First of all I must apologise for not getting around to everyone’s blogs this week. It’s been a bit manic, here, what with friends staying, with children to entertain and all the extra cooking etc that this entails. Not an excuse, I know, but we’ve also had the Olympics to watch. I was rather cynical to start with, not being an especially sporty person, but I’ve been won over by the sheer excitement and exuberance of it all. And Team GB has done us proud with a great collection of medals. We’ve been glued to the TV in this house, even delaying going out to a party last night so we could watch Jess Ennis get her gold in the heptathlon. Sorry, I’m gushing now.
But it does lead me on to my subject – feelings and emotions. Touchy-feely writing isn’t the sole preserve of romantic fiction; it should figure in all our writing, whatever the genre. In short, if we want to produce well-rounded narrative description, we shouldn’t neglect our feminine side.
Make a list of common emotions: anger; desire; sadness; anxiety; jealousy; despair; guilt; happiness, depression
Don’t forget the more nebulous: exhaustion; boredom; elation; exasperation; injustice; thirst; excitement; resentment.
It’s easy to forget to include a character’s feelings, so keep the list by you when you write. As an exercise, write a couple of sentences describing a character experiencing an emotion, but don’t name that emotion, or refer to it by using an adverb such as ‘angrily’.
“Jane was angry after the phone call”, or “John was bored waiting for his appointment”, do the job, but they don’t convey much to the reader.
“Jane slammed down the receiver with such force it shattered into pieces”, or “John flicked listlessly through the ancient magazine that was the waiting room’s only reading material”, give us a much rounder description and clues to our characters’ feelings.
While we’re on the subject of feelings, it’s worth remembering our senses. We primarily write with our eyes, if you see what I mean, describing what our characters see and how this effects them. But if we include our other senses, we open up a huge range of experiences that will make our writing deeper and more reflective.
Smells and tastes are very evocative. A character who always wears the same, recognisable perfume, or brews strong black coffee every morning will become familiar to readers and they will soon be anchored in the story. A snatch of music can trigger memories of a past event; couple this with the feel of silk or velvet on bare skin and your reader will be there with your character, experiencing her first grown-up dance.
We all want to create three-dimensional characters to inhabit our fictional worlds, but we should remember that human beings (and possibly alien life forms, too) are a complicated jumble of emotions, thoughts and feelings. If we forget this we run the risk of producing flat, one-dimensional, uninteresting people, the literary equivalent of beige.