Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Finding the Emotional Truth

I have received so many emails, text messages and Facebook posts from readers who've said that the reason they connected with The Other Side of Through was because it was so real. At first I wasn't sure what was meant by these comments and then I realized that what was being said is that the novel openly discusses topics that many find taboo, such as infidelity, abuse, unforgiveness and church hurt. Those readers who know me personally seemed to be surprised that I spoke with such candor about things that I wouldn't necessarily discuss in everyday conversation.

Although I am not timid or bashful by any means, I am somewhat reserved and am definitely a private person, so people, especially students, were very surprised when they read my novel because they couldn't believe Dr. Thompson wrote THAT!!! Many people want to assume that Jessie is my alter ego or that I am dissatisfied with my own life and marriage, but that's not true. What is true is the lesson that I try to teach all of my students when we discuss writing fiction: Find the Emotional Truth.

I've always felt that writer Anais Nin was on the right track when she said that "the role of the writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say." What I mean is that the best writing, at least to me, is writing that says what we are all feeling, but may be unable or unwilling to say.

When we begin to identify the emotional truth of a situation, we learn that everyone basically feels the same emotions, but may have different life experiences that trigger them; therefore, it's important that as writers we learn to really feel those emotions so that we can describe them to ourselves and to others. I tell my writing students that it really doesn't matter whether or not they have ever experienced what it is they are writing about. What is important is that they find the emotion that is true for that situation and write from that perspective. For example, a writer could be working on a story about a man who has recently become a widower. This character may have lost his wife suddenly and is now having to readjust to being alone. It doesn't matter if the writer has ever actually had the experience and it doesn't even matter if the writer is male or married. What does matter is that the writer has felt whatever the core emotions are and in this case it's probably fear and regret.

In my writing workshop I would encourage my students to journal about what it feels like to be afraid. Afraid that no one will ever love them again or that the love they've experienced once in life may be all there is and that they will never get a second chance at happiness. Then I would ask them to journal about not being able to say goodbye to a loved one and what that would feel like. I would encourage them to remember a time when they didn't get a chance to say goodbye and what they wished they could have said. Next, I would probably ask them to reflect on losing pet or a loved one and then we would take all of those raw emotions and project them onto our character, the widower.

If you are thinking about writing seriously, then  that's what I encourage you to do this week. Take a moment to think about the emotions you've experienced in life: love, anger, betrayal, faith, joy-whatever comes to mind. Spend some time writing about these emotions without censoring yourself. Be completely honest without fear of what others would think or say about what you are feeling. Just write what YOU feel, not what others told you you should be feeling.The second part of this exercise is to apply it to your genre. So if you're writing poetry use the words that really capture the essence of that feeling. If you're writing a memoir, then use description so your readers feel those emotions, and if you are writing fiction apply those feelings to the character you've created.

Let me know what you think after you've tried this writing task and please keep those questions coming.

Happy Writing!

Michelle Donice

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