Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How to Express Emotions in our Writing

Photo Courtesy

Back in the days when families gathered around the radio, great stories were told without visual assistance. Listeners had to see tears flow, the bellies jiggle with laughter, the blood fill an angry face through voice inflections, organs, and sound effects.

Expressing emotion over the radio teleported the listener into westerns where the Lone Ranger and Tonto saved the world, into mysteries where "Only the Shadow Knows," and into other exciting dramas and adventures. 

Any listener could picture the characters responses in their mind with clarity as a result of quality audio communication (for the day). Oddly enough, most listener's pictures differed.

Radio stories have an advantage over visual media in that it allows the listener to interpret an emotions based on their own prior knowledge. I must confess, I pictured Whit's End and Whit completely different from the Odyssey Videos! I liked my image...then again, my daughter had yet another image. (Odyssey is a Christian children's radio series by Focus on the Family). Who was wrong? No one.

How can we create scenes that project a clarity to each reader,
enabling him/her to paint vivid, independent pictures
yet each fully accurate?

A few weeks ago, I attended a My Book Therapy Monday bleacher chat class taught by Beth Vogt. her topic: Emotional Layers. During the session, Beth recommended we keep an "Emotional Journal" to add color and life to our writing.

The task:        Record a time when we experienced a given emotion.
The purpose: To capture the essence of the emotion for use in our writing.

One week later I attended a funeral for a beloved family member. I wrote in my Emotional Journal:

The experience so tore at my being, I could not speak. Tears poured in a deluge and a torrential storm ripped through my veins. Every hug from a family member or friend only brought more tears. Sorrow added an unbearable weight to my heart already void of consolation. Not one word came forward to form a sentence in my mind. As for comfort? Not a flicker. I couldn't stand. I couldn't sit. I couldn't sleep or eat. I could only cry...because I didn't know whether this beloved person went to Heaven or not. 

When at last I could record sorrow in my Emotional Journal, I realized the task was greater than I first imagined.

I recalled the family member's husband, the children, grandchildren and friends. People of different ages, genders, relationships, each having their own response.

I expanded the assignment filling pages with responses from the myriad of ages, genders, and relations. Here is one I included:

The third grade grandson playfully laughed at Grandma's home before the funeral. He sat with a watchful eye during the service. But when he stood with the older grandsons as a pallbearer he wept...uncontrollably. His light skin faded to a paler hue. With red swollen eyes, he held his grandfather's hand and walked with him to the reception hall and there they sat silently looking down at the table. Not a word, yet so many. A few moments later, he looked up at his grandfather then ran off to play.

The new task I gave myself for my Emotional Journal was not not only to write down my response to an emotion, but also the responses I observe in others; after all, my characters will differ in age, gender, race, creed, relationship, and etc.

I also chose to include my own varied responses from different ages, settings, and relationship for the emotion. My description storehouse for emotions has multiplied exponentially.

Now it's your turn. Briefly relate the experience: "new."  It can be from any time in your life, any place. Let's see how "new" can affect others differently.

If you found any typos in today's post...sorry about that. 

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes young adult mystery/adventure Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh Mary, that was wonderful! I used to sit in on MyBookTherapy chats, but got out of it for some reason. They were very helpful!

I love the idea of an emotional journal and need to try that out.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I love working with emotion in my works. I pretend I can act and sort of mime the scenes as I write them.

~ Wendy

Ruth Douthitt said...

For me, "new" was when I took my son (at 3 mos) and laid him on his back on a blanket outside in our backyard. I saw his eyes suddenly grow large and his whole body stopped moving. I knew he was startled about something.

Then, it dawned on me. So I lay down beside him and looked up at the expanse of blue sky and realized he was looking at the sky for the first time in his little life.

I lay there with him and looked at the wide open sky as though it was my first time. That's how "new" my son was to the world!

It was a great day.

Candi said...

Thanks for the idea Mary! I'm going to try this in my journaling and my writing. I'm homeschooling my two youngest this year and think we'll try this in their journal this morning as well. You're a wonderful writer and I love to stop in and see what you have for us!

Lindsay Harrel said...

I remember Beth talking about this and thinking it was a great way to get our emotions out. I write in a prayer journal and sort of do this, but it's a great idea for trying to express a specific emotion.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks :)
Casey introduced me to the Monday Chat class. I can't go every Monday, but I always learn something new when I do. Beth did a great job teaching this specific class.

The emotional journal was one of the ideas that clicked, and is already making a change in my writing.

Mary Vee Writer said...

You would be a lovely actress. I think play acting our scenes helps us to paint color on the canvass.

Karen Nolan Bell said...

Loved it. Your examples brought tears. I generally keep a journal of characteristics. This is a fabulous idea to flesh out those characteristics into real people. Thank you!

Mary Vee Writer said...

I love your "new".
Because of your description, I pictured my son in the same setting, soaking in something so new, so vast, so God. What a treasured moment that can be used in a story.
Thanks for stopping by.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great idea to use this in homeschooling. My students have surprised me with the depth of their descriptions, once they are motivated to write. I read with awe each word they use and think, wow, God, they see with wonder eyes.
Stop back later and tell us how it went.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Your comment reminded me to David's prayers, filled with expressive emotions that help us understand a deep, deep love for God.
Great idea. Thanks for stopping by.

Keli Gwyn said...

Keeping an emotional journal is a great idea, Mary. We can include our own experiences as well as those of family members, as you did in your illustration. In addition, we can become people watchers, noticing how others handle and express different emotions and recording our observations.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks. I agree
I think we naturally notice other people's responses to things that affect us...we tend to notice others who laugh in a movie theatre, run toward the crowd that cheers, and etc.
What I really noticed, as time passed, the impact lessened. By recording the emotion in the journal right away, I had a strong handle on what I wanted to say. Which will give me a rich example for my writing.
Always love your comments, Keli. They spur more thoughts:)

Sarah Forgrave said...

I saw the email about that BookTherapy chat, and it looked so good! I'll have to look into the archives.

I love what you shared here, Mary. I remember reading in Brandilyn Collins' characterization book about what she called "emotion memory". She talked about the idea that you may not have really murdered someone, but pulling from a time when you felt angry enough to feel that way. Her concept sounds similar to what you've presented here.

Angie Dicken said...

This is such a great post, Mary. I love your writing! The concept of an emotional journal is a great idea! New to me is the feeling that I am on the edge of future looking forward. My slate is clean andn potential is waiting in a delicate balance of hope and hesitation. Times I have felt this way are College graduation, my wedding, and holding my newborn child..

Beth K. Vogt said...

Hi, Mary,
Thanks for the encouraging words about the My Book Therapy (MBT) Monday Bleacher Chat. I had a great time teaching about adding emotions to a scene -- probably because learning about this technique from authors Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck made such a difference in my own writing.
Your blog post was excellent -- and I love how you took the time to journal about others reactions -- your observations -- not just your own emotions.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Yes, do check the archives. I only touched on dot of the volume of information given in the class. :)
I remember Brandilyn sharing that thought at the conference, now. And felt it was dynamic at the time. Still do. Thanks for reminding me of her words.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks :)
"The edge of future looking forward". Wow that is a phrase that could paint many pictures. The moments you suggest could cause the one on the edge to wobble. Thanks be to God he provides supporters for those times to ease the fears and illuminate phenomenal excitement.

Unknown said...

Such a great exercise! I would have to say writing emotion has probably been one of my favorite takeaways from My Book Therapy.

Mary Vee Writer said...

I was so hoping you stop by today. (I didn't ask her to, she is a great friend to the Writers Alley.)

I have found that when great teachers, such as yourself, present information in a clear, inviting way, students can't help but expand on the ideas.

Thanks, Beth.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

I love this idea, Mary. There are so many times I write a character feeling a certain emotion and it feels so cliched. Drawing from fresh emotions and a different point of view would really help.

Mary Vee Writer said...

I agree, Cindy.
Thanks to Beth and My Book Therapy I was able to learn and share. Wahoo!

Peaches Ledwidge said...

Thanks, Mary.