Emotion on the Page and Reader Engagement
Emotional engagement is a key component of story. The best writers develop compelling characters, then take them through a series of struggles, and have them make meaning of their experience along the way.
But sometimes writers have trouble getting the character emotions on the page. The characters go through the motions of the story, but don’t internalize what’s happening, or worse, don’t make sense of it. They don’t go through the E-motions.
We want our readers to engage with our characters, to care about them, about what is happening to them, to worry about them and celebrate with them. In order to get the emotion on the page for the reader, the writer needs to know how the character feels and then convey that information to the reader in an accessible way.
Digging Deep for Emotion on the Page
To get emotion on the page in a way that is accessible to the reader, we need to dig deep, mining ourselves for emotional understanding and authenticity.
Digging deep can be incredibly cathartic. However, emotional mining can also be fraught with difficulty and discomfort for the writer, especially when the emotions cut close to the heart. While it is often imperative that we dig deep to uncover the authentic emotions related to events in order to best portray them for our readers, it is equally important to take care of ourselves.
Self-care while Mining our Emotions
Self-care is a critical component for many writers when digging into our personal experiences. Yes, we want to uncover the authentic emotions related to our pain and experiences, but we don’t want to open ourselves up to new pain because of it.
Here are some methods for self-care that can be helpful when digging into our emotions.
- Check in with yourself regularly. Ask yourself how you are doing/feeling. Give yourself grace and space if you are not ready and able to deal with the emotions related to what you are writing at that moment.
- Give yourself time to process. Take breaks from the writing, or work on other sections of the story that don’t require you to dig so deep into your emotions.
- Let the character stand in as your avatar to provide some distance between you and the original emotional experience. Keep the character at the forefront of the writing. They are walking this walk and experiencing this emotion. Let them be the conduit.
- Talk to someone who understands what you are going through and can support you. For some, this is a close friend or family member, while others may need a trained professional to serve in this role.
- Take time out for replenishing your energy. Digging deep can be depleting, so when the work becomes too emotionally charged, it’s important to allow yourself some time away from the work.
- Spark joy through other outlets and activities. Do something that you love. Walking, meditating, painting, gardening, music, or goat yoga, whatever brings you joy and peace.
Getting emotion on the page is important for engaging readers and providing an authentic journey. However, we don’t want to rip open old wounds just to bleed out for our readers.
So, when things get a little too deep, allow yourself some space, some time, and some grace. Give yourself a heaping helping of self-care, and take good care of yourself as you write through the emotion.
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