We writers are a funny lot. Everything in the world is grist for our mills. Current events, odd occurrences, nature, science, mysticism, religion, folk lore – well, you get the idea – learning about, knowing about almost anything is important to us. It’s all part of storytelling. But a little acknowledged fact is that all the great plots and interesting scenes in the world are not going to salvage your story from obscurity if there isn’t an emotional connection somewhere within them.
Emotion is what connects the reader to the story. It can be romance, fear, hope, desire, a longing for justice, a sense of empowerment, pathos – anything – but we must engender a sense of emotional connection and investment if we are to retain the reader’s interest. Parenthetically, I am speaking of the written word here but the same applies to any artistic medium. Take for example the movie Braveheart. Here was a film that was widely panned by the critics. Yet, the audiences connected with the character, story, and theme so emotionally, so viscerally, that the professional critics were overridden and it went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture of 1996.
This rant really is going somewhere but there are a couple more stops before it pulls into the station so bear with me.
Is it any wonder then that so many of the great writers were people of excess when it came to emotion. Jane Austen, disappointed in love became one of the earliest proponents of romance yet her writing is infused with a wonderfully biting wit and cynicism. And, despite the public display she made of her emotions in her writing, she demanded that all her private papers be destroyed upon her death so that her true depth of them would not be bared.
Charles Dickens was a man of deep feeling, committed to describing the plight of London’s poor. He was greatly affected by the reversals his own family suffered and, building upon that foundation, he poured his emotions into his works and thereby helped to increase empathy for the less fortunate in the emerging industrial age.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s anxiety that he might die during World War I drove him to hastily write his first novel. Despite never seeing the horrors of the trenches, his strong emotions – his anxiety that he might perish, his relief at escaping the terror, and probably his sense of guilt at having survived – all made him the voice of The Lost Generation and the Jazz Age.
These are but three examples of how personal emotions infuse the writer’s work. Now to the point.
Emotions, far more than mere experience and research, are the true grist of the writer and, in fact, the artist. It is our acceptance, our embrace of these sensations which gives our work believability, honesty, and connection. While emotions, especially intense emotions, can momentarily interfere with our ability to marshal the strength to write, they are never the less the very things of writing. Lately, I am relearning this first hand.
Tritely said, I am tossed upon a sea of emotions, none of them very pretty, and yet I find that the simple act of writing something – anything – is a balm which is almost without equal. Somehow, putting words in coherent order, trying to communicate sensibly via this medium helps order and place into perspective the turmoil within. Hopefully, it will also infuse our stories with a genuineness which reaches beyond the page and touches the heart.