Emotion?

3 months ago | AdamBolander (Member)

Okay, as cheesy as it sounds, I was playing Undertale a couple weeks ago, and it actually made me laugh and tear up more than once. After finishing, it occurred to me that my stories are well written (or so I'm told...) but I struggle to write really emotional scenes. I can tell the audience how the characters feel, but I've never had someone comment on one of my sad scenes that they were crying, or that they laughed during a funny scene. So, how do you guys make your audience feel the emotions you want them to?

Author of The Gray Ranger, The Slayer and The Sphinx, Juryokine, Amber Silverblood, and more! Read for free on http://www.bolanderbooks.com

Read responses...

Responses

  1. Teowi (Member)

    Posted 3 months ago

    I've heard once that it helps if the characters are also reacting with the same emotions you want the reader to feel during that scene (this might not apply to comedy). I don't have any experience, but I think that reading some works known to tug emotions (such as Flowers for Algernon) would help you out.

  2. ElliottThomasStaude (Member)

    Posted 3 months ago

    Speaking as an emotionless robot, this is something heard but not really personally employed. However, when trying to craft a certain empathy in the reader, remember that some emotions tie into each other and others don’t. Not just in that anger and love are often two aspects of one coin, or love and hate, or fear and shame. A (human-like) emotional base can go from an experience filled with happiness to an experience filled with love without too much trouble. Even so, it’s not so easy to go from nauseating horror to love in a single step without something in between like overwhelming relief; as they say in New England, “ye cain’t get theah from heah.”
    TL;DR: be mindful of avoiding emotional whiplash, except in very unusual or extrahuman minds

    If you've a head for holistic science fantasy, the Library may oblige: https://www.thomas-generalized-recountings-library.com
    If you've a dislike for lengthy names, I'm so sorry.
  3. AdamBolander (Member)

    Posted 3 months ago

    One such scene I've been struggling with involves a character (who you've just met) going on a sudden journey because she killed her grandmother (who you've also just met)

    ----

    A hand grabbed her by the wrist. T’vaskli snarled, whirled around with flaming fist outstretched, and…
    Struck her grandmother in the face.
    In an instant, all of her rage disappeared. Majla Pracca let go of her wrist, stumbled backwards, and fell to the ground. T’vaskli’s flames blinked out of existence. With a cry of fright, she hurried to her grandmother’s side. An ugly burn marred the side of her face, and her breathing was labored.
    “No! No, no, no, no,” she whispered. “Grandma?”
    Majla Pracca’s eyes opened and, to her disbelief, her grandmother smiled up at her.
    “My candlelight,” she whispered. “You must go!”
    “I- I’m so sorry!” Tears fell freely from her eyes now, spattering on her grandmother’s cheek. “I didn’t mean to!”
    “There is nothing to forgive,” Majla Pracca said, raising a trembling hand to caress her granddaughter’s face. “My time was coming anyway.”
    “Not like this,” T’vaskli wept. “I didn’t want this. I never wanted this!”
    “It’s not your fault. All this hatred and anger… it is our fault. My fault.”
    “No!”
    “But now you must go below. There you will find someone who can teach you.”
    Even with her grandmother suffering on the ground before her, that startled T’vaskli.
    “Someone who can…” she stammered. “Someone like me?”
    “Find him,” Majla Pracca whispered. “He will teach you more than to control your powers. He will teach you… to… live your life without… hate.”
    T’vaskli laid down so they were face to face. “I don’t want to go. Please, Grandma!”
    “There is nothing… for you here. There never… has been.”
    “There’s you!”
    Majla Pracca smiled. “Not for… much… longer.”
    “No,” T’vaskli begged her. “Please don’t go. Please!”
    Her breaths were coming fewer and farther between now. Again, she reached out and felt T’vaskli’s face.
    “You are,” she said, “my stone that weighs more than the pebbles.”
    Then her eyes closed, and her hand fell to the floor. T’vaskli stared in horror as her grandmother died, the last few embers of her life fading to ash. Dead. The only person in the whole world she cared about was dead.
    And it was her fault.

    Author of The Gray Ranger, The Slayer and The Sphinx, Juryokine, Amber Silverblood, and more! Read for free on http://www.bolanderbooks.com
  4. Rhodeworks (Member)

    Posted 3 months ago

    The reason you're struggling with emotion in that scene is that there's no emotion in that scene. It reads like it was written by a robot. The action and blocking is unclear. It feels like pantomime. The dialogue is composed of cliche after cliche.

  5. AdamBolander (Member)

    Posted 3 months ago

    How do I improve, then?

    Author of The Gray Ranger, The Slayer and The Sphinx, Juryokine, Amber Silverblood, and more! Read for free on http://www.bolanderbooks.com
  6. unice5656 (Moderator)

    Posted 3 months ago

    I've written a novella whose reviews mostly consist of "damn you you made me cry", but I can't tell you the "steps" to write like that. All I can say is that I myself was crying as I wrote the last scene.

    Some elements that are definitely required:
    - Full immersion. This requires a certain level of writing skill. There can't be a single inconsistency, typo, awkward phrase, or anything else that reminds the reader they are "just" reading a story. Their consciousness must be fully absorbed into the story
    - Deep characters. You mention that the two characters in that scene have only just been introduced to the story. Nobody cares about them. You could kill them a million times and people would just shrug. It's only after you've built up enough layers of complexity and shared experience with the reader that the character becomes "real" and can be properly empathized with.

    Pulling off those two elements in conjunction is quite the challenge. When you build characters with that much complexity, it is very easy for any single action to suddenly become inconsistent with their character. This is often my problem, as my characters suddenly start running around messing up my intended plot with their wilfulness. It requires a lot of creativity to keep the story remotely on track, but the effort is fun and the result is rewarding.

    Humour is both easier and just as hard. It's reasonably easy to make a reader smile with a silly scene or a witty remark. Making someone full-out laugh takes just as much skill as making them cry. It takes pretty much the same elements, except the characters don't necessarily have to be emotionally "deep", just very characteristic of themselves, which can be done with exaggerated characters somewhat more easily than realistic ones.

    Based on your example passage, you're better off working on writing immersive scenes in general. The whole thing feels very "zoomed out", clearly told by a narrator rather than through the lens of the main character. Third person limited can be as intimate with the character's experience and emotion as 1st person, but that scene doesn't come close.

  7. AdamBolander (Member)

    Posted 3 months ago

    Like I said, I've been struggling with that one scene for months. I must have rewritten it at least five times by now. I think I've done better in other parts of the book. Like this one... maybe?

    Falquin stood up on his toes so that the two of them were eye to eye, and whispered, “Do you know how many chances I had to say that to you? You couldn’t steal anything without getting caught. You would have starved, or gotten thrown in prison, or hung, if it wasn’t for me! And this is how you repay me? By telling me no the first time I ask you for anything in return?”
    That was the key. Play on Sebal’s guilt. He wasn’t a bad guy, no matter how grumpy he could be. Just keep putting pressure in all the right places and—
    “You got into this mess on your own,” Sebal whispered back to him. “I was off in River’s Blessing when you got caught, remember? This is your problem. Deal with it yourself!”
    Falquin gaped, stunned, as if he’d just been slapped. This wasn’t right. He knew Sebal better than anyone, better than Sebal knew himself. He wouldn’t… he couldn’t… say something like that to him, could he?
    “Go gargle a pufferfish!” Vulture squawked, perched atop a nearby root.
    Sebal spun on the bird. “You keep your mouth shut!”
    Falquin’s body was moving before he even realized what he was doing. He stepped across the distance between them, the browns and greens of the forest dissolving into furious red, and slammed his fist into Sebal’s gut. The aquamancer went reeling, nearly falling over as his face went slack with surprise.
    “Leave him alone!” Falquin screamed at the top of his lungs. “Vulture is ten times the man you’ll ever be!”
    Sebal stumbled backwards, coughing, and fell to the ground. Falquin’s anger still burned inside him, so he ran up and gave his former friend a savage kick in the side.
    “You wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for me!” Falquin roared. “Everything you ever had was because of me, and now you want to leave me to die? I’ll kill you, you traitorous sack of eel crap!”

    Author of The Gray Ranger, The Slayer and The Sphinx, Juryokine, Amber Silverblood, and more! Read for free on http://www.bolanderbooks.com
  8. Snuggle Squiggle (Member)

    Posted 3 months ago

    Rendering emotion isn't very hard, I think, once you're thinking along the right lines. What you need is for the reader to know what's going on — what the character is reacting to, what their general motivations and such are, etc. — and then you have to show the emotion. The pitfall I think your first passage is falling into that bald actions and blithe emotion-naming doesn't show emotion, it merely tells it.

    For instance, these are examples of telling that I feel are hurting the first passage:

    In an instant, all of her rage disappeared.

    With a cry of fright

    Tears fell freely from her eyes

    that startled T’vaskli.

    T’vaskli stared in horror

    The only person in the whole world she cared about was dead.

    And it was her fault.

    These are impersonal, abstract, vague — perhaps what Rhodeworks identified as cliches or pantomime, or what unice identified as “zoomed out” (or more technically, far psychic distance). They tell you nothing of the character or how they're processing that emotion. It does not invite the reader to feel that emotion, but merely mentions it like some neutral detail.

    Telling's not bad, in itself — telling emotion is fine when the emotion is not the focus. But that's not the case here, and so it makes the scene feel false and empty.

    Contrast this with the other passage you posted:

    “Do you know how many chances I had to say that to you? You couldn’t steal anything without getting caught. You would have starved, or gotten thrown in prison, or hung, if it wasn’t for me! And this is how you repay me? By telling me no the first time I ask you for anything in return?”

    That was the key. Play on Sebal’s guilt. He wasn’t a bad guy, no matter how grumpy he could be. Just keep putting pressure in all the right places and—

    This wasn’t right. He knew Sebal better than anyone, better than Sebal knew himself. He wouldn’t… he couldn’t… say something like that to him, could he?

    Do you feel how much more personal these lines are? How they almost vibrate with emotion? You can tell there's a _character_ behind those words, thinking and feeling, and rendered into prose.

    That's what I say your first scene is missing. It needs to get inside T’vaskli's head, show us what she's feeling as she kills her grandmother.

    I hope this helps.

    I write Endless Stars! It's a serial about dragons and friendship.
  9. nippoten (Member)

    Posted 3 months ago

    It's called bloodletting.

  10. AdamBolander (Member)

    Posted 3 months ago

    I think I need to completely rework T'vaskli's chapter. I've rewritten it over and over and it never feels right.

    Author of The Gray Ranger, The Slayer and The Sphinx, Juryokine, Amber Silverblood, and more! Read for free on http://www.bolanderbooks.com
  11. Dary (Member)

    Posted 3 months ago

    That extract doesn't read like a novel - it reads like a badly translated JRPG, where nobody talks (or, indeed, acts) like a real person. It reminds me of something Hayao Miyazaki said:

    "Almost all Japanese animation is produced with hardly any basis taken from observing real people, you know. It’s produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans."

    If you want to improve:
    a) Study actual people, how they talk to one another, how they react and emote.
    b) Read more, and study how other writers create emotion and express character.

  12. AdamBolander (Member)

    Posted 3 months ago

    @Dary "That extract doesn't read like a novel"

    The first or the second one? Or both?

    Author of The Gray Ranger, The Slayer and The Sphinx, Juryokine, Amber Silverblood, and more! Read for free on http://www.bolanderbooks.com

Reply

You must log in to post.