Can you feel it? Emotion and your WIP.

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
As writers we need to have empathy to create believable characters. It could be argued that our fictional protagonist is a reflection of our own personality—though not to an autobiographical extent.

We're all magpies, noticing things, picking them up and storing them away to use as adornments in some future literary nest. In this way we form the natures of the people who inhabit our imaginary worlds.

While writing scenes I try to go with the flow of what's coming to me, while choosing the most effective words and varying sentence and paragraph length to create an effect. I'm aware of the impact I'm trying to make, but removed from it. Reading things back afterwards proves how true it sounds, and I relate to it more having an emotional response.

I wrote a scene in my WIP last night that affected me more than I thought it would. Briefly, my second novel is called Who Kills A Nudist?, and it begins with the body of a 60 year-old naturist/surfer being found on a Cornish beach in winter. Various criminal investigations spin off from this death, involving human trafficking, drug and gun smuggling—all beneath the shadow of violent retribution from organised crime.

For various forensic reasons, the corpse of my dead man has been stored in the morgue, but I had to lay him to rest. He isn't just the victim, but represents human decency as a theme within the story—a good man living a quiet life, doing the right thing for people and the environment, who was destroyed by straying too close to my evil baddy. I found that surfers do something called a 'paddle out' to bid farewell to a fellow surfer, swimming out and forming a circle to share memories before scattering the ashes.

A famous Hawaiian singer called Israel Kamakawiwo'ole sang a medley of Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World which became an unexpected hit, and has since been used as a song of tribute and celebration at such paddle outs.

I wrote this into my novel as a way of saying goodbye to my titular character, and was unexpectedly moved by the sadness of the occasion, shedding a tear or two.

I've had reactions to my own writing before, feeling dread as a blundering detective walked into a death trap set by a serial killer, sharing the puzzlement of my protagonist at an unexpected event and relishing the situational humour of a misunderstanding.

I haven't written any explicit sex scenes, as yet, and perhaps I shouldn't—I might spontaneously combust!

This internal barometer of whether something works is useful. If it works for me, my readers will react too.

Do other Colonists react emotionally to their own writing?
I never liked this song till I heard his version. When my youngest was at Primary school, a little girl in her school got knocked down and killed playing by the road. The school decided not to have her funeral cortege pass the school gates as it might frighten or distress the children, but I feel that was a pity. It's good for children to learn about death and that the dead still belong to their community. The school held a gathering outside instead and a little girl played this song on a clarinet. I'm in bits every time I hear it, remembering her parents standing there. She'd have been 24 now.

I try and make myself like stone or an empty space, writing, but it does get to me sometimes. The first draft in particular.
So, I was writing this long, elaborate response here and then my computer crashed :mad: Well, probably it just wanted to tell me "You're babbling Bluma, go home".

So, short version: sad, no. But I do feel sorry for my characters. Angry at them as well. Which is strange, since first I go to great lengths to make them act irresponsibly and make stupid decisions and when I re-read it later I'm like "Geeee man, don't be such an ass".

It is very interesting about writing sex scenes, though. If their reason is to be exciting (and usually it is) then I guess the author him/herself has to feel excited by them. But there is a danger in that. It's a bit like sweet-talk between lovers: it's perfectly fine to call your significant other Mr. Fuzzywoosom between you two, but when you start doing that in public people won't understand and will find it embarrassing. Conversely, your masturbatory visions are great, because they make you feel great, but there's a big chance others will not find them so alluring. I don't know. One of my friends who read the MS for me asked why I did not put more sex scenes into it. So, victory... I guess??:oops:
One of the potential problems with sex scenes is that readers will think that's what you're into, rather than it being your character's choice. My first novel contained an extremely strange paraphilia, a sexual deviation that I included for comedic purposes and because it fitted the landscape of the story.

My WIP involves gay BDSM scenes, with the arch villain being a 'dom' who controls his submissive cronies as much through what takes place in his torture dungeon as by the violence he shows in public. The research for this had me puckering my sphincter, while wondering how many readers would be attracted to this plotline and how many would be repelled.

Another feeling I sometimes experience while writing is surprise. I'm in the closing chapters of my second novel, keenly aware of the wordcount and keeping a tight rein on the action. All the same, I managed to paint myself into a corner involving details to do with an arrested person's rights when being interrogated. This looked like it might mean potentially tedious speechifying, but online research unearthed a legal loophole that did away with conversation completely. I was delighted, as it freed me up to write more important things.

I wonder what will happen next....

Do other Colonists react emotionally to their own writing?

Close to emotionally - I have the occasional 'Bobby Ewing' moment (can I bring him back)? One of my subsidiary characters was named after a friend, and I killed the character off a couple of weeks ago. It gave me strange feeling...He was a good guy too.

BTW I have one of Israel K's Cds. Acquired taste.
I do get emotionally wrapped up in my writing.

And, @James Marinero, I'll one up you--I've got a Wellington International Ukelele Orchestra CD (and can sing all the lyrics off by heart). Love those ukes!
That caught me in a crossword the other day '4 stringed guitar'. U gave it away. Try the Portsmouth Sinfonia ;) I'd better award you that point as you got one up on me. Is it a Derek? No, must be a thumbs up.
Oh, wow, the Portsmouth Sinfonia is awful (in a delightful way)! Though it is very different, it brought to mind PDQ Bach, who I absolutely LOVE--one of those performers you can't really 'get' unless you're very familiar with classical music. His Jeckel and Hyde CD is our standard car trip entertainment.
I am writing (or rather re-writing) a scene now in which my character gets into a very humiliating position and I cringe to. Because it's certainly not a thing anyone would like to go through.
It's fiction. Readers aren't going to assume you're into kinky sex if you write about it, anymore than they will assume you're into torturing and killing people if that's what you write about. And if there are a few who do assume it, they're likely doing so across the board, and clearly have other issues going on. Like, oh I don't know... being unable to separate fiction from reality, perhaps?

Write what you want to write about. Don't stifle your muse because you're worried about what a few stray readers may or may not assume about you.
That's not what I meant :) I simply meant the reaction I myself get when I'm writing that and that it can get quite strong (as with the embarrassing scene I was just talking about). The only thing I might be afraid of in from the point of prospective reader is that they are going to also feel it strongly- a good thing in principle, but negative emotions (such a shame) are not pleasant and maybe it will put some people off? But that's not important at this stage, anyway.

People can go ahead and assume that I have an awesome, kinky sex life, I have nothing against it :D
I think one of the most rewarding experiences I had over the last 5 months -- while writing my WIP -- was when I did a read through for myself. I tend to read, re-read chapters in isolation, and the big read through was the first time I started at chapter one and read through to chapter 15.

But there was a scene its comic and tragic at the same time, and I found myself crying with a big lump in my throat because I read it as part of the whole and I could see the character develop across chapters. I found it lovely.
Yes, absolutely. And I do use it as a thermometer. If I don´t feel angered, saddened, disgusted, aroused, or scared when writing a scene, I´m pretty sure no one else will feel it either. And it´s no so much what happens in the story as it is how you present it. I was having a hard time writing an important fight scene--I wrote it twice and it didn´t seem to do anything for me. The third try had me gritting my teeth from the tension. And every time I read it I get that cringy feeling.
I know that when I kill off one of my characters I´´m going to cry. I´ve been avoiding that scene!
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