Callie Hunter

Emotional Writing: How Do You Handle It?

In my first novel there were lots of scenes were emotional/moving but mainly father/son scenes, whenever things fell apart. This was fine because I was going from my feelings from experience of building this character. We’ve spent years together, and writing his emotional scenes was easy. But I’ve hit a brick wall.

In my new piece, ‘Bruised’ I have a scene where Evelyn’s hamster dies and Hunter has to deal with it (but he has no idea). Having had many pets die (three cats, a hamster and a rat – also my sister’s rats) I feel I can write this effectively from Evelyn’s part – but this also brings something difficult for me.

My sister recently got married, great right? Not so great that I’m animal sitting and trying to make one of her rats, Eli, die peacefully and trying to feed him. Seeing him in the fragile state upsets me, especially when he won’t eat and he looks very sick. I will use these emotions to drive these scenes, but I wonder a few things about emotional writing.

  • Is it always best to write these from personal experience? Is it possible to pour too much into these scenes? Reliving these events can provide great writing but can also make the piece seem too emotionally heavy.
  • Do readers mind? Would it be good if I could move a reader over a hamster’s death? Would a reader want to read on? Obviously it’s in Evelyn’s point of view and this hamster is her world, and in Hunter’s POV it’s just a hamster.
  • How do writers prepare themselves for emotional writing? Is it good if an author is moved by their own work? Often I’ve written emotional scenes back that I’ve written and had a sob (partially because of the themes, for example a dying patient when Parker holds his hand through his final breaths) and other times when Joshua is dealing with heartbreak and losing his mother, again.)
  • If you move yourself, as the writer, would you be willing to rip it apart for an audience to be moved? Ultimately you can’t expect a reader to be moved if you aren’t moved yourself. Is there a key formula to writing these scenes?

I tend to write from experience, and this has eased me into the subject, but I am curious if other authors can share any techniques they use for their writing.

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This entry was published on June 26, 2013 at 4:54 pm. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

7 thoughts on “Emotional Writing: How Do You Handle It?

  1. You can’t always write from your experience, unless you’re a memoir writer or you just happened to have lived every possible human experience. However, you can use your variation of that experience.

    I’m working on a short story about a little girl at the funeral of her grandmother. She is too young to fully grasp what is happening, and her sorrow is overshadowed by the joy of seeing her estranged father, who has come home for the funeral with his new wife.

    Now, I’m not a little girl, I didn’t lose anybody important to me when I was young, and my parents were married for almost 35 years.

    But I think there is something in experiencing an intellectual emotion. Break the event down into a basic emotion and use that. She wants her daddy. I had mine, but there was a certain emotional distance when I was younger. She can’t wrap her head around the situation. I know what that’s like.

    I don’t know if I’m making sense here. I’m in a bit of a rush, so I’ll see if I can come back with a better answer later.

    Thanks you for the thoughtful post, by the way.

    George.

    • You raise an excellent point. If not through experience, then through thorough research.

      The intellectual emotion is a great thing, and this as writers, helps us to grow stronger and take a theme/emotion/situation we may not have felt, but we can successfully describe for readers.

      Your example of your story is great for that, and I would be very interested in reading it (is it posted on scrib?) You’re making perfect sense!

      I also have not suffered with depression, not went through a heart transplant, dealt with a divorce and being a single parent but enough research has helped me to write these emotional scenes. I am very overly affectionate and that is reflected in Parker’s relationship with his son, but also in my second novel, with Evelyn and her hamster. She loves animals, as do I, which is where I hope she can come alive.

      As writers we have a gift to explore things we haven’t explored through our real lives (or maybe we have) but we can life many different lives, from different backgrounds and different cultures – this I feel is more valuable than I can put into words. It makes us more rounded minds, I feel, we’re open to many things even things we don’t understand – hey, we can research and learn to.

      Your post was great, George, really interesting in terms of writing things we haven’t experienced but can identify with certain aspects of the story. Thanks for your feedback, it’s very helpful.

      • Yes, my story is on Scrib, but it’s rough and unfinished. “Make Less the Depth,” if you want to take a look.

        People throw out the adage “Write what you know,” but I prefer “Know what you write.” Essentially, it’s the same idea, but I like the clarity of the second. You don’t have to have lived the experience, but you need to research it, either through study, introspection, or both, which I think is usually the case.

        Using your example of a heart transplant, if I may, you don’t know what that’s like, but you can do a few things. First, read about heart transplants, both the medical and emotional side. Second, imagine what the conflicting emotions are there. Yes, living is great, but somebody had to die for you to get that heart. Also, who are you now? A vital organ, once that we have associated in a way with our souls, by the way, is not the one you were born with. Are you fully you? The final step is deciding how much of that information you’re going to need for your story.

        I hope this helps in some way.

  2. I will look for it and put it on my to read list.

    You make a great point, you don’t need to live everything we write about. We have imagination for a reason, to experience new things through characters. It’s hard to write about things you don’t really understand.

    Oh, George, I spent a lot of time research the procedure, how long it takes to heal, and what meds patients are on for life. It took a while but i had fun learning, and medical things fascinate me.

    With regards to your comments about ‘who are you now?’ in terms of Parker that’s his reason to turn his life around and stay off the drugs, stop the eating disorder from rearing its ugly head. You’re also right about how much is needed – and as it’s a minor event, but a key event, it’s only touched upon when in flashback of when he takes meds, or his scar is mentioned. Hopefully you’ll approve that I’ve written it in well whenever I get the book published, or if you’re interested in rough drafts.

    A major re-write it needed very soon to flesh it out and slow the pace, but alas – that’s what re-writing is for. I will keep your comments about the conflicting emotions in mind and definitely incorporate that into the chapter for my third draft. So thank you for that, you kind lovely soul.

    • Glad to have helped in some way. Let me know when I can read it. Is it on Scrib?

      • It is indeed but incredibly rough and needs major edits and to be clearer. Ill point you to the right chapters when I get my mac out. It’s the scene where Cleo helps him change Josh’s diaper, cos its shortly after the surgery and he’s been released.

        Other times its gently touched upon but not massively. Everything else should tighten up soon when my dad has finished reading the second draft.

  3. I have written emotional pieces without them having happened to me…I just imagine how i would be feeling as I write it and sometimes I find myself getting upset or nervous. You shouldn’t overdo the emotion because each person has his own way of reacting to that particular situation, so you describe it a bit and move on and hope that each reader takes it in their own way.

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