One of the most lyrical stories about historical Scotland I’ve ever read!
It is told from the viewpoint of a Sassenach, an Englisher, who is said to be a witch because of her skill with herbs. She falls in love with Glencoe and with a Highland Laird’s son who lives there.
In her own words: “Rocks can have a thousand colours in them–grey, brown, purple-grey, dark-blue. They can have moss and lichen on their sides, and heather, and birch trees, and waterfalls, and marks where waterfalls have been…I put my hands upon a stone beneath the northern ridge, and felt it. It had an old warmth, and a wisdom. It was rough, like a tongue. And like all the skies I saw there, it was a blowing sky.”
Or, “As for her grey-eyed daughter it meant a home all handmade herself from stone and reeds and heather in a lost Highland valley that was guarded by two boulders, and where stolen cows were kept. Where she found a proper peace. Where the wind rocked the birches at night, and that was a good sound.”
But that peace is shattered when the Laird signs a peace treaty six days too late, and the Redcoats come calling. And then Corrag must choose.
I’m saving this one to read again. It is that beautiful…and that romantic!
Even experienced wordsmiths struggle to portray deep emotion in their writing. It’s as hard as mining copper from sulfur-laden rocks.
Writers may either tell about the emotion, for example, “He felt really, really angry.” Or, they may use the “dot-dot-dot” bypass popular when describing sex in 40s novels: “They entered the bedroom, the lights went out, and the next day…”
But effective writers know that emotion is a vital part of the human experience and pull it into their writing whenever possible.
Here are five way to deepen the emotional layering in your writing:
1. Accept the challenge that writing about emotion is hard. Good writers get immersed in their words, just as they hope their readers will. And writing about unpleasant emotions is difficult. Who wants to experience, even vicariously, the deep emotions of rage, grief, humiliation, sorrow, fear?
Delve into a time you, yourself had such a feeling. How did you feel experiencing it? What preceded the emotional outburst? How did you relive and rationalize your experience afterwards? Then write about the universal emotion that you felt, and that your character is also feeling.
2. Emotion is a daisy chain. Your character doesn’t immediately go on a rampage or experience an out-of-the-blue terror about high places. Something came before. Consider giving your characters a chance to delve into their back story internally. “This was just like the time when I was four, and the dog next door pushed through the fence and bit me.”
3. Emotion is physical. The old adage “show don’t tell” is critical here. An emotion courses through a person’s body, affecting their breathing, heart rate, skin temperature, stomach tension. Only then may it be reflected outward on the facial muscles: clenching the jaw, frowning, weeping. Finally it erupts into words: “You can’t mean that!” and actions: “He slammed the door so hard the glass cracked.”
Angela Ackerman’s book, Emotional Thesaurus is highly recommended to help you begin this journey of writing about the inward and outward signs of physical emotions.
4. Emotion is slower than rational thought. Think of seven objects: an orange, the London Bridge, a deck of cards, a big tree, a mailbox, a white horse, a can of Pepsi.
Not hard, right?
Now, picture in your mind each of these: fear, terror, joy, amusement, irritation, embarrassment, hesitation…
Can you feel your mind stopping to ponder each experience before moving on?
Give your readers a chance to do the same thing. Don’t rush over emotion, but rather create a scene that can fully explore what’s happening. And then go back and lengthen it by twice.
5. There is an arc to emotion. In other words, the emotion will typically build in intensity.
For example, the character punches the alarm and sleeps too late. In her rush to get ready for work, the glass of orange juice spills to the floor, she trips on the rug on her way out the door, the car battery is dead…by the time she gets to the office, she explodes at her assistant over one small typo in a memo…
And a bonus concept to build your emotional writing skills:
6. Emotions are not rational. Your character in the middle of intense emotion is not going to stop and think, “Oh, I am afraid.”
But afterwards, there can be a place for a rational assessment of what happened: “I was stupid for going into that dark alley alone.” “I really did a good job at that presentation, even though I was nervous.”
Or they may decide to do differently next time. “I’ve got to watch myself and not make such a fuss. It wasn’t my assistant’s fault I was late.”
Donald Maas, in his wonderful book: The Emotional Craft of Fiction, explains that the purpose of fiction is to get the reader to feel their own emotions, triggered by the words on the page.
Think about it. What authors do is time-travel. They are able to connect with anonymous readers somewhere in the far distant future.
Including deep emotions in your writing can layer, deepen, and enrich your work. This skill makes your reader eager to return a second, and a third time, demanding more. Exactly what you as a writer want!
When I was 19, I spent a summer as a forest fire lookout. It changed my life indelibly, and for that reason, I was interested in Philip Connors’ book. He does not disappoint.
Phillip, for the past 8 years, has spent the summer fire season on top of a 75-foot tower in the New Mexico wilderness, looking for fires. He has only his dog Alice for company (although his wife does visit for occasional weekends.)
His book is an interesting compendium of how it is to spend that much time alone, a history of fighting fires in America and how that changed after the disastrous Yellowstone fires, and how he and his wife deal with the separation for months at a time.
“We seek out wild raspberry bushes where the last of the year’s fruit is turning ripe; I pluck a handful to accompany my evening treat of chocolate, leaving the rest to the bears. On days of heavy rain, hail drumming on the metal roof, I cloister myself in the cabin, drink hot tea, read in my sleeping bag with a fire going in the wood stove. Tattered flags of fog drift past the mountain when the rain breaks…”
If you enjoy reading about nature, and about the nature of solitude, this book is for you.
She and her partner, Shepherd Malone, are on routine patrol in Arizona’s Verde Valley when the call comes in. “Dispute in progress, lethal weapons involved.” The two deputies arrive at the Spinne horse ranch to discover the Water Wars in the Southwest are alive and well. And that’s just the start of their problems!
Fire in Broken Water, Pegasus Quincy mystery novel #3, is now available for pre-order through Amazon. Official Launch Day is February 21st!
“I want to be able to live without a crowded calendar. I want to be able to read a book without feeling guilty, or go to a concert when I like.” Golda Meir
Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel for ten years and active in public service all of her life was described as strong-willed, straight-talking, gray-bunned grandmother of the Jewish people.
She used to say it was a blessing to be born plain; that the pretty girl had a handicap to overcome, because people saw the beauty first, not the person. She also mentioned the lament of all working mothers: when you are at work, you feel guilty about your children at home; when you are home, you feel guilty about the work left behind.
Time, then, is precious. But time to do what? For Golda, it was time to read a book whenever she wanted, or to attend a concert. I like to think a walk in nature may be the very best use of time ever, but reading a good book comes in a close second!
When we are doing what we want to do, whether it is spending time with our children or pursuing a hobby with passion, time slows down to accommodate us. It obligingly stretches and conforms to the task at hand, giving our creativity not only time, but space as well, so that true joy can be expressed.
How would YOU spend your time, if you had enough to do exactly
what you wanted?
My sister’s book club is reading one of Julia Cameron’s books, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond. I promised her I’d take a look at it. I did, and it is delightful. I recommend it highly!
In the process, though, I came across another book by Ms. Cameron, entitled Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance. I was delighted, because I’d read the first two of this trilogy when I was in art school: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and the Artist’s Way. Also highly recommended, by the way.
Julia is no novice to the challenging world of being creative. She’s been at it for 30 years and during that time has written–and had published–over 30 books! Would that I were that successful.
In many of this author’s books, she recommends a practice of three simple acts: 1) morning pages, a type of handwritten journaling, undertaken first thing in the morning; 2) making an “artist’s date” with yourself to explore some new facet of your environment; and 3) a long walk, at least once a week, to connect with nature. I’ve found all three to be richly rewarding.
In Finding Water, Julia encounters writer’s block, rejection, and discouragement as she readies a play for the New York stage. She speaks of the paralyzing effects of perfection. I can relate.
Julia’s inner critic is named Nigel, and Nigel has rules. “A critic such as Nigel has doubts, second thoughts, third thoughts. The critic analyzes everything to the point of extinction. Everything must always be groomed and manicured. Everything must measure up.”
“…an original thought may be disturbing, even dangerous. It wants to see what it has seen before. It has seen a cow, but it has never seen a zebra. Don’t try to tell it that a zebra might be interesting. Those stripes don’t look like such a good idea. Get those zebras out of here!”
I gave Julia a high five for that one. My critic and Nigel are old war buddies. Brothers-in-arms, soldiering on, unappreciated, firmly declaring that black is black, white is white, and forget about all those colors in between.
Right now I am struggling through the simultaneous editing of two works. In my writing critique group we are examining, for the umpteenth time, the first chapter of my next book in the Pegasus Quincy Mystery Series, Fire in Broken Water.
I’ve read the last chapter of this same book so many times it is almost memorized, and yet my critic–let’s call him Clarkson–is still finding egregious errors any sixth-grader could correct in their sleep.
And when we take a break from that one, the two of us, Clarkson and I, are weaving together a new, very rough draft of the fourth novel in the series called Peril in Silver Nightshade.
Clarkson is having a field day. “You wrote what?” “Don’t you know you can never mix first and third person narratives?” “Info dump. Info dump. Info dump,” he chants.
I want to shout Shut up! in his overly large, cauliflower-shaped ears (the better to hear you with, my dear) and consign him to the upstairs, unheated garret. It is near winter here in Michigan, and that would be a fitting place for him. Although he has this loud screeching voice that would undoubtedly echo through the register.
But to be honest, I need his help. The fairy child has created these lovely works of art, and now it is time for her evil cousin to have his way. And perhaps he isn’t so evil, after all. He is persistent and perfectionistic. I must learn to accept that he is also a part of me, and appreciate what he brings to the table.
I am not sure if I believe in the left brain/right brain dichotomy. It seems much too simple an explanation of the complex workings of our mind. Yet there is a push/pull, an internal dialogue always at work. And that, too, is part of the creative process. I need both the fairy child and Clarkson, just not at the same time, in the same room, talking over each other.
What about you? What do you call your inner critic?
How does it muck about in your creative life?