Amping Up the Emotion in Your Writing

Well, I wasn’t able to attend Writer’s Group on Tuesday, so my wrap up is going to be more about my writing week than about what actually went on in group.

I took a workshop a few months ago, taught by the fabulous Lorin Oberweger, where she asked us to identify our protagonist’s predominant emotion in chapter one. Then she told us to start writing chapter one again with that emotion in mind, but this time, try to make the emotion over the top. She suggested that what we think might be over-the-top is actually exactly what the chapter needs.

So I tried it. I decided that my fifteen-year-old protagonist’s predominant emotion in chapter one was desperation. The book starts off with her living in a homeless shelter with her mom and she’s desperate to get out of there, to have her life return to the way it was before her mom started drinking. In my previous draft, her desperation was there, but it wasn’t over-the-top by any means. So instead of merely implying the emotion, I let it seep into everything—her narrative voice, her thought processes, her dialogue—so the whole chapter was dripping with it. And can I just say? Lorin was right. At first it felt like I was going overboard, but it actually makes her more relatable—and more likeable.

If you’re concerned that your first chapter needs more oopmph, I would totally try this. Identify your protagonist’s predominant emotion and then amplify that emotion to the point where you think it’s too much. You might decide that you don’t like it, but so much of writing is trial and error (at least for me) and if I didn’t try to stretch myself, I’d never get better.


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