Writing About Emotions
The human mind is complex. Emotions are created out of a lifetime of experiences and each experience informs how an individual will react to life’s challenges. Sometimes our emotions are confusing and difficult to understand. For example, when someone we love dies, it is easy to feel selfish for thinking of only ourselves and how it will affect us as we struggle to carry on. And it becomes particularly difficult when the person who dies has hurt us in some way and we wonder how we can be glad and grieve at the same time. At other times long periods of stress can cause illness in the body. This is usually a sign that something is going on in your life that needs to be tended to. I could go on, but this gives you a few examples of how emotions affect the human psyche.
In order to understand our emotions, it is necessary to have a close look at them. This can be a painful process. It’s not easy to be honest with yourself if, when attempting to understand your emotions, you come off in a bad light. But this is part of the healing process. Depending on your attitude, you have the ability to move forward in a positive manner – or not.
When my mother-in-law died a few years ago it had a far reaching effect on me that I could never have imagined, and that took six months to make itself known. The first signal that something was wrong with me came when I hit a wall. I felt so tired I could hardly move. I slept on an off for a week and still I wasn’t able to regain my former energy. It took an entire winter of hibernation, along with a little therapy, to deal with my feelings about her death. I loved her and she was gone. What did it all mean?
There were other things going on in my life at the time as well and I found myself overwhelmed; vulnerable to life’s challenges. As a woman who prides herself on being in control, all of a sudden I realized I wasn’t, and I didn’t like it one bit. I began to question my own mortality and with that comes the question, “How will I die?” I also had to decide how I wanted to live the rest of my life in a way that is meaningful to me.
As you can see, there were things I had to look at closely, and sometimes I did not come off looking very good. But the experience caused me to make changes where I could, and most importantly I learned to accept that things change, and not to be afraid. In fact it became necessary to look for the positive in the changes that were taking place in my life.
I hope my own example gives you some idea how to understand your emotions and write from a place of understanding. That doesn’t mean that you have to lose someone in order to write about it. As human beings, we all have the capacity to feel compassion for others and their struggles. We get upset when we hear about injustice, or children who are abused. At these times, it’s not hard to imagine what it would feel like to see innocent people persecuted, or to know that a child has been hurt by a person they trusted. Our response to things that haven’t touched us personally comes from a lifetime of experiences that we have built upon over time. At such times, it may be necessary to dig a little deeper in order to even attempt to understand how to feel in any given situation, but it can, and must be done. It is our job as writers to be able to express these kinds of emotions in our work.
When trying to recreate the emotions of a character in your story, it is important to know your character: What is their back story? Who are their friends? What patterns do they keep repeating? What secrets do they have? What is it they need to learn? You get the picture. All of these character traits will come into play when they are dealing with their emotions. And the interesting thing here is that your characters won’t always react in ways you want them too. This is when you need to listen and trust what your character is trying to tell you. Like human beings, if you have done your job well, your characters will have a mind of their own and will only respond to stimuli that is within the realm of the experience you have created for them.
If you still find it difficult to imagine how a character might feel in any given situation, there are always people to talk to who may know more, or accounts on-line and in books. I have even been known to sit my character down in front of me and have a dialogue, with interesting results. The point is to get in touch with those feelings, (even if there someone else’s) and write from a place of knowing. When you write about emotions from a true place inside of you, people will feel it on the page.