Friday 30 July 2021

Emotion in Writing

 "If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more." George Knightley in Emma by Jane Austen

I've been thinking about this quotation lately because I've been told a few times that my writing lacks emotion. Many voices screamed for attention when I heard this critique. "What do you mean?" "We're supposed to show, not tell!" "I'm always thinking about how I feel, obviously my writing does the same." Perhaps, like Knightley, it is the things I care about the most that I can write about the least.

I took a quick peek at my most recently published novel to see if I could find emotion. Emmy in Harding is an historical fiction set during the Depression. Emmy Bennett seeks independence and adventure teaching in a country schoolhouse. While she strives for excellence in her classroom, she scrambles for resources and fights chronic absenteeism. 

"Living at home at eighteen was like wearing clothes that were too tight. Emmy Bennett loved her siblings and mother, but she was constantly suppressing frustration. In August of 1939, there were few options for a woman to escape her family home that didn't involve marriage. She couldn't wait for her camp counsellor position to begin." (Opening, Emmy in Harding)

There it is! Right in the first paragraph - frustration, suppression, anticipation. Oh dear. I've told, rather than shown. Perhaps I could explore this a bit?

The slogan of the 2020 Olympics is "United By Emotion." This made me choke up when I first saw it - here we all are, separated and isolated due to Covid while these incredible athletes have pushed themselves to train and practice in whatever way possible. Now, they are gathered to perform without a physical audience, sleep-deprived, Covid-tested, and homesick while we watch them miles away through little screens. So, if I choke up just reading this slogan, emotion must be a powerful writing tool worth using. 

In exploring the idea of writing with more emotion, I have to wonder if it has something to do with my personality. I've been learning about the Enneagram for the past year and was surprised to find myself most closely relating to a Five - often described as an Investigator or Observer. Fives tend to aim for self-sufficiency and prefer gathering knowledge to building relationships. They tend to be introverted and want to conserve their limited energy for what really matters. I think this may make me impatient with emotions. I want them to pass by quickly so I can get on with the action.

Is there any hope for a writer like this? I sure hope so! One of the key recommendations for Fives is to get to know their emotions. I've added a daily reminder to my phone to "Be curious about my emotions." Put those investigative powers to good use! I've been trying to pause when I have emotions and think about how this feels in my body. I also try to wonder why I feel this way. I hope this eventually translates to my writing, but in the meantime, it is personally helpful.

Here is some writing advice I received from author and editor, Janyre Tromp during a pitch session at the Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference:
  • use setting to show and heighten emotion
  • weather can mirror emotions
  • keep word lists for each characters
I'm planning to use all this in my writing. I'd love to hear your emotional writing suggestions!

Many thanks,


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