Writing Passion   7 comments

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

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So, I wrote this great article on this topic and accidentally swapped it for last week’s blog hop article. Have I mentioned I suck at math? Yeah, I do. And calendars, apparently.

Here’s a link to the original article, and I’m starting this one with the same intro. It was a great article in which I explore novels written by Artificial Intelligence. Yes, that’s really a thing, though neither a good one nor a real threat to legitimate novelists, in my opinion. It’s probably before its time, just like my article was. Great ideas are always jumping the gun.

Do I believe a writer can be a good writer if they don’t feel strong emotions?

Absolutely!

Let’s define our terms first. A writer is someone who writes. An author is someone whose writing is published. A novelist is someone who writes fiction.

Do we assume the author who wrote Essentials of Modern Refrigeration (a book on my husband’s shelf in the family library) had strong emotions about refrigeration? How about the Chilton’s Manual on Ford Taurus 1995-2010?

Yes, writers produced those books and I’m thinking neither of them wept over any chapter of them, although I can assure you my husband has shed a few tears over that stupid California car in our driveway. Essentials of Modern Refrigeration didn’t even put me to sleep (I am my husband’s study partner, so I am obligated to read his technical manuals before he has to take licensing tests, so he can use me as his pre-tester). So, yes, a writer can write without feeling any emotion whatsoever about a topic that really doesn’t stir a lot of emotions. Trust me, absolutely nobody is passionate about how to change an oil filter on a 2005 Taurus.

I think the question we’re really asking is “Can someone be a novelist if they don’t feel emotion strongly?”

In my other article, I focused on the writer’s job to draw out the emotions of the reader regardless if we feel the emotion. Yeah, I’m not writing the same article, so go read it if you didn’t already.

I don’t think you need to have experienced the exact same emotion your character experiences in order to illicit an emotional response from your readers.

Writing about a hot mess doesn’t mean you have to be a hot mess yourself. I work a responsible job and have managed to stay married to the same man for more than 30 years. I raised two reasonably well-adjusted children (okay, one of them is a gypsy musician, but she’s a functional gypsy musician. I did MY job and she’s feeding herself, though the roof-over-her-head thing is still debatable). I would not define myself as a hot mess.

On the other hand, I’ve lived a life. I’ve got the scar tissue to prove it. I’ve been scared. I’ve faced loss. I’ve been angry. I’ve been lonely.

But I’ve never killed anyone in a drunk driving accident and I’m writing a character who has. How can I write that character if I’ve never felt that emotion? Well, maybe I can’t. We’ll see how the readers like it when it’s finally published.

I’ve never shot anyone in a war either and I don’t suffer post-traumatic stress disorder from an experience I’ve never had. Yet readers seem to think I do a believable job of portraying Shane because they read all the published books in the series and enough people have read the most recent book in Transformation Project that I’m guessing they were waiting for it to come out. Do you think they read the whole series (to this point) because I did a bad job of conveying emotions I’ve never experienced?

Probably not.

Though I’ve never actually experienced those emotions, I know people who have and I can sense by what they say and, more importantly, what they don’t or can’t say what some of their emotions are about those past events. My job as a writer is to give expression to the groanings of a soul that has no words for what has wounded it. And, yes, of course, I feel empathy for their emotional turmoil, but frankly, if my response was to weep, I’d not be able to interview them dispassionately and that would, I believe, harm my purpose. If you’re feeling too deeply, it’s hard to put the words on the paper. It’s hard to even understand the other person’s emotions. As an author, I need some distance from the character to write their pain effectively.

My job as a writer is to give expression to the groanings of a soul that has no words for what wounded it.

When I experience the emotion is when I read the manuscript as if I were a reader. And, if I get that tingling sensation in my soft pallet and my eyes start to gloss up, then I know I’ve done my job, because if it makes me cry, it’s going to illicit a strong response from the readers who encounter it for the first time.

I trained and worked as a journalist where you typically have less than 350 words to convey something to a reader – the horror of the car accident, the fear of the burning building, the passion of the City Councilman. In my day, journalists were supposed to report the news, not insinuate their opinion or feelings into the news, but certainly good reporters understand word choice and how to tug on a reader’s emotions without saying “Hey, cry about this.” My News Writing professor used to say “Be dispassionate to bring out the passion.”

I don’t have to feel the emotion strongly to write strong prose, but absolutely, I have to understand what elicits emotions in others in order to draw an emotional response from them. But there comes a place and time where writers must not manipulate the readers into feeling passionate about the character’s experience. Instead, we need to set up a scene where the reader follows the character through an emotional roller coaster and then provide an opportunity for the character to reflect on that now-past shattering event. While the character is unpacking their own response, the reader may process theirs as well, if they choose, and if I’ve done my job as a novelist correctly.

7 responses to “Writing Passion

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  1. I read both your articles on this topic and I agree with you. One, it depends on the book as to whether emotion is required and two, writing emotion doesn’t mean you have to have experienced the exact same situation as your character. It is a process of capturing feelings of happiness, pain or any other emotion and applying them to a given situation.

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  2. Yes, I’ve also spoken to others who have gone through experiences I haven’t. It’s then easier to write a scene, as their voice is in your head!

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  3. “My job as a writer is to give expression to the groanings of a soul that has no words for what wounded it.”

    Love. Love. Love.

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  4. As long as you can convey it, I’m neither a murderer or a mad scientist but I can write them (or so I’m told).

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  5. “I have to understand what elicits emotions in others” . Exactly. I think the word “empathy” sums it up. We as writers have to have empathy to be able to best chronicle the human condition.

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  6. I don’t have to feel the emotion strongly to write strong prose, but absolutely, I have to understand what elicits emotions in others in order to draw an emotional response from them – I almost read that as an oxymoron. Then I read it as a formula, which is good as a constructionist, like the Pulp people. I finally realized it was a bit elliptical and that you were defining emotional character interaction. Too much thinking makes my head explode. But I get it now. I do not have to be a pilot to sweat a short landing or a cool calm cat burglar to slip a window lock, both things that would top out my blood pressure. Whew. Thanks!

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