Saturday, November 17, 2007

Creating Real Emotions

Emotion is what makes characters three dimensional rather than flat caricatures. The readers relate to the characters because they have experienced similar emotions that your characters experience. As your novel progresses, readers want to feel the same happiness and sense of security that your book dramatizes so they will be drawn into the story to see how their crises are resolved.

Emotion, then, is the crux of every good story. The senses are aroused, and readers react mentally to this stimulus. Emotions are not pure but complex. We often say we’re angry when we’re really disappointed, hurt, distressed, frustrated, or irritated—or a mixture of these emotions. This holds true for characters. What they feel is not one emotion but a blend. A child anticipating Christmas might feel happy, excited, and anxious but beneath those feelings, they fear that Christmas will not be what they’re expecting or the gift they most want won’t be under the tree. The child knows that Aunt June will be at the family dinner, and she always pinches the child’s cheek and makes him kiss her, and he doesn’t want to.

Knowing your character’s emotions is important because being angry is handled differently than being hurt, yet sometimes in real life we mix the two. So it’s logical that your characters might show anger, but the problem is deeper and more complex, and resolving the situation will take a different solution. A man facing his wife’s anger might scream back or walk out and slam the door, but if they woman is actually angry because she’s hurt, he could resolve this by speaking softly, expressing his regret, or doing something to make up for his past action that caused the problem. Think about at your own emotions to understand their complexities.

Emotion, then, is based on our past experiences, on our upbringing, age, personality and even the situations and circumstances in which we find ourselves . As you create characters, you will create a past or backstory for the main characters. You will want to define their upbringing, their successes and failures, their dreams and hopes, their traits and attitudes, and family discipline style and values. Raised in a family that doesn’t express emotions means the character will have only experienced certain outward reactions and will have been trained subconsciously to react in a similar way. This character will have probably a difficult time showing his true feelings. Families who are very outgoing and are openly demonstrative of their feelings will most often produce children who learn to hug, kiss, say I love you, cry and react outwardly to their feelings.

If you had a bad experience talking in public at one time in your life, you will approach speaking to a group with much more trauma than someone who has either found success or has no preconceived notions of failure, other than a normal nervousness of doing something different. If a man normally gets an agreeable response when asking a favor of his boss, he will approach a request with little hesitation. If his boss is always disagreeable, his need to ask a favor will result in a more traumatic attitude for the man.

Gender can create a significant difference in depicting emotions. On the whole, men and woman express motions differently. Most boys are raised to think they’re supposed to be tough. They’re not supposed to cry or like things that girls like. They are raised to believe they are the strong ones, the breadwinners, and the protectors. So they are usually not willing to show emotion like crying or being frightened. Instead, they hold their emotion at bay. They walk away or do something active to control the emotion. When woman are upset, men don’t want to talk about it or deal with it. They want to fix it. That’s there job. When they can’t fix it, they are frustrated. When writing fiction, try to remember these gender differences when creating characters. Naturally you’ll find exceptions, but make sure that your characters emotions fit their backstory, their personality, their experiences, and their gender.

Finally remember that reactions to stimuli are consistent. Someone afraid of speaking in public will be the same in various environments and situations. These responses will only change in time with growth of character and with new experiences that allow the character to change and alter past ways of dealing with emotion.

Since I’ve made numerous references to backstory, I’ll cover this next before moving into the techniques of creating emotions in fiction that readers can experience.


CG Walters said...

Thank you, Gail. Points well taken.

Anonymous said...

I think that the gender differences are an interesting idea to play with. In an average situation, if someone met an androgynous person, they could find it it difficult to interact with them because they are trying to figure out what they are to determine who they are. It introduces a new element to the situation. By understanding these behaviors, we are able to avoid our biases, and explore and explain what truly develops a character.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Yes, anonymous, with a clear understanding of gender differences in emotions and communication, authors can create very real tension and conflict into the plot.