Writing Weaknesses: Showing Emotion

Photo © Catalin Pop and Stock.xchng

Photo © Catalin Pop and Stock.xchng

Janet Burroway said, “Anytime you as writer record an emotion without convincing us to feel that emotion, you introduce a fatal distance between author and reader.”

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sparse writer. I write a first draft then layer in emotions and exposition. One of the most difficult things for me as a writer is to convey emotions of the characters without hitting the reader over the head. More than one critique partner has pointed out instances where more is needed from my main character to show the reader how she feels about situations, etc.

I’m more comfortable writing action than emotion. The short story I wrote for my first creative writing class included a scene where two teenage boys play a tennis match. I only narrated the first game of the match and received positive feedback on how I did it. One person even said, I don’t like tennis but the way you wrote the scene kept me interested.

Why are emotions so difficult for me to write, to convey? It probably stems from my reluctance to share my personal emotions in real life. Dipping into the emotional well of my characters doesn’t come natural because it means I have to share something personal.

I know, the characters aren’t me. But I have to call on something inside in order to adequately express the emotions of my characters. It’s deeply personal when a character feels grief, happiness, threatened, helpless, pride and confusion. Tapping into memories of these emotions isn’t always easy.

Once that bucket of emotion is pulled from the well it’s time to share it in a way that holds the reader’s interest. Avoid clichés. Make sure metaphors aren’t too far-fetched or mixed. And my personal weakness, obscure metaphors. I tend to add regional metaphors that lose their meaning if you aren’t from my ‘neck of the woods.’

Though I am getting better, allowing my characters to show emotions will always be something with which I struggle. I love learning though. With each story, poem, and novel my knowledge accumulates and I find a strange comfort in knowing I’ll never reach perfection. It sort of ‘levels the playing field.’

What about you, do you have trouble writing emotion?