In case you aren’t au fait with martial arts classic, ‘Enter The Dragon’ (above) Bruce Lee is explaining to his student the need for ‘Emotional Content’. The acting may be a little hammy and Bruce Lee films may seem like an odd place to go for writing advice, but bear with me.
Good writing – like any artistic endeavour – is all about emotional content. The results are directly related to how much of yourself you invest in your plot, characters and setting.
It has to be about something . . .
Consider, for a moment, your favourite piece of music or a song that you love. What is it about them that makes them resonate with you? It may not always be immediately apparent what a particular piece of music is about, but in order for it to move the listener, you have to get the feeling that it’s at least about something. Shallow teeny-bop songs come and go – music-by-numbers created by marketing executives disguised as songwriters. But classics – pieces of music that have survived for decades and beyond – tend to share similar traits. They all have powerful themes, heartfelt vocals or instrumentation and aspirations to deeply move the listener.
Once more, with feeling . . .
This is a lesson we can apply to our writing. It doesn’t matter whether you write Sci-fi, Horror, Satire or Suspense – the reader needs to get a sense of reality about what your characters are experiencing. The only way to achieve this is to really spend the time and effort to empathise with their plight, to understand their emotional baggage and to bring this out in your writing. You need to mine your own emotional experiences as well as your imagination. This will ensure that your stories stay with the reader for much longer than a few minutes after they have reached the end.
So, as Bruce himself said – ‘Emotional content! Don’t think – FEEL!’
If you don’t care about your characters, why should anyone else?
What does ’emotional content’ mean to you? What moves you when reading a novel?
And, courtesy of Youtube, here is the clip that inspired my post.
This was my 5th post for the A-Z Blog Challenge. Follow the blog during April for more writing tips, inspirational life posts, short fiction, film-inspired articles and even some songs with audio recordings. Tomorrow’s post – F is for Films. How thinking cinematically can improve your writing.
15 thoughts on “E is for Emotional Content. Writing with feeling.”
I agree with you, sat here like one of those nodding dogs you used to see in the back of cars, a hundred years ago. 🙂
I have to have empathy with my character, when reading or writing, I must care about them and their plight whatever it might be…
I love fiction when I’m drawn to the baddie, and take it as a huge compliment when readers of my own fiction say, ‘although I hate this character for what they have done, I actually want to know all about them and what makes them do what they do.’
Thanks – he said, mimicking the afore-mentioned nodding dog. And that’s a great point to make about the baddies – when you get it right, it works across all your characters. I always find myself drawn to the villains that I write, and if anything it’s harder to get it right with your protagonist or ‘good-guy’. The key is to remember we are all drawn in shades of grey and nothing is ever black and white.
Unexpected events move me when I read a novel,that and the way those events affect the characters.
Hi Dee. I agree, and think that’s what makes or breaks a story – how believable your characters and their reactions are. Thanks.
For me it really is all about the characters. If I don’t feel for them and like them, I’m gone. It’s the same for books or films. I have to feel like they are a good person deep down but with difficulties and strife. Then I can root for them as they overcome their difficulties and face their demons. 😀
I know what you mean, Lisa. For me, a great example is Tony Soprano (not sure if you are a fan of the Sopranos) as, on the face of it he is a selfish, ruthless, manipulative killer with very few redeeming qualities, and yet as a viewer we can’t help but root for him. Through the great writing and characterization, we can see that he is actually very vulnerable and is a victim of his environment and upbringing. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
The books that I most enjoy reading will make me laugh out loud, get teary-eyed, or get angry enough to yell at the book/ereader. I want to be involved with the storyline/characters. To me that is the mark of a good read.
I agree, Deena. There’s far too much disposable, shallow stuff out there these days. Thanks for stopping by and having a read.
Caring about my characters is key to giving them dimension and a voice of their own. I agree that readers are not going to root for a character the writer doesn’t care about.
Very true. Of course, the irony is that we care about them so much that we like to throw lots of problems, trouble and strife at them and hope they survive! Thanks for taking the time to read the post.
I couldn’t agree more. Emotional content drives my writing, which usually starts with the idea of an emotion I want to convey. Then I create some characters to experience that emotion. Great post.
Thanks Rinelle. That’s an interesting way to approach it and although I don’t approach my prose like that, I now realise that many of the songs I write often spring more from an emotion than a specific story.
Great post. Glad we *met* and are meandering our way through this emotional challenge!
Humans are bags of emotional wreckage which we set on a page, punch a bit, then help a bit and the bags change shape and are able to move through life a little easier.
That is a lovely way to put it, Lynne. Apart from anything else, I think writing is a great mental exercise and makes you think your way through difficult situations – both emotionally and practically.