Please pass the tissues emotional writing happening here.

A box of Scotties tissues

Image via Wikipedia

Nearly a year ago I sat down to watch an episode of Being Human the UK version. I had watched all the previous series and episodes. I fell in love with my favourite vampire, John Mitchell, who was one of the central characters. In this particular episode Mitchell is compassionately staked by his best friend. It was totally unexpected and it left me feeling some strong emotions for at least three days after. To me that was some powerful writing on the part of the show’s creators. It is what I aspire to do with the novels that I write.

Currently, I am working on my newest novel and am glad to report I am about 50k words into it. It is called Tale of a Handmaiden (working title) which is inspired by a flash fiction story that I wrote called For the Love of the HandmaidenQuite a few readers of my blog commented that they thought that piece could be bigger. Now nine months later I have become very familiar with the handmaiden and her story has started to unfold into a novel. I think perhaps there may be one more novel that falls more in line with the flash piece once this first novel is done.

Writing the handmaiden’s story is proving to be an emotional roller coaster for me. Even my husband has noticed this and commented on it. The other day for example I was writing a section where a particularly charming love interest was interacting with the handmaiden and my husband began to laugh. I asked him why he was laughing and he said that it was because of the looks on my face. Apparently I was actually grinning, grimacing and at one point wrinkling my nose while I was writing. Then last night I was writing a particularly difficult passage and I began to cry. I felt it so strongly as if it were a relative of mine that were experiencing the difficulty and I wanted to hug them. Writing this particular scene bothered me so much that I actually cut the 3,000+ words from the novel and put them into their own saved document. I decided to begin to rewrite the passage again tonight. I figure if it still happens the way I wrote it yesterday (which was not how I outlined it) then it will stay in the novel that way.

Whenever I sit down and watch what I consider to be a really good television programme or film, it is because while watching it I can relate to the characters and what they are feeling. It is the same with other forms of art. Nothing can bring back a memory of a certain time, person or place in my life like a certain piece of music can. Reading a good story is the same for me. I want to feel it through emotion as I read it. If an author can draw me in that way, then I become more connected to the book. When that happens then there is a good chance that I will carry on reading it all the way through to see what happens next.

How do we as writers make a future reader connect more emotionally with our work? We know we need to draw them in through allowing them to feel the story and relate it to their own personal past emotional experiences. We know they want to laugh, cry, fall in love or get goosebumps as they read. So we can try our best to give them quality “show me, don’t tell me” writing that pays attention to the emotional cues. But ultimately if we do not also feel the emotions as we are writing then we run the risk that the reader won’t either.

How about you? Does your own writing make you laugh, cry or sleep with a night light? Do you think your readers will also pick up on these emotional infusions in your writing?



About Billie Jo Schinnerer

Born and raised on the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment in eastern New York. Formerly a teacher. Moved to the North West area of England in 2003. Now a mother of three who doesn’t really know what she wants to be when she grows up.
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27 Responses to Please pass the tissues emotional writing happening here.

  1. Jody Moller says:

    Yes I have cried at my own writing before (I try to blame hormones when that happens!) and I have laughed. Hubby thinks I am crazy when I laugh while I’m reading (my own novels or someone else’s) although that is probably because he only reads non-fiction – not really all that funny I suppose.

  2. Cynthia Robertson says:

    I firmly believe that if we aren’t bored by our writing, that’s a good thing, because it means others won’t be either. I sometimes ‘come to’ and look around, and am glad i’ve been alone, because I realize I’ve been cackling, chortling, and crying like I belong in the looney bin. 🙂

    • I completely understand what you mean. I go into a bit of a trance like state when I write. I just never realised it was quite so apparent what types of emotion I was experiencing while writing until now. I think perhaps the looney bin might be full of writers.

  3. What about smells? Have you ever smelled something that brought you way, way back? That happens to me sometimes.

    Now that I think about it, I can’t say my own writing has ever made me emotional. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. 😉 I do have a childhood memory, though, of writing a story (probably at around seven or eight years old) about a boy who transforms into a hideous monster, and I wound up scaring myself. As far as I remember, it was called “The Boy Who Transformed”. Pretty original, huh?

    • Smells are so big for me too. I am an overly sensory based person anyway.

      Wow, that is a great memory of your early writing experience. Do you still have a copy of it? It would be amazing to write it again through adult eyes and compare how it changed with time and experience.

      I once read that good writers separate their emotion from their writing and do not get swept up in it. So with that train of thought perhaps you are doing it right and I am not. 🙂

  4. I’ve never made myself cry when reading my writing, although the novel I’m currently sending out to agents is a bit of a tragedy, and other people reading it have said it’s very sad, so I guess the emotions I want people to feel when reading it are gettingt themselves across. It’s got a lot of humour in it as well, as does most of my writing, and if I’ve left it long enough then I do find myself laughing when I read it back. And on the point of making certain faces, I read a study a while back that said that there are certain words that do illicit facial responses when we read them, but I can’t remember what words they were!

    • The study sounds like an interesting one. I can believe it because certain words do illicit strong emotional reactions from me.

      I have read through stuff that I put away for awhile and found myself reading it as if I had never seen it and then end up feeling the emotions but I suppose this is the first time I ever really thought about the fact that I am doing it while I am writing. My stuff does not tend to be funny though. I would love to have more humour in it.

      • It is great to be able to read stuff you’ve written and to have forgotten it. I often surprise myself by reading things back after leaving them alone for a while and finding upon returning to them that they are better than I remembered them being. I think perhaps I’m too critical when I write. I suppose I’m too busy thinking about the actual words when I write to notice the feelings – I tend to go back and make sure the emotions come across as effectively as they can in later drafts. I was going to say, from your example in this post, I didn’t think the piece in question was a comedy!

      • Ah, your writing process sounds like it is just different than mine. I lay down the emotion and sensory details of a scene and get the general framework of what is happening during my first draft and then go back and focus on the words in my rewrite and editing passes. I enjoy learning how other people work, it is fascinating how different we all are.

        And yes, although I would like to think I am funny in real life, I lack the ability to woo my readers with my comedic stylings using the written word. I think comedy writing is a unique talent which I know I do not possess. I will stick to science fiction and fantasy. At least that is where my comfort zone lies.

  5. Indigo Spider says:

    I do get emotional over my writing but I always assumed it was only me since I write from an emotional place to begin with. I hope it connects emotionally with the reader, it is what I hope and the ‘best’ books I’ve read always hit me emotionally.

    Oh, and Mitchell, yeah, I cried for days! So surprised, unexpected and very upsetting!

    • I have often read your pieces and felt the power of the emotion behind them. You are so gifted in how you combine the feeling with the imagery to create moving works. Therefore it does not surprise me at all that you feel it when you write.

      Poor Mitchell is right. I cried a little with the more recent deaths on the show but I must say it was nothing compared to Mitchell.

  6. Kaitee says:

    The only thing I’ve written that I never fail to get emotional about is the piece I wrote about my daughter’s birth. It’s also one of the few pieces I’ve shared openly with other people and the feedback I got was they cried a bit too. I try to write with as much emotion as I can because I’m a reader that likes to see & feel what I’m reading so I always have that in the back of my mind.
    I’m often caught out by my husband with a tear in my eye after reading or during a show with some unexpected teary/heartbreaking moments – without looking at me he’s always saying “stop crying” and most times I am, damn him.

    • Perhaps because you have allowed yourself to experience the emotion more in real life, it has allowed you to feel it less when you write about it. And yes, these husbands have a way of catching us when we are caught up in something. Apparently I also have a different way of breathing when I write too.

  7. Not only do I laugh and cry, etc. while writing, I frequently find myself banging my head on the desk. . . 😆

    Good post, and good work. I wish you well and

    enough. . .

    • I have felt frustration on occasion too but that usually comes mainly into play when I am editing and rewriting. That is when the real head slapping, hair tugging and foot stomping happen.

  8. Evelyn says:

    its so funny because I had a similar experience the other night when editing the novel!

  9. Jo Eberhardt says:

    I do exactly the same thing. In fact, I sometimes have to stop writing so that I can make the character’s hand gestures as well as their facial expressions. I laugh at funny bits (my writing includes a fair bit of humour), have sobbed my way through writing entire scenes, and roll my eyes when my protag does something particularly stupid (it happens more often than I’d like). If I’m writing a combat scene or an intensely physical scene, I also find myself getting up and acting it out in between sentences, making sure I understand exactly how my body moves, and how the action itself makes me feel — this isn’t a way to write more accurately, you understand, I just can’t seem to get by without experiencing everything as the character does.

    Yeah, I’m pretty sure all us writers are insane.

    • I now have an image of you walking around doing this and it is making me laugh as I am reading this which in turn has just made my husband roll his eyes at me again. At least we crazy writers are all in very good company with each other.

  10. I relate to your post very much. A story I wrote for a fan fiction site some time ago has been left untouched for a few months. When I went back to it recently I found myself so immersed once again in my lead character – to the point it hurt and made my chest ache to read a particular chapter and brought back ten fold the strength of feeling I have for her. The characters I create are each part of me; not necessarily in a way that likens them to me as a person, but they are a part of me. I can only describe it as that. When I create my characters I want to get right under their skin, in every way. Really feel them. Those are the kind of characters I like to read and that have the most impact on me. My hope is that this drive and conviction in doing them justice in my writing will translate to anyone who reads my work.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Wonderful as always!

    • Thank you for that. I understand what you mean about the characters being part of you. My characters are often nothing like me in how they act or react to situations but somehow they see to be part of me too.

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