Once more with feeling

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I have a problem with emotion.

I don’t mean this in the emo-song-writing, confessions-to-my-counsellor kind of way. I’m not writing that kind of blog. No, my trouble is with writing emotion.

You don’t have to be writing Twilight for emotion to be important to your story. Emotion plays a huge part in reader engagement. If the reader doesn’t feel what your characters are feeling, or at least recognise and empathise with their emotions, then they won’t care about them and won’t keep reading. Even if your story is hard sci-fi about the future of robotics you need emotions, otherwise you might as well write a technical article.

One of my big failings as a writer, at least with my first drafts, is not putting in the emotions. My instinct is to write events and dialogue, and forget to show the emotions that, as the writer, I know are there. This is particularly accute if I haven’t been writing for a while, as good habits I’ve conciously developed start to slip. This came into focus this week when I gave Mrs K two rough drafts to read. They were very different stories, but her comments on them came down to the same thing – needs more emotion.

I find it difficult and frustrating to strike a balance when writing emotions. Directly saying what a character is feeling doesn’t sit well with me. It feels too unsophisticated, too on the nose, and if overdone can knock me out of a story. But the alternative approach, showing rather than telling, is also hard to get right. It takes far more effort, and what seems an obvious emotional tell to me might mean something different to a reader. Building up enough signs to be clear how a character is feeling, that takes a lot of practice. It’s good for me to get the practice, but blimey, it’s hard work.

Developing emotions added 25% to the wordcount of one of those two stories. The other one is today’s writing task, but I’m expecting similar results. Like I said, a lot of work, but it’s worth it. The story’s a lot better, and I’m now proud rather than concerned at sending it out for consideration. The test will be whether I’ve learned my lesson, or whether the next story has the same problem – needs more emotion.