Saturday, November 24, 2007

Emotion - Researching Emotions

Designing character’s backstory is the best way to begin creating emotions. Once you understand who your character was and who he is now, you can see the logical ways his past has affected his present life and how he will act and react to stimulus. This action defines emotion.

Remember that even birth order can affect how a character responds to things around him. You can use a search engine for more details, but briefly here’s a sketch of information:

FIRST BORN: The first born is highly motivated and demands great things of himself. He’s received much attention as a child and now senses he must live up to the focus he’s received. He will often by a Type A personality, driven to excel and unforgiving of himself when he fails. His emotions will be more dramatic—anger will be seen more readily and pleasure too.

MIDDLE CHILD: The middle child blends into the woodwork. This is the quiet and often unseen child who spends time in his room or away from the home. Feeling in competition with the oldest child, this child looks at himself as insignificant and unable to meet the same standards as his older sibling. Since he can’t find the same niche as this brother or sister, he’ll seek friendships outside the family home and will not connect as well with the family. His emotions will be more internal, and he will look for support outside the family.

YOUNGEST CHILD: The youngest child gets so much attention that he begins to think of himself as either king or jester. This child will often become the clown or the rebellious one. Unlike the middle child, he wants attention so he gets it one way or the other. He will learn to manipulate people, to be more secretive, to talk his way out of problems. The youngest child will be lazier than the other children—more laid back, and the future can hold the extremes of being an addict when it comes to drugs, alcohol, or food or to be a politician, salesman or someone in a career that takes charismatic personalities and persuasive abilities.

When you add a dysfunctional family to the mix, the characteristics will skew even more, and once again this information can be provided through research, but it is obvious that birth order tends to affect how the adult will relate to others and respond to outside stimulus.

Once you’ve gathered research about birth order, family dysfunction, and backstory, you can begin to bring this character to life through your own experiences. Study your own families and yourself to see how the past has played out in your life. You’ll see how each family member emotes differently depending on the things that befell them earlier in their lives. This will help you create characters since you can give them similar responses.

You can also take past emotion in your life and recall how you responded physically and mentally to experiences of fear, love, anger, grief, nostalgia and the whole realm of emotion. Did you keep it inside? Did you react outwardly? Did you tremble? Did your heart pound? Did you feel dizzy? Once you recall your responses to various stimuli, you can reproduce that in your fiction. For example, if you were alone one night and thought you were being followed as you headed down a dark street to your car, you can think back and remember your body’s response. Then if you create s scene where a character is really being stalked, you can provide realistic physical and emotional reactions to this event.

Sometimes I re-enact events. I think about being angry and act this out by myself to see how my body and mind respond to this feeling. I look in a mirror to see the way it affects my facial expressions, my body and my posture. But if you’re not a good actor, then you can do this by observing others. Spend a couple of hours sitting in a mall or a coffee house and observe people. You can see a whole realm of emotions passing by, and you can observe the look of an emotion. You can see a mother thinking her child is lost or being upset with a child. You can observe a couple in love, holding hands and creating a sense of intimacy in a crowded place. You can see two people talking politics or making a decision about a purchase.

Another option is to watch reality TV. Spend an hour taking notes as you watch Jerry Spring show or Oprah. Observe the characters on these shows and notice all of the physical responses— body gestures, facial, and vocal tones. When you’ve given emotions thought and note how they are shown, you can use this information to create real life emotion in your characters by reproducing these imagines in your novel.

Emotions don’t stop here, next, I’ll talk about applying these emotions and techniques you can use to show them to your readers.


Cheryl Shaw said...

I am so thankful that you have started this blog. Of the gazillion of blog links posted daily on ACFW, yours is the most informative and helpful one I have seen.
Thanks you! Your effort is greatly appreciated

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Cheryl - Thanks so much. I'm so pleased you're finding the blog helpful. My book, Writing the Christain Romance, is filled with so much more plus wonderful examples from published Christian novels.

It's great to know you're benefiting from this.


Camille (Cannon) Eide said...

Hi Gail,
I'm working on a faith based, relational drama/romance. I'm excited about your blog and am working hard to learn about the craft as I write this.

One issue with emotion I'm having right now is this: I've come to a heartbreaking point in the story, actually, there are several emotionally dramatic events strung together around one major one.

While trying to get all the emotional responses and dialogue right, I'm afraid it's getting too melodramatic. It's starting to sound like a script for a soap opera, and I don't want that. Maybe it's okay to get in as much emotion as I can at first, then I can go back over it and shave out the sap.

Any advice or suggestions?
btw, I pre-ordered your WTCR book, can't wait to read it!

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Camille -- Yes, that's a great technique. Learning a good balance between emotion and too much is important. You're correct in not wanting to go overboard. Again, look at your life and the way you handle emotion. Make it real. We cry, we ache inside but we get on with life. Thoughts come into our minds and we feel tears pushing behind our eyes, but we can't go on and on. We have to show strength of character as well, and if it's faith-based, then it's a good time to ask God for help and to realize that the answer is in His hands and not your own. This pulls back from the drama and makes it more real.

I know the book will help you so much more, because it is filled with examples of every technique that's in the book from my books but even more from other well-known Christian authors. Thanks for pre-ordering. I hope you get the book around the holidays. That's what I was told --but then who knows. (grinning)


CG Walters said...

Again...thank you, Gail.
Very good information.
many blessings,

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi CG -- Thanks for dropping by. I'm pleased that you found the information interesting. I'm giving some very general information from my book on writing coming out with Writers Digest at the end of the month.
That sale to WD was amazing. The book is loaded with not only info and how-tos but also examples from other popular ficiton writers.

Thanks for leaving the three comments.