Extrapolating Your Feelings: Writing Emotional Scenes

frost quoteA good story will make us feel. It may be happiness, grief, elation, anger, fear, sadness. We find ourselves so lost in the story, so connected to the main character, that we become a part of them. We feel their pain, their joys, and their sorrows.

As a writer, you’ll no doubt come across a scene in which your character stumbles into a life-altering event, making his world come crashing down on his head. Death or loss of a loved one. A failed quest. Being betrayed by a best friend. Or, on the complete flip side of the coin, it may be an event that completely alters his life in a positive way — a realized love, a successful quest, being reunited with a long lost friend.

But how do you actually write about an emotion powerful enough to make your readers feel it too? I like to think of it as “extrapolating” your feelings.

Emotionally charged scenes can be tough to write, especially if it’s something you’ve never really had to experience before. To some extent, though, we’ve all experienced wide ranges of emotions. We can take those experiences and apply them to those emotional scenes.

When writing these types of scenes, there are a few steps you can take.

  1. Before you even write that first word of the scene, stop. Take a few moments to really think about what kind of emotions your protagonist is feeling, depending on the situation and what type of personality they have. How do they react? What kind of reaction makes the most sense for that character? It’s important to have a deep understanding of what kind of person they are to determine what emotions they’re feeling in that situation. Make a list of those emotions.
  2. Think back to times you have felt those emotions, even if it was a completely different situation than your character’s. What was running through your mind? How did it physically make you feel? Was your heart racing? Head spinning? Nauseated? Now go back to your list and write down the physical sensations you associated with each emotion.
  3. Going back to your scene, look at how you can apply your list to your character’s situation.

For example, when I was writing a scene involving death and loss, I had to sit for quite some time (we’re talking days, here) and had to think long and hard about what emotions I have experienced. I’ve never watched someone die, nor have I lost immediate family or loved ones. What sort of things would I feel if I were watching someone die? I’ve experienced hopelessness and despair in depressive episodes. I’ve faced death in the past and feared for my own life. It took time, but I drew from what I know.

It’s not easy dredging up all those old emotions when writing the difficult scenes. But don’t forget to extrapolate your emotions when it comes to happier scenes. Apply the way you felt during good times to those scenes, too.

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