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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Are Your Characters Missing Out On Peak Emotional Experiences?

Please welcome guest blogger Laurie Saunders

Are your characters missing out on peak emotional experiences? You know the symptoms. They are having adventures, attending events, suffering incidents and episodes that should be highly emotional, and yet their accounts of these exploits read flat, uneventful, without any real rise and fall in their emotional tenor.

Characters that don’t really experience the peak emotional experiences in their fictional lives are death to stories because these characters cannot deliver the vicarious experience the reader sought when they picked up the book, story, or manuscript in the first place.

The truth is that the reader can only have consuming emotional experiences within a story if the characters are able to have the same kind of emotional experiences. Characters are the conduit through which the reader partakes of the character’s adventures as well as their thoughts and feelings. If the character does not have an intense emotional experience the reader will not have one either.

Readers choose books in order to experience vicariously through the fictional lives of the characters they choose to read about.

Given this, it is extremely important to diagnose and treat the various maladies that contribute to characters failing to have deep, intense, feelings as they experience the incidents and events in their lives that should lead to the highest highs and the lowest lows on the emotional spectrum.

Sometimes the characters aren’t having emotional experiences. However, most of the time, it isn’t the characters themselves that are to blame for lackluster emotional experiences. The characters are having intense emotional experiences. The problem lies in the way the character conveys these emotional experiences to the writer who writes them down for the reader.

Often the problem stems from where the character is standing when he or she tries to convey the emotional experience. Too often characters suffer a dissociative disorder, in that when they try to convey the emotional experience they move away from their center…sometimes to the point that they become disengaged from their bodies altogether and describe the experience from an omniscient or almost omniscient viewpoint.

Other times the characters have heard too much poor advice over the years and have become self-conscious about which words to use when they are conveying their emotional experiences. They’ve been told that naming an emotion is telling and they should always show instead of tell, so they fail to anchor the emotional experiences with the words that help readers to differentiate between emotional experiences. For example, they may neglect to use the words that help readers to understand whether the character is feeling frustration, simmering resentment, anger, rage, or “I’m going to tear his lungs out through his chest fury.”

Sometimes characters have been taught to be seen and not heard and this early training comes through in characters who do not describe their feelings at all. Instead they take the tact of nearly pantomiming their feelings. Their hearts pound fast when they are scared. Their eyes glaze over when they are bored. They stomp their feet and kick things when they are angry, but you will almost never hear a sentence that has to do with a feeling enter their narrative. While it is good to show emotion through action, and while sometimes the action is enough to convey an emotional reaction it shouldn’t be the only tool the character has for conveying his or her emotional experiences. Emotions are too nuanced to convey clearly through charades.

Some characters describe their emotional experiences through the labels that name emotions. She felt sad. She felt happy. She was joyous. These words name an emotion but they don’t show the character’s experience of the emotion. Emotion is experienced physically as well as emotionally. When we feel an emotion there are certain physical sensations in our bodies that are part of the experience of the emotion. Characters who don’t describe the physical sensations that go with the emotions they experience are missing much of the nuance of the emotional experience.

There are many other maladies that contribute to characters not having (or more accurately not conveying) peak emotional experiences. I’ve barely scraped the surface. However, understanding these common difficulties your characters may be having in conveying the intensity of their emotional experiences will aid you in knowing when to prod them a bit more, and when to fill in the blanks on their behalf.

To learn more about the other maladies your characters may be suffering and how they might contribute to them not having or not conveying peak emotional experiences take my workshop. We will cover the maladies listed above as well as many others. We will also work to give our characters new ways to express their emotions so that they will have all the tools they need to convey the highs and lows of their emotional experiences.


Laurie Sanders is the Founder, CEO, and Editor at Black Velvet Seductions. She writes and lectures frequently on topics related to writing romance and erotica. In her “spare” time she writes as Alyssa Aaron. Her book His Perfect Submissive is available at Black Velvet Seductions, Amazon, Fictionwise, and AllRomanceEbooks.com


How to Write Emotion runs from July 5, 2010 through August 1, 2010.

1 comment:

Author Casey Sheridan said...

Looking forward to the workshop!