Emotions. Some people have them, some people don’t. Some people weep at weddings, some people sit like rocks at funerals. However you, or your character, decides to portray emotions, you both need to realize that they are a necessary part of a story.
Emotions make the narrative live and breathe. You can have a stellar story, charismatic characters, and pretty prose, but if you don’t have emotions flowing along underneath, the story is dead. Unless you can convey more through your words than they actually say, your story is worthless. This is what people talk about with correct word choice. You can choose strong verb after strong verb for your story, but if it doesn’t convey emotions, then what? I made that mistake earlier this year when I redrafted the same short story, but with “stronger” language. It doesn’t work unless you have the emotions.
How? I don’t know. No certain word will suddenly make your writing emotional. There is no formulaic paragraph. It’s personal taste, really, and making sure you aren’t so bogged down with rules that you can’t write freely. There is no perfect number of sentences for a paragraph. Your speech tags shouldn’t always be “said”, nor should they always be different from “said”. The only thing that can kill emotion is logic, and since writing is emotional, logic has no place. There’s a reason recipes say “Add salt to taste.” Some people like salt, some people don’t. It’s a matter of taste. If there was a formula for everything, we wouldn’t have free will; the world would be on a default pleasure setting that everyone likes. Not even dystopian societies have that much control. Humans are creatures of emotion. If there was none, we wouldn’t be human anymore.
There is a technique I recently heard about, in which you take your story apart and attach a specific emotion to every scene, making sure you don’t have two identical emotions next to each other. Then you weave those emotion into the narrative. Happy, stubborn, greedy, sad, tense, whatever you choose– but that’s what you have to stick to.
Let’s assume all that is true. Again, how do you stick all that in your writing? Robert Frost has a famous quote:
No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.
Sadness and surprise are emotions. If there are none on the writer’s end, there will be none on the reader’s end. Thus, we must get ourselves to feel the emotions in order to give them to the readers. It’s understandable if you’re writing the death of a favorite character; after the death of one of his characters, Alexandre Dumas includes an exclamation of grief whenever the character is mentioned. It wasn’t overkill– it was sad. The author is still trying to say goodbye, and the reader can feel his grief.
But how does that work if you know the next plot twist? How do you surprise yourself when you know something’s going to jump out of that corner? How do you get yourself worked up if you’ve been planning this death in detail for months?
When something is unexpected, emotion always comes with it. Humor only works if it’s unexpected, in my opinion, and humor is an emotion. (More or less. I should say, the result of humor is laughter, which is an emotion. More or less.) So, when humor pops unexpectedly to add emotion where there was none, should we just add humor to every emotional scene?
No. Not all emotion is the same. Happiness and sadness are, quite obviously, different. Why add a happy moment to a scene you want to be sad? But how to add the unexpected to a scene you’ve been planning for months?
I’m not at all sure yet. It might be that you have to put your writerly status behind you and write like a reader for a while. You still know what’s coming, but you live in the moment of the story instead of dwelling on it. And I suppose that’s what happens. You write as if you, as well as the reader, as well as the character, are living this as it happens. You focus on something completely unrelated to that emotion, then spring it on them unexpectedly. But still, that sounds an awful lot like a formula.
As you can see, I have no idea how this works yet. I think it’s just to taste, as I said before. Emotion is everywhere within a good story, just as it is within life. Your word choices, metaphors, paragraph structure… it all conspires together to create a feeling inside the reader. There is no right or wrong way to do this, and it irks me. I confess, I like formulas a little too much, even though I profess to dislike them. It’s going to be different for everybody, but the one thing that is always true is this: a lack of emotion kills.