26 thoughts on “Reader Friday: Emotional Scenes

  1. The use of music or other outside stimulus to get myself in the mood does not help. What works best for me it to put myself inside the character’s head, how he or she thinks, feels physically and emotionally, and would respond at the time.

    • Good advice, TL. Channeling the character’s emotions will ensure they show up on the page. You don’t need to have experience the same situation the character’s in, but drawing on the emotion that situation will evoke–fear, happiness, sorrow–helps the character become three-dimensional for the reader.

  2. Thinking of my best and most emotionally charged scenes, in none of those instances do I recall doing anything to get in the mood to write them–the intensity just happens as I write the scene itself (which actually is a good lesson to myself to quit overthinking things!) 😎

    • I don’t “prepare” either, BK. If you’re one with the characters, the emotions should flow. However, it helps a lot if you’ve experienced those emotions firsthand so there’s something to draw from.

  3. The scenes I’ve written so far in the two novels I’m working on contain elements and emotions I’ve experienced in my life. The death of parents, sister & brother, emotional family discord with some “cutting others off”, divorce, etc. are scenarios most of us experience if we live long enough, and I’ve lived them all. Human relationships make for some of the most heart-wrenching emotions, even if nobody dies.

    I dig deep and try to dredge up how I felt when…what made me feel that way, my instantaneous reactions and my more tempered reactions.

    Then I take a look at my character who I need to drag through it, re-read that character’s voice journal, my interview with the character, and the character’s back story to see how he/she would react. Sometimes I actually ask the character how he/she would react if thus and so happened. I’m still waiting for one character to answer me…:)

    Then I write it. I don’t go through all of this every time…it depends on the scene.

    • As I said above, I think we need to have a bank of our own emotions to draw upon, even if the circumstances are different. I recall an author saying as a young child, she got separated from her grandmother in a large open market setting, and she can draw on that fear for her writing, even though the scene has nothing to do with the original event.
      And I have a few characters who have given me the silent treatment, too. If they won’t talk, they’re stuck with what I show them doing.

  4. I use music to set the scene. A private playlist on YouTube works great. Then whenever I need sad or suspenseful music in a hurry, I just select it from the list. And voila! Somehow it always works.

    • Music is a great mood-evoker, Sue. I had a writing playlist, but it was more ‘generic’ than mood-specific. There were certain songs that seemed to create an emotional state. I really need to go through my music and sort it out for different emotions. Alexa’s my go-to.
      One caveat. You can NOT type to Scott Joplin.

  5. Great post, Terry. While it’s not always possible to draw on personal experience, I did so for a scene where a Sumerian hunter armed with only a spear faces a lion in the bush. I happened to have just such a “close-enough” encounter in Africa’s Okavanga delta. My wife and I were poled by dugout to a debarkation point where the guide pointed out that if confronted by any of the big five we should NOT run.

    There we were, just Mshepe and four of us city folk. No fences, no bars, no moats. Then we CHASED a fresh lion track. Turned out to be three females and their cubs. They weren’t interested in us, but we got within 50 yards. Next was a bull elephant browsing in a copse. He saw us and did a mock charge with trunk up, ears flared, several steps toward us. Mshepe, armed only with a knife, put us single file behind him and ordered us to WALK SLOWLY backward.

    I’ll never forget the feeling of outright exposure. We undefended humans were encroaching on wild territory belonging to creatures who would not hesitate to kill and devour. My Sumerian hunter had to fight paralyzing fear in order to bring his spear to shoulder height for his single chance at a charging male lion. The ordeal in his head, as he stalks, nearly stumbles on, arouses, and finally slays his lion, took me weeks to get right.

    So now I write city street scenes where the predators are cartel hit men and mob cleaners. Same difference. AFAIK those animals don’t devour prey–not sure I want to find out.

    • Wow! We never got out of our vehicles while we were in Africa. I do recall our guide having to shove an ostrich out of the way. It insisted on meandering down the center of the road.
      And an excellent example of transferring emotions from the wild to the mean streets.

  6. I’ve got a list of “mood music” on iTunes (remember iTunes?) Mainly culled from movie soundtracks. If I’m getting to write some intense suspense, for example, I put on Bernard Herrmann (Hitchcock’s guy) and float for a bit, then write. If it’s a heartfelt scene, I’ve got music for that. And so on.

    But for the most part, I use the sounds of a coffee house via Coffitivity!

    • I have never been able to write in social surroundings. That’s where I people watch, eavesdrop, “research” but I write in my office at my PC with my nice keyboard. Even moving downstairs to my Surface stifles the writing for me.

    • Please explain, Jim, the emotional transference behind the clink of spoon on coffee mug and a nun being stalked in an alley moments before she beats the living socks off a bully. Will ya?

  7. You need to change the name of the Friday blogs. This is a writer subject.

    Studying method acting theory can help. I suggest it to newer writers. I’ve fine tuned this to what I call being in the moment. I put myself in the character’s head. I figure out what his five senses are telling him and what the important information is from those five senses. I know his skill set, his emotional background, and his goals which fine tunes how he will react to what is coming at him. Then the part of me that is the writer in control says, “Action,” and I begin to type.

    As far as understanding those emotional moments. I equate like any good method actor. No one has ever come after me with a gun, but an abusive older brother taught me what it feels like to be stalked and out gunned. I’ve had a horse who weights a ton more than I do go crazy so I know fear and calculation in a physical moment. People I love have died, and I’ve known all kinds of love. All these experiences feed the inner character beast.

    • Marilyn. For the record, I did suggest the change, but was gently told it was for “readers of TKZ” who are, for the most part, writers, so I let it drop.
      More good points about drawing from personal experiences.

  8. I can’t start a writing session by writing an emotional scene. I have to get a running start on it and let the emotion build organically. I guess that goes to Marilynn’s reference to method acting–about which I know no more than what James Lipton and his guests taught me on Inside the Actor’s Studio.

    For me and my characters, though, tapping the emotion is only the first part. Then I want to show them controlling it. One of the things that I believe leaves emergency responders a bit damaged (myself included), is the necessity to push emotions away. When parents have lost a child, or a child has lost a parent, that is not the time for the paramedic to break down in tears. As human as the emotion might be, there’s a time and a place, and mid-emergency is neither.

    My strongest emotional scenes, I think, come when I can tap into that intentional control and convey it onto the page.

    • “My strongest emotional scenes, I think, come when I can tap into that intentional control and convey it onto the page.”

      Well said, John. I’ve heard workshop presenters point out it’s not the crying that evokes the emotion in the reader, it’s the NOT crying.

      • Remember the scene in “Brian’s Song” where Gayle Sayers is trying to break the news to the team about Brian Piccolo? That was the first time I ever saw my father cry.

  9. Not sure if I’m fortunate or just weird. Either way I can concentrate so completely that the real world doesn’t exist. I am the character, not in a physical sense, but an emotional sense. I write with Fox News on nice and loud not for mood enhancement but when I blot it out I’m in the right place mentally.
    Yesterday, I needed a shocking scene to help motivate my protagonist not to give up the fight. I reread the scene this morning. Two sentences only. I think it works. I won’t put it in this response, might be too much for some.

    • I’m taking a wild guess here and thinking you’re not writing a romantic scene with Fox News blaring in the “background.”

  10. I insert myself into it and imagine whatever it is happening to me. I have died a thousand deaths!

  11. I usually read a chapter or so out of an emotive, stunningly crafted, take-my-breathaway book. (I don’t usually bother with books that don’t do that to me.)
    My brain switches to create mode, (as opposed to procrastinate mode) and I write from the heart, with all the feels in place.
    I also believe in writing every day to keep my characters alive and active in the front of my mind.

    • Isn’t it wonderful that books can do that for us? I’m sure your books will do the same for your readers.

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