Ruminating On: Conveying Emotions
We won’t be needing Dictionary.com today. Just follow along the best you can.
Although my ego would like to boast here, I will try and remain – as much as I can allow – humble. I have received more praise for character development than anything else so far in my quest for literary domination. The players in my stories and books seem to resound with people. I wrote about a foul mouthed twelve-year-old boy in my novel Bay’s End and folks found him endearing. They even seemed to love my villains. That got me thinking – How do I do it? There is an answer. It’s just going to take a while getting to it. I have broken everything down from easiest to hardest to convey. These are the emotions we all wish to give our readers in one way, shape, or form. I hope I do right by you. I’m not some all seeing asshole, but I do seem to get it right more often than not. With that said, let’s begin.
Anger. This is the easiest emotion to instill in your reader. Words piss people off by default. You can 86 that old saying, “Stick and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me”. It’s simply not true. More suicides stem from bullying and harsh words than anything else. We are natural communicators, but not the best ones at times. Call a black person the N-word, drop kike on a Rabbi, or call a woman a bitch. Then, invite them over for Christmas dinner. Yeah… that shit ain’t happening. Anger is at the bottom because people get their shit all bent out of shape far too easily. It’s just a way of life. Just writing about how simple it is to make someone mad is bound to piss someone off. Especially coming from me.
Next we have the Awe Factor. It’s very close to anger in it’s gestation. But if you can convey it properly, you can trump anger every time. When something is cute, there’s not much else it can be. Take a cat, give it an empty plastic bag, and watch the cuteness just bleed all over the floor. I try to stay away from this one. Then again, I am a horror writer. If I had my way, that kitty wouldn’t make it out of that bag. And I’m a cat person. Really, I am.
A smile. In it’s simplest form, a grin. But fully involved, it can cause one’s eyes to close completely. If you can garner a smile from your reader, you’re doing well. This is low on the list because it is a precursor of things to come. You can keep that smile on their face if you want, or you can choose to go for a full blown laugh. The former is much harder to do, but it is very possible in literature. There are satirical writers out there right now making millions by changing smiles into laughs. But we’ll get to that later. A smile can win you a reader, or lose one. Bad smiles exist. It’s when your reader thinks, “I can write better than this jackass”.
Now onto the hard stuff. Literally. Being able to make your reader horny. Erotica is a motherfucker. There is no other word for it. When done right, it can be a companion on a lonely night where you have only mechanical, cylindrical tools, or Vaseline, to keep you company. Whether you’re male or female, erotica done poorly will garner smiles at best, laughter at worst. Writing is used to illicit emotions. If you can draft a thoroughly enjoyable fuckfest, you can write just about anything. Just about…
This is my favorite part, but third from last on the list. Have you ever tried to scare someone when they’re expecting it? Of course you have. It’s hard to do. That is what writing horror is like. People are reading your horror story, more than likely, because they want to be frightened. If they know that going in, they expect a shock or two. So how do you scare them? I don’t know the answer to that. I’m sorry. This is where talent comes into play. The final emotions on this list, have to do with being a gifted storyteller. You cannot just tell someone they should be scared of something. You have to make them feel it. Scare the shit out of me, and you have a fan for life.
Finally! We’re on to laughter. I have read three really funny books in my life. I have hated more than two dozen. If you try to make someone laugh, you will fail. Just like a good scare, a laugh – a real one anyway – comes when you least expect it. Easing someone into comedy is a hard fucking chore. More often than not, you come off as if you’re trying to damn hard. Knock-Knock Jokes are not funny. They are cute. Please revert to previous subject matter on cuteness. Funny is subjective, but it is also universal. The good stuff is, anyway. We’ve all been there. No matter the company kept, a story is told and everyone laughs, be it your parents, your priest or your lover, everyone is slapping their knee. The funniest comedians tell stories, not jokes. Remember that, that one little fact, and you will do yourself a huge favor.
Here we are: The End of The List. Can you make your reader cry? No you can’t. What you can do is give them someone to care about. Create for them a character that is relatable. Like horror, you can’t just tell your audience that they’re supposed to feel sad. You must make them feel it. There are a myriad of choices to chose from when trying to convey this final reaction. Once again, I can’t help you. But ask yourself this: What makes you cry? Is it loss? Grief? The death rattle of a long term relationship? Fear? Whatever it is, your reader may agree. Give it a shot. Perfection is unattainable. Reach for something you can touch. Their heart.
I know, I know, I told you a good cry was hardest of all to obtain from your reader. It is one bastard of a challenge, but there is another all encompassing emotion that covers all of these – beats the dog shit out of them, really – and you would do well to know how to use it. This final piece of the puzzle can make you angry, might even seem cute. It could make you smile, but will definitely make you want to fuck. It’s a scary emotion, because it’s confusing, but goddam can it make you laugh when it goes right. Then when it ends, you’re all screwed up and can’t seem to hold back the tears.
John Lennon said it best: All you need is love.
Let your readers fall in love with your characters and you will find them coming back for more. Everything else just comes with the territory. It’s the icing on the cake, if you will. The simplest and hardest emotion to deal with.
What the fuck are you still doing here? Go write. I don’t have shit left to say. I think I said enough, thank you very much.
You’re waiting for a witty closing statement, huh?