Considering Emotions, Part 2: Creating Characters

Glass-Case-of-emotionThis post is the second installment in a two part series regarding the role of emotions in writing. The first post explored the different emotions our readers are experiencing (or that we want them to experience) when they read our work.

In this post I will open up a discussion about considering emotion when developing characters in our stories.

But before I delve into today’s topic, I’d like to quickly recall how contemplating different human emotions before you start writing can help you get in touch with your ideas and make connections therein.

With busy lives and technology constantly separating us from genuine connections – both with others and ourselves – it can often be a struggle for us to even list off different emotions. I recommend Googling “list of emotions” or “list of feelings” and reading through the results.

Exploring different emotions is crucial to the writing process because it’s not necessarily what happens in a story that hooks us, but the cognitive response that the characters experience and our ability to relate to those responses.

Start With a Feeling

Do you have writer’s block? Are you struggling to think of a great storyline, but can’t seem to scare one up? The best advice I can give you is to start with a feeling.

Check out that list of emotions you Googled. Go through each of the words listed – Doomed, Appalled, Blissful, Prideful, Disappointed – imagine someone who might be feeling these things. What would lead them to feel this way? How long have they felt this way? How does this feeling make them act toward others, themselves?

Now we are getting somewhere!

Perhaps after reading that list you now have a character who is feeling prideful about a new dress she just bought in order to impress a socialite she hopes to befriend. While she’s out wearing the dress, she feels “above” all the “peasants” wearing non-designer attire, but when she’s alone, she cries herself to sleep.

Now I’m just playing and spitballing of course, but do you see how we already have a character slightly developed and even a bit of a story falling into place? All from picking one emotion: pride!

Come Back to The Feeling

As your story develops, don’t forget to come back to that emotion. In fact, you might consider giving the character a certain quirk that accompanies the emotion – something like twirling her hair when nervous or sticking her nose up when feeling prideful. Attaching a mannerism to a feeling can really humanize your character.

Events + Feelings = Whole Story

Think of your story as a scale – one side is Events, the other side is Feelings.

You want your scale to be equal, so if you put weight into the events, be sure to try and balance it out with feelings; the two complement each other.

As certain events unfold throughout your story, your characters react and develop. These reactions spur more events, which produce more feelings. It’s a beautiful thing.

What other elements do you consider when developing emotions for a character? Share your thoughts in the comments! 

Image Credit: Ultimate Reviews 

Considering Emotions, Part 1: When Writing to Others

List of EmotionsWriting has a lot to do with understanding basic psychology. If we want our characters to be well rounded, or our copy to be genuine, the best place to start is by exploring natural human emotions and responses.

If you are somewhat new, or even rusty, on the subject of psychology consider checking out the links listed on this website: Psychology and Society

Of course, to some extent we all have a basic understanding of emotions, but with our busy schedules and the advent of technology, it’s often difficult to truly feel “in tune” with our emotions, let alone the emotions of others.

Sometimes the best way to get in touch with our own emotions is through journaling. I try to make it a habit to journal as much as possible. If you don’t have time to keep a journal, try taking moments throughout the day to check in with yourself and assess your feelings.

Finally, before you are about to write, Google search for a list of emotions. Sometimes I will just look at the image results and find the various charts to be helpful.

It might seem silly to read these lists of familiar words, but it can honestly help to put you in the right mindset for brainstorming. In this first post of a two post series we will explore the importance of considering emotions when writing for others.

Emotions You Want Them to Feel:

When you are writing something like a blog post, email campaign, TV commercial, etc think about what kinds of emotions you want your reader/listener to feel. What kind of language can you use to leave your audience feeling jubilant, hopeful, energized, or nostalgic?

Of course, deciding which emotion to draw upon depends on how much creative license you possess. If you are given an assignment in which you are unsure what kind of emotion you should look to draw out of your reader, consider the company for which you are writing and get a feel for the tone of their brand.

Emotions They May Already be Feeling:

Sometimes writers forget to consider what their audience might already be feeling – this notion is just as important to consider as what you would like for the reader to feel. Of course, we can’t read minds, and we shouldn’t try to pander to every possible emotion – this leaves no one satisfied. Instead, think about what your reader or listener might be doing when they come across your work.

For example, if you are writing an email, consider that your reader may be feeling stressed, overwhelmed, tired, etc. In this case, you’ll want to create only short, useful copy. Also, make sure your information is well organized so you take away any extra work for your reader.

What kinds of emotions do you consider when writing to others? How does this consideration change the way you write? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Stay tuned for Part 2 – Considering Emotions When Creating Characters. 

Image Credit: Tracy Rosen

But Isn’t Writing Easy?

easy-buttonI was recently out with friends when we began talking to a new group of people. I introduced myself to a gentleman in the group and the inevitable question came up, “what do you do?”.

He had mentioned that he did something pertaining to finance or business – I can’t quite remember, but at the time I showed interest. When I explained that I’m a writer, he made a face and said, “But isn’t that easy?”.

No I didn’t meet this young lad at a Mensa meeting, or a meeting of tactful people at that, but I did begin to wonder how many people really perceive writing as “easy”.

I was an English major in college. Growing up I always loved reading and was doted on by teachers for my writing skills. Despite a natural draw to literature and the writing process, I still often loathe writing. To be honest, the writing process makes me sick sometimes – I mean actual, physical sickness. Why is this?

For me, writing is hard work! Sometimes I literally sweat while I write. Writhing to put down the right words. Face reddened. Does this happen to you as well, Mod Writer? Or should I simply consider a new anti-persperant?

I was really struggling with this whole idea when I came across this quote from Thomas Mann:

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” -Thomas Mann

Perhaps it’s normal as a writer, with our perfectionist mentality, to find writing to be a chore. To be truly pleased with our final product, we often have to reach deep down to extract our best work. It’s exhausting, and at times overwhelming, but I think that the payoff comes when we know that what’s been created has come from our own true, hard work.

Do you find writing to be easy? Have you ever had someone say something like this to you about your career? Share your thoughts in the comments! 

Image Credit: Travel Blog Advice 

Don’t Expect to Write Amazing Copy Unless…

O-Captain-My-Captain

Does it seem like everyone is writing these days? Whether someone is putting out an e-book or hyping their blog through social media, it just appears that people have something to write about.

Of course, I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Writing is therapeutic – it helps us connect more closely with our thoughts, sometimes unearthing feelings we were previously unaware we held.

But how is it that there are only a small percentage of blogs or books that really gain a following?

When I consider writing or reading a great book, blog, or piece of prose, I’m reminded of a quote from Stephen King:

You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” – Stephen King

Perhaps I’m a romantic when it comes to writing and literature, but I think this quote rings true. How can one expect to give someone an experience that they themselves have yet to encounter?

Writing is laborious, and tough at that! Hemingway likened the process to bleeding. But it’s a labor of passion, perfection, inspiration, and ultimately love.

I believe that even if you have at one point in your life felt swept away by another person’s writing, that you should do your best to frequently renew that feeling. Seek out inspiration as much as possible.

Lately my inspiration has been Margaret Atwood, specifically her work Helen of Troy does Countertop Dancing. I love the juxtaposition of a Greek Goddess working in a modern club –  feminism, mythology, psychology, and politics all manage to find their place inside this idea. I highly recommend giving it a read.

What writing has swept you off your feet lately? Share in the comments! 

Image Credit: Technapex.com 

How to Write When You Know Nothing About Your Topic

8713536236_b78418ba99The beauty of the Internet is its ability to connect people to the information or product they need. As a modern writer you may be called upon to craft copy about a plethora of topics of which you may not be familiar, but for which you might be expected to produce expert level work.

So how do you magically become a subject matter expert on orthopedic prosthetics when you’re barely even sure what that entails? Here’s what I do when a client asks me to write about a topic with which I am unfamiliar.

Communicate With the Client

Make sure you have a clear understanding of what the client is expecting from the finished product. Obviously, they shouldn’t be looking for you to produce an academic journal on cold fusion if you don’t have a background in that area, so don’t be afraid to ask additional questions.

Ask your client if he or she could produce some examples of work that they would like you to emulate. Are there specific industry topics you should focus on? Ideally these things would be communicated to you; however, especially when work is outsourced, it’s easy for company insiders to forget that you aren’t as up to speed with the business as they are. Asking questions in the beginning saves time for both parties.

Research

Now that you’ve hopefully gotten some more information on what kind of work your client is expecting, it’s time to do some research. Check out websites from other leaders in the industry. It’s a bonus if they have social media sites such as Twitter because then you can see what kinds of topics they are  following or talking about.

If your client has a website, glean as much information from there as you can. If your client doesn’t have a website, you should turn to Google to find more information on the topic. Be prudent when using Google, make sure where you’re getting your information from is a trusted source.  Just because a site is first in the list of search results on Google doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. Sometimes you have to research your research.

You Won’t Be an Expert – Do Your Best

You can’t be an expert in just a day or week, but you can do your best in your area of expertise: writing. You were hired because you can write and make things sound good, so do that as best you can. Don’t spend too much time researching. If you’re really unclear on what to write, research as much as you can then give your best work quickly so that you can at least turn something in. Edits or revisions can be made later on.

Don’t let an unfamiliar topic stop you from the practice of writing. It’s challenging to take on new subjects when writing, but with some reading comprehension and confidence in your abilities things should fall into place.

What steps do you take when you are asked to write on an unfamiliar subject? Share your thoughts in the comments! 

Photo Credit: Keegan