And here we are, distinguished ladies and gentlemen! This is officially the 50th article in the ‘Comsie Rambles On’ series! Hehehe! I just want to take a quick second to thank you all for the likes and comments, and for offering your own touches and advice on the topics being discussed. I’m still learning too! So I love to see them! And now…let’s take the first step taken towards Article #100!!! 😛
This weekend’s topic took some extra effort, trying to figure out how to put it into words that people could understand. Emotion can be such an intangible idea when it comes to explaining it or trying to bring it out in a story. Not to mention the fact that methods of doing so drastically differ from author to author, and it translates differently from reader to reader. But there is a hidden essence in all this that truly connects us all together in a variety of ways…and if we learn to tap into that energy, our stories can truly create some moving moments for everybody involved, writers and readers alike.
But how can I even approach a conversation like that?
The best way, I figured, was to do so through music. Music has this incredible ability to truly affect us when we need it most, and expect it least. It takes the intangible idea of being able to emote in your writing, and makes it a little more easily absorbed. It’s more than an inner concept. You can hear it. You can feel it. So I’d like to use that as my tool this week as we talk about bringing real emotion to the words we write, and how to dig even deeper once we know what were looking for.
As always, the idea behind this goes back to the whole ‘show, don’t tell’ mantra that every writer should keep going on in their heads at all times. When you’re writing, always remember that it is not enough to say, “My main character is sad.” Let your main character’s inner thoughts, sullen actions, and painful dialogue, display that. If done right, the sentence, “He/She was sad,” shouldn’t have to be mentioned. Instead, concentrate on what’s going on around that character. What led up to that moment? What might happen after that moment? How does this take the story in a ‘sad’ direction? If your readers have been absorbing all the details around this particular event or the circumstances surrounding this character, then their empathy should kick in and they’ll feel sad for him or her without you having to ‘tell’ them that they should. It’s like seeing a well decorated slice of cheesecake behind the counter at your local bakery. Hehehe, nobody has to ‘tell’ you it’s going to be delicious! You can look at it, you can smell it, you begin to salivate at the very thought of it. (Ugh…now I want some cheesecake!)
But this connection between you and your audience comes from digging really deep to the very core of the emotions that you’re trying to convey in your story. And that takes practice. Not just skill, as I’m certain you all have the skill, without a doubt. But practice. It takes time to really drudge up those emotions and memories and personal experiences that you might be drawing from to create that particular scene, and then put it into words. You have to ‘feel’ it, so your readers can feel it. I can, honestly, say that I’ve sat at this keyboard with tears in my eyes MANY times, myself, while writing some of the more painful moments in my stories. And while it may be emotionally draining, and it might force me to take a break from time to time…the effect that it had on my readers worked out even better than I ever could have imagined it would have. Hehehe, so…I guess you could say that I was proud to depress so many people at once. The sadist that I am! LOL!
But this comes from being able to really understand emotion in general, being able to relate to it from times in your life when you felt the same way, and then bringing that to the surface. Because, at its deepest level…I think we really have the ability to all relate to the shared experience of life itself. We’ve all been heartbroken at one time in our life. We’ve all been angry, we’ve all been scared, we’ve all been head over heels in love with someone, we’ve all been full of joy and fireworks. It might have been on different levels or for different reasons, but believe me…a 14 year old boy who got a Playstation 4 this past Christmas and a 65 year old man who got that first shiny bicycle in the store window when he was a kid BOTH understand the same kind of joy and surprise that comes with that. The bike or the video game isn’t the connection. The JOY is the connection. And you can touch the hearts of an infinitely wide range of readers once you teach yourself to make that part your focus.
So where does the ‘music’ come in, Comsie?
I want you guys to listen to a few songs down below that I chose specifically for this article. I want you to think about how these songs make you feel inside. The voice. The lyrics. The instrumental arrangements. And more importantly, how they all fit together. These were meant to ‘move’ you. They are presenting a particular feeling and guiding you to sympathize and possibly end up feeling the same way. Try to let go and feel what it wants you to feel. What is it doing to you? Why are you suddenly feeling something that you weren’t feeling before the story started?
This is a South Korean artist by the name of So Hyang. Now, a friend of mine shared this with me last year, and she is being hailed as one of the most emotionally moving singers in the WORLD right now. Naturally, I was skeptical. I mean…the world? Really? Ummm…but I have to admit, she is pretty damn moving to say the least. What starts off as a really cool, soft, and pleasant song…ends up as a near religious experience by the time it’s over. She’s about as close to a living, breathing, Disney princess, as you can get. Hehehe, I just listened to this again a couple of minutes ago, and I feel really good now! 😛
Give it a listen…
Now, when you think about the song itself and her performance of it…how did it affect you, emotionally? And why do you think that is?
No matter whether you’re a singer, actor, writer, painter, or architect…the unique value of your art comes from your personal ‘choices’. For a singer, it comes from knowing when to draw a note out, or to cut it short. To reach a higher tone, or a lower one. These choices may be pre-planned or totally subconscious and spontaneous…but it is those choice that personalizes the song to them and them alone. Writing is no different.
Can you move someone with text on a screen the same way that song might move you with visuals and audio and expert arrangements? YES! You can do all that, and a LOT more, in fact! Because the people reading your story have more than a few minutes to spend with the characters and themes that you’re hitting them with. If anything, your writing should be able to touch them on a level that a three to five minute song can’t reach. And while it may not be as immediately devoured as a song or a movie…the impact can be just as powerful. Just like these singers, you, as an author, have a ‘voice’. Your choices will make your story relatable and unique to everyone who lays eyes upon it. It’s all in how you communicate the emotion that you’re looking to broadcast to your audience.
I think that there’s something ‘unspoken’ between us all that can be instantly discovered when an artist presses the right button or finds the right trigger. Something about hearing that song above touched me. It connected to something within me that I might have buried or forgotten about. An old memory? An emotional experience? A faded dream? A release for some bottled up feelings that I never faced or dealt with properly? Who knows? But something about this particular song made contact with a deeper part of me. It went searching for certain emotional strings…and then gave them a little ‘tug’. THAT’S the power of being able to emote with your work. You can have all the vocal skill and training in the world, perfect pitch, breath control, and the best sound equipment that money can buy…but it’s the emotional connection that will always make your work stand out over everything else. There’s a spark, an untitled glow, to it that can’t be faked, manufactured, or imitated. I believe that emotion easily separates a really good story from a GREAT story. One that your readers will never forget.
Like I said, it takes practice. It takes exposure. And sometimes, it’s going to be exposure to feelings and memories that you may not want to relive or dwell on for any length of time…but the more experienced you become with experiencing those feelings, firsthand, the easier it will be to project those feelings through the characters in your story. Spend some time thinking about it. Take a moment, and think about that very first time that you really got your heartbroken. Go back to that time in your life…the pain, the tears, the denial, the acceptance…honestly approach those feelings, and think about how you (at that particular moment in your life) would have to explain how you were feeling. Put it in focus. “I felt like my heart had been torn in half by someone I trusted.” Good! Put that in your story! “I was so ANGRY that he cheated on me!” Great! Put that in your story! “I wish I never met her! It was like she destroyed my whole life!” Excellent! Take those emotions, and tell that story through the eyes of your main character!
I won’t lie…sometimes it hurts. It does. I’ve dealt with some really painful moments in my life through my stories. From “My Only Escape” to “Save Or Sacrifice” to “Never Again”…I had to draw from some pretty disturbing memories in order to write those out. But it can be a truly therapeutic experience when it’s all said and done. I don’t know…tears are good for the soul and all that. 😛
But the more you sort of dig around in that wound, the more you pick at that scab…the more you begin to get a clear understanding of the subtle differences involved when dealing with one emotion or another.
In the two songs below…they are both dealing with heartbreak. Someone that you love who is now attempting to be happy with someone else. Now, hearing that part of the emotional description, one would think that the songs would be pretty similar to one another. “I love you. You left me behind. I can’t let go.” They both deal with loss. They both deal with a mixture of pain and anger…so, I guess ‘painger’! Hehehe! However, give them both a listen. The emotion and the theme is the same, but lyrically and emotionally…they’re both sending out a very different message. Sad, yes. But the Yebba song is a bit more determined. She seems like she’s in pain, but there’s a certain feeling of strength and empowerment in her delivery. I can feel the pain in her performance. But she’s still standing strong, despite her being so close to breaking down.
However, in Conor Maynard’s highly emotional cover of Drake’s ‘Marvin’s Room’, he seems a bit more somber. More defeated. It feels more like he’s trying to maintain some kind of strength, but he’s struggling through it. It’s almost like he’s lost as to whether he’s going to make it or not.
And is he crying? it almost looks like he was crying! Geez! Where was this coming from? I think he was 17 when he covered this, so…recent heartbreak maybe? Who knows?
Anyway, you can tell two completely different stories from this subtle difference alone. One of someone getting over a massive heartbreak, or one of someone being crushed by it. Put yourself in both situations. Feel it in your heart. And think about how you would put those feelings into words when your characters are going through something similar.
The thing to remember is to always draw from your personal truth. Somebody out there has been through the same things that you have struggled through in your life, and when you make that connection…when you find a way tug on that heart string…the reader/writer dynamic becomes a symbiotic experience. When you dig deep enough…you’re no longer just telling your story, but their story as well. You reach out and you actually ‘touch’ a part of them that they didn’t even know was there.
Hehehe, I didn’t mean for that to sound anywhere NEAR as perverted as it did!
The subtle changes on one side of the emotion or another comes from the words you use, and the way you describe the plight of your character. If you want to empower them, your word usage should reflect that. The tone should be different. Convey strength through your descriptions and vocabulary. If you want them broken and hurt beyond repair…change the way you describe their handling of the situation. You wouldn’t describe both sides in the same way in real life if it were happening to you. So don’t do it that way in your stories. Pay attention to the difference. A sentence or two can make a huge difference in how your readers perceive your protagonist’s state of mind. And that state of mind can be the rise or fall of an emotionally potent scene in your project.
These next two songs show a slightly different take on the idea of misery. Just…plain misery. Now, this first one will always have a special place in my heart. Johnny Cash and his wife, the love of his life, passed away about 4 months apart from each other. After losing her, he said that his music was all he had left, and he made this cover of ‘Hurt’, originally from Nine Inch Nails’ album, ‘Downward Spiral’. This was the last video he ever filmed before he died, and the flashbacks to a long life of entertaining and basically being country music’s number one badass, mixed with the heartbreaking lyrics, is sure to twist a few hearts here and there when watching it.
The second video, however, is more ‘angst’ than misery. You watch the video and listen to the song, and while Alessia Cara is ‘miserable’ where she is, it has a totally different vibe to it. She isn’t sad about it. She just doesn’t want to be there. I remember seeing this for the first time and thinking, “Omigod, I remember being like that at a party!” I’m supposed to be having fun, but…I’m just not into this at all. I’d uch rather be somewhere else. Anywhere else.
Again, these songs have different tones to them. The inspire different emotions and therefore need to be treated differently in order to connect to different people. It all depends on what you’re looking to broadcast with the picture you’re painting for your readers at that moment.
Will it be Johnny Cash, a dark place with a slightly optimistic outlook? Or an Alessia Cara party place with a slightly darker, isolated, outlook?
Now, emotions don’t all have to be sad and depressing! Hehehe! Of course not! Evoking emotion comes in the form of love and joy and blissful happiness as well! So, don’t think that you have to have some kind of heavy drama going on in order to explain making an emotional connection with your audience. Some of my more lighthearted stories are extremely fun for me to write as well. “Kiss Of An Angel”, “Jesse-101”, and others have given me a few giggles and good vibes, typing them out. But still…joy is an emotion that you want to push forward when you’re writing your story. Let your readers feel it like YOU feel it. Right?
The slight shift in these two videos below is expressed mostly through an ‘internal’ and ‘external’ version of joy. Both by the same artist, same voice, same theme. However, in the first song (Which ALWAYS makes me smile when I hear it! Hehehe!) is all about feeling good. It has the kind of feeling that you get when you just wake up, the sun is shining, you’ve got the day to yourself, and everything is AWESOME! This is an internal joy. Nothing can touch you. It can’t bother you. It just makes you feel good inside! The music, the lyrics…everything about it is all sunshine and good vibes!
The second, while having the same theme, is more external. It’s sharing that joy with other people. It’s inspiring. It tells you that you can feel just as amazing as she does, if you only shrug off the bullshit and realize how beautiful you really are. (A song that I desperately needed to hear when it first came out and I was feeling down. Because…sighhh…’the internet’!) Both of these themes can connect to readers in a way that will keep them smiling until their cheeks hurt while reading your work. And that is what is going to make your writing memorable. It’s more than a story. It’s an experience. Something that they can go back to when they want to feel that way again. Something that they can share with a friend or family member when they’re in need of connecting to that happiness the same way that they did.
If only you knew how much power you had when it comes to affecting people on an emotional level. You really can change lives with what you write. One emotion at a time.
So, there we go! Emote control! It’s not about me telling you what to write or how to write it. You all have the talent and the passion to figure it out for yourselves. Your very presence here proves that. This is just meant to shine a spotlight on a few things that you may have a feel for, but never really pay attention to. It’s there. Many writers think about emotions in terms of joy, sadness, anger, jealousy, and indifference. But there are infinite shades of grey in between. Combinations and lethal cocktails and conflicting ideologies, that you can personalize and use to your story’s benefit. But the first step is diving into those emotions, feeling them fully, and attempting to figure out how they work for you and for your readers. Learn the subtle shifts from one to another. Teach yourself how to deescalate or intensify those emotions at will. And, as always…practice, practice, practice.
I’ve been doing this for almost 21 years now…and I still find new blind spots that I didn’t pay attention to before. So get familiar with your own hearts, and go out there to give them your best. Do it better than I did.
Thanks for the love and support you guys! I hope the music/writing comparison helped to get my point across. Like I said, it’s kind of a hard thing to put into words. I love you all! And I’ll see you next weekend with more!
If you think you can’t find the emotional power within yourself, check out the video below. This is a Latin pop artist, Abraham Mateo. He made this back when he was only TWELVE years old! How a twelve year old was able to tap into such heartfelt emotion is a complete mystery to me! But listen all the way through. By the end of this song, its like, “Who IS this kid???” It just takes passion, effort, and practice. That’s it. If he can do it…you can too.
Best of luck!