>We all know characters need some level of emotional depth. But getting there isn’t always easy, especially when characters may face things that we never have. Sometimes it’s enough to just imagine how you would feel in that situation. Other times, you need more reality in your fiction. How can you create it? One way is by taking your own emotions and applying them to your characters.
What do I mean exactly? Well, we all experience a range of feelings, even on a day-to-day basis. And I think it’s safe to say we’ve all experienced at least one heart pounding emotion, whether good or bad. So even if we’ve never gone through exactly what the character has (e.g. witnessing a murder), we have deep, raw emotions from other experiences that we can draw from.
Let me illustrate: In my upcoming novel, Dead Locked, a good friend of my protagonist is murdered. This along with several other scary events leaves Imogen following a trail of emotions as well as clues. Have I experienced these exact situations? Happily, no. But I did lose my mother several years ago, which led to other weird and somewhat scary events, and I was able to channel those feelings and direct them into Imogen. I even cried writing certain scenes. So while the event may be different, the emotion is very, very real.
This won’t always work if the emotion for you is still too new. I could not have written like that right after my mom died. A little distance can help. It may also take practice. The idea of taking emotions out of context and applying them to fiction does not come naturally to me. I’ve had to work at it. My sister (a songwriter/producer) does this brilliantly and without thinking and always has. I’ve had to make a conscientious effort to learn. But my characters are two-hundred percent better because of it. And it’s becoming second nature now, which is a plus.
If you’re like me and have struggled to pull emotions from your characters, maybe it’s time to put your emotions to work. The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron has a lot of prompts that help you to use your background and feelings in a fictional setting. A lot of these exercises helped me start making better use of my own experiences. Above all, keep writing! That’s always the best way to improve.
How have your personal experiences enriched your writing? Do you find it easy or difficult to use your own feelings in a fictional context?