Post-NaNo Update: Writing and Emotion

Some say one of the main attractions of being a writer is being able to commit massive acts of violence… on the pages of a book, so no one gets arrested. 😉 Or as one mug put it, “You are perilously close to getting killed off in my next novel.”

To a certain extent, I find, this is true. Assuming emotional turmoil will let you write (not always a given), you can channel a lot of negative emotions and pure stress into a fight scene, a dramatic Reveal, a twist that shows a character was setting up to betray the hero all along. It’s one way to get it out of your head. And hopefully add to wordcount in the process.

(If emotional turmoil won’t let you write, I recommend weeding. Or breaking up kindling. Shredding old paperwork by hand. Anything you can do that’s destructive, yet gets something useful done.)

There are a few problems with this. First comes during writing. It can be very, very easy to write yourself into a destructive corner with the characters. “Rocks fall, everybody dies!” in short.

The other two come after writing. To start with, anything you write in the grip of severe emotion will evoke echoes of that emotion later. Meaning when you come back to that scene you’re likely to get hit with at least a fraction of what led you to write like a primal scream in the first place. Not good if you’re not expecting it.

The last problem is a bit more meta. The reader’s going to feel some of the emotion you put into the scene. So… if it’s a fight scene, for example, you need to look carefully at how much despair and anger leaks through, and whether or not that fits where the scene is in the book. A climactic final scene, a certain amount of “all is lost!” might be in order… before our heroes finally, skin-of-their-teeth, pull off a save. Smaller battle scenes leading up to that? Not so much.

So use emotion, but always realize there’s going to be edits after. Maybe lots of edits. Because I refuse to write stories where all is lost.

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8 thoughts on “Post-NaNo Update: Writing and Emotion

  1. “Because I refuse to write stories where all is lost.”

    This is why I love your writing. The determination of several of your characters to never give up in the face of adversity especially to protect their nakama is a poignant contrast to the mindless minutea of endless training and will be a necessary attitude to take when I eventually serve in the fleet. If I wanted to read something that reeked of despair, I would reread A Song of Ice and Fire.

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  2. Writing is often a balancing act between giving your readers enough to get caught by the stories and the characters and everything without drowning them in it. Yes, I think we have all had a good cry while reading a story that emotionally resonated but it is possible to be so filled with that emotion that it becomes too draining to read. Or as stated, too draining to edit – having been in the dark pit of doom might help me write depression and depressed characters better but that doesn’t make revisiting it even on paper easy or enjoyable . . .

    I recommend picking a good day before delving into topics that might be stressful like that – either reading or writing or editing. And when you feel tired, stop. And have a stock of comfort stuff available for afterward to give you something to cleanse yourself and give yourself a break. Watch or read something you’ve seen before and don’t mind revisiting, that you know just makes you feel happy.

    Because I refuse to write stories where all is lost.

    Me neither.

    I cannot read stories like that so I likely cannot write them any. One of the fastest ways to get me to not finish reading a book is to make it a despairing trek that starts off bad, gets worse, only gets marginally better so the writer(s) can make you feel even more terrible by taking that little sliver of happiness away, any characters who aren’t amoral psychopaths tend to be broken into itty bitty pieces or become emotionally dead amoral psychopaths like the rest of their world (and the writers sometimes have the nerve to call such jerks heroes – through I suppose I could be fair and suppose they are using the ancient Greek definition of the word where a hero is simply someone with extraordinary gifts or does extraordinary things – “Great things. Terrible but great.”) – in other words, abandon all hope ye who enter here.

    Just a little hope, please. Maybe the world is filled with monsters, survival is going to be tricky, but you can survive. You can win. You can have loved ones. They can survive the world too. It’s bad but it’s not impossible.

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  3. I agree… while I do like darker stories, the stories I like best are the ones where the heroes manage to forge themselves a happy ending in *spite* of all that darkness and despair. Fiction is supposed to be an escape from the crushing grind that my life sometimes feels like… it’s not supposed to be a litany of hopeless failure (glares at the copy of FFXIII that was never finished, for precisely this reason)(restrains self from going off on epic tirade)

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      1. re: YA thread at ATH

        I read a lot of Joan Aiken when I was young.

        The lesson I got from that, what I read them for, is that children can survive adults wanting to hurt them. Sure, her heroes were more capable than I was. But being an adult is not a simple ‘I win’ button. Those books, and others, saved me from despairing over how little I could do when I was planning to optimize my survival chances. (I did have a relatively safe and secure upbringing, but I read in the newspapers about children disappearing.)

        Liked by 2 people

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