate to it
- what skewed vision does he have
- what does he resist
- what off-center logic does he operate from (and how did he come to have this viewpoint)
Explore how emotion operates in your own life. Give it to a character and then put her in the dramatic situation you have plotted and see how she reacts—don’t protect her from the speeding train, see how she will get out of its way, or not.
And there are always at least two choices: resistance or go deeper.
- Resist and repeat a negative reaction over and over
- Go deeper and find the weakness in your character (and maybe you) that that emotion uncovers
There is a consequence to everything that happens—forcing your character to take an action he would rather not take. If it was easy for him, or you protect him by not giving him the hard choices, why would we be interested to read on? Ho-hum.
Live it, see it, feel it, smell it—let your character experience it through your own emotional lens. Your readers will come back for that roller coaster ride. And, you just might find that you learn something in the process of solving your character’s emotional struggles.
What emotion or emotional experience drives your character?
How do you use emotion in your writing?
Do you stop reading if you are bored with the characters an author has ‘drawn?’ If not, have you thought about what element in a story makes you stop reading?