Creating authentic emotion in your novel


A really good novel is one that connects with the reader at an emotional level. Finding that authenticity can be challenging.

Try too hard and it comes across as phony. But if you don't try at all, your characters and tone have a blandness that isn't compelling.

I haven't had time to write fiction for a while, but one trick I've used in the past is to stockpile snippets when I'm experiencing intense highs and lows.

Life happens. It has ups and downs. Loved ones pass away, have babies, get married, have arguments, make love. You're deliriously happy because your candidate won the election … or you've been crying because your candidate lost.

And the brains of many writers are just wired differently anyway. Writers are more susceptible to depression or other mental illnesses. For some great reading on the connection between writers and mental illness, I recommend checking out The Neurological Similarities Between Successful Writers and the Mentally Ill. (The article isn't as dry as the title 🙂 )

Taking time to "write in the moment" brings to the surface the most accurate descriptions of those emotions. They read as "real" because they ARE "real."

Now this takes discipline, I know. And mining the emotions of a happy moment is easy to do. Tougher is setting aside the feeling that it's somehow selfish to be mining low moments for creative purposes.

You've got to acknowledge that you need to deal with whatever terrible thing just happened, regardless.

Journaling is an accepted method of what therapists call "self care," and it's much better for you than drinking, which is what a lot of writers tend to do. You're taking lemons and making lemonade.

You don't have to be in the middle of writing a novel to do this. In fact, it works best if it's part of your daily routine.

When the highs and lows happen, open a Microsoft Word file and write for two or three minutes.

Soon you'll have a folder full of powerful writing that you can tap when you're having a great day but your character needs to have a lousy one. (And vice versa.)