Tuesday, May 24, 2016
What Are Writers Afraid of? Using Emotion To Create Compelling Characters
What’s anyone afraid of? Everyone is afraid of something whether they want to talk about it or not. It might be the dark, spiders and snakes, heights, guns, crowds…something! There is something that sets your nerves to jangling and teeth on edge, not to mention raises a cold sweat.
Just thinking about whatever that is can make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, your heart pound and the breath hitch in your lungs if you get into the zone closely enough.
Reason. We all try to use it at such moments, but reason can be at war with that fight or flight we’ve all got so deeply embedded within us. The urge to run or do battle is something hard to deny. So what’s all this about?
The writer’s muse.
A writer’s best work can stem from connecting with that moment, getting inside yourself to pull out those deep-seated fears and expose them to daylight in the service of harnessing the power those emotions and channeling them onto the blank page.
Writers want to reach inside the reader’s head and feel things. The gamut of human emotions and dark thoughts. It’s so easy to ‘make it up when we go along’ when writing, but the fact is the best writing stems from the gut. The best writers reach deep to plumb their own experiences and inject that into characters. Remember and regurgitate those emotions in order to really bring a character to life.
Terrified of walking alone in the dark on a city street? Think of all the nuances as my mother did when she was a young woman and had the night shift at a switchboard. She walked home on the dark sidewalks of a Chicago night with every other street lamp blown out. She hugged the building side when a car came past and hugged the curb side when passing alleys. She walked fast…very fast. Sounds, common and unfamiliar were all around. Strangers on the street with her; were they as she, walking home from work…or a threat? Adrenaline. Inject the fear. Inject the urgency. Clip the sentences and paint a vivid picture. Hurry. Pause. Confront the dark fear of an unlit alley as a garbage can lid bangs within the blackness.
That was one reality. There are many others, and they aren’t always in the physical realm. A character doesn’t always have to worry about being stalked by a murderer.
It can be much closer to the heart, much more emotional. Is there fear a marriage is failing? Is a student an outcast at school afraid of one more indignity? Will a friendship end with betrayal? Will a job be lost to a character charged with supporting siblings after their parents die? Nightmares. All of it. Emotional wrench and perhaps destruction.
Either way. Emotional or physical – what do you fear? What can you hand a character that will give him the cold sweats?
Think about it. Feel it. Write it.