Living the Moment

You’re at that point in the manuscript where you have to show and not tell the depth of emotion your character is experiencing. How do you do it? What methods and techniques do you employ to stimulate your own feelings so you can transfer them onto the page and let them live through your character?

Laura: I’m going with what for me is an extremely effective method – listening to music. I’m a big Kate Bush fan and she has songs for every emotion. ‘Moments Of Pleasure’ gets me everytime. It’s reflective and melancholy. It’s about loss. It’s about memories. I’m listening to it now and I can feel my throat constricting, my stomach tensing and if this blog was ink and paper, it would be blotted. Christina Perri’s ‘Jar of Hearts’ is another that sets the mood. I have reasons as to why these songs move me, and I guess they’re what help me step into my character’s shoes. Ultimately, it comes down to drawing on one’s personal experiences.

And for those positive and winning moments I’m turning to Kate Bush once more – told you she has a song for every emotion – ‘Eat The Music’  for energy and vitality, and the Kelly Clarkson song that should get every heroine through the worst of times – ‘Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)’  And no, I’m not going to tell you what I listen to  before writing a love scene.

Jan: I tend to draw on my own emotional experiences or those of family and friends whose feelings, facial expressions and actions I’ve witnessed during life’s torrid, dramatic or exhilirating moments. I recently wrote a scene which involved one of my female characters having to tell her best friend a few home truths about her attitude and can recall being in that very position with a work colleague, albeit a fair few years ago. I can vividly picture how nervous I was; the palpitations, fluttering tummy, the pacing up and down, rehearsing what I was going to say to her and how best to brooch it. I’ve never forgotten that encounter and so I just tried to transfer the feelings I had that day onto my character.

Another way that helps me evoke those all important emotions when I’m writing, is to keep a note of scenes I’ve either read in a book or viewed on screen; pinpointing what it is about them exactly that has either driven me to tears or made me howl with laughter, or alternatively, want to drop-kick the TV in anger. I read a book last year called After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell which affected me for days, purely because of how the author had portrayed the depth of her main character’s emotions. I can remember giving Mr B a massive hug when I’d finished reading it, and really appreciating how dear he is to me – after I’d nagged him about putting his work clothes in the washbin, of course! 😉  

Sue : Like Laura, there are lots of songs that I can draw on for emotion and inspiration but there are quite a few films as well which have moments in them that have stayed with me …

Last of The Mohicans, the waterfall scene where Daniel Day Lewis tells her that he will find her, no matter what … The emotion and sentiment makes me melt every time and is great for writing strong meaningful scenes.

Bonnie & Clyde (1967) the death scene where Bonnie and Clyde exchange a look just before they are shot. It’s just one look but says so much. That to me means that the relationship between the two of them has been portrayed so well throughout the film, leading up to that moment and one look, one second just confirms it all.

Public Enemies, Coat Ticket scene – this is great for showing a mean and moody bad guy who is actually getting his way. It shows the emotion in Johnny Depp’s actions rather than the emotions in his words. I also like it because the heroine is not being a pushover, she stands up for herself yet ultimately, not able to resist the lure of danger and excitement.  This scene is my inspiration when I want to write a good bad guy .

Celia: I’m totally in love with my new work space just now – having had a big re-organisation of furniture and moved my dad’s lovely desk in here, I just need to sit in front of it and the memories of him flood back. I think this makes me more receptive to feelings and emotions I need for writing. My skin is very thin at the moment but that’s no bad thing when you want to tap into deep emotions. And I’ve got all my belongings in the drawers too so I feel really sorted for once! Not quite sure how long this state of play will last though  – I ‘ve never felt this organised before…t’ain’t natural somehow…Also you might see my dad’s sound system on the right; I’m going the whole hog and listening to Classic FM while I write. haven’t got a clue what I’m listening to most of the time but it seems to be working!

Lucie: As with Laura, and I’m sure a lot of other people, I do turn to music a lot for evoking my emotions to be able to write a convincing scene and connect with my reader. And again, I must agree with Laura with Christina Perri’s ‘Jar of Hearts’ being one of my favourites, alongside Madonna’s ‘You’ll See’ and more recently, some earlier Green Day tracks.

However, saying this, I do work well from visual aids and I regularly use photographs and various images to help conjure up feelings, emotions and sometimes just to get ideas. Here are a just couple of pictures I have used in the past. 

Debbie: Well, between us, I think we Romaniacs have had quite a lot to contend with over recent months and I think much of the answer to this question, for me anyway, comes from drawing on my own experiences and having the ability to empathise.

Most of us writers are sensitive souls. I certainly am. I often ‘feel’ other people’s pain and angst. Therefore this is one aspect of writing which seems to come easily to me. Like a couple of the girls, if I’m really struggling, I have been known to turn to music, (although for me, it’s classical – something mean and moody – anything by Henryk Gorecki seems to do the trick, especially his symphony No. 3 “Sorrowful Songs” – Lento e Largo )

However, as a rule it doesn’t usually take me long to get myself into the right frame of mind when it comes to writing about emotional matters. I can easily transport myself into a scene, dig deep into my sack of life’s experience and often ‘visualise’ it, a little like watching a film set, in my mind’s eye. Being the emotional and deep person I am, this is one of my favourite aspects of writing and I relish it!

Liz: There is nothing more inspiring than watching the sparkle appear in a heroine’s eyes as her stomach flips when she sees her hero walk through the door. So rather than stalk love sick couples, risking odd looks and a looming injuction – I watch movies.

I find myself having to rewrite a sentence at least three times before it becomes ‘showing not telling’ and when I’m really stuck, I turn to the DVD player.

Being the girl that got scared watching Harry Potter and who had heart palpatations watching Lord of the Rings – my DVD collection is consistent to say the least. I love watching the love story unfold beneath the twists and turns of the plot, and for me – this helps me write from an angle that shows rather than tells.

Catherine: For me, it has to be a good walk. Whenever I’m stuck for inspiration in front of the PC, the answer usually comes when I walk away from it. I’ve always found walking allows me to tackle my thoughts and often my over active imagination gets going. For years I have always been an observer and my brain goes into what I’d call a ‘Slidiing Doors’ technique. Like the movie, I will take a real life scenario I’ve seen and turn it into something different. Because I’ve done it for so long it has allowed me to tap into emotions I may well never have experienced myself.

What gets your heroine weeping her heart our and your hero belly laughing?


8 thoughts on “Living the Moment

  1. I’m with Catherine – I go for a walk, put myself in my heroine’s shoes and feel for her. When I know what’s at stake, when my characters stand to lose (or gain), I can usually create enough second-hand emotion to put down onto the page!

  2. I’m with all of you. Music, films, photos, own experience, witnessed experience, occasionally food, very occasionally all of the above together. Great post!

      • What can I say? Chocolate inspires me to write romantic scenes. If I feel really swish, I might have some strawberries and a very small glass of fizz. Not saying I write while drunk… but sometimes it helps to set the scene for me as well as my characters. 🙂

  3. Ok. Reply from a saddo here. I do the ironing if I’m stuck in a scene or have to go off on a ‘flight of fancy’. Failing that, I have some music that I’m only allowed to play in my study – Celtic harp music if you must know – that always transports me into another world. Failing that, I tell myself that, under no circumstances, will I be allowed to write that day. And being as I NEVER do as I’m told now I’m a grown up (!) it spurs me on. Reverse psychology or what ?!

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