Thursday, May 5, 2011

TIPS: 5 Methods To Build Emotional Realism

We've all been there. We're writing up our characters who we've said are enraged by a terrible injustice and yet (aside from a statement saying they're angry) their thoughts are all about how cute the secretary is, how much they liked the latte, and whenever they talk to someone, their word choices and sentence styles are the same as always. Or we've written a character who, despite signs around them that would make me crawl under the bed and hide, are just kind of chilling out and worrying about the hum drum issues that really wouldn't register in a fit of anxiety. I know I've done it. My first draft of Curse of the Rose / The Butterfly Lady involved a lot of critters telling me to give them 'more POV'.

What they meant when they said that was that they didn't know what the character was thinking / feeling. They were distant from the character. It also indicated that I hadn't fully set their emotional states on the page in any of the main forms. So, here are a few ways to realistically portray emotion.

1. Memory. Cast your mind back to the last time you were in pain, heartbroken, angry, scared, or what have you. What did you think about? What did you notice? I know, for example, that when I'm angry, my best friend's stroll can set my teeth on edge because an Angry Me is an Impatient Me. I know I'm not going to be thrilled about any queues, line ups, or anything else like that. Most people I know are the same way though they might express it differently (glares, passive aggressive increased walking speed, pushing in, snapping at someone, turning their anger directly at the victim).

2. Descriptions. Note how a queue can look differently depending on how you're feeling. If you're madly in love and have bumped into a friend in a queue, you might be happy to stand there and gush about your romance. If you've won the lottery (i.e. ecstatic), very little will wipe the smile off your face. If you're sad, you might not care where you are. What do you think those feelings will do to your perspective? How might you interpret the stimuli around you? Who would you notice? How would you describe it? Mood very much affects perspective so let your Point of View Character's mood affect what you describe and how you describe it.

3. Dialogue. The next time you're emotional (or someone else is) try to also pay attention to what you're saying and how you're saying it (a difficult feat in certain situations). Anger often makes sentences shorter and more abrupt. Excitement can create longer, flowing, muddled sentences. Happy people generally pay more attention to social niceties and are more interested in other people than sad people. These are all generalties, and there are other ways people express emotion through word choice and tone, so pay attention to them and then see how you might relay that through your dialogue.

4. Personality. Pay attention to how other people behave, on television and in real life, to certain stimuli. Television isn't always a good example as it's pre-packaged and fake, but if you pick scenes that resonated with you, odds are it had a believable element. I loved the fear responses in the movie REC. It felt very real to me. So, even though I have no way of watching terror in other people in real life, I can sit down and analyse the different personalities in that movie and how they displayed their fear. Some converted it into anger and targeted other people. Some panted and looked like they were going to throw up. Some just became very weak and helpless.

5. Brainstorm. Brainstorm reactions to those emotional events. This can really help you move away from stereotype. If you brainstorm 10 possible reactions per major event per character, you can then pick the most likely reaction rather than falling back on the old standbys such as Military Man converts fear to anger and wants to fight out his differences; Housewife falls down in a puddle of helplessness. It might be that this time, with this stimuli, Bob the Military Man falters as he expects to know what to do in a situation but this one is totally beyond his skills while Josie the Housewife is too busy keeping it together for her loved ones to fall apart and that focus helps keep her strong.


So there you have it, 5 methods of getting across the emotional reality of your story. Hope this helped! If you have any more, or have examples you want to put across (especially movies / television shows / books that demonstrated an emotion really well), feel free to mention them in the comments.

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