Writing Fiction with Emotion

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”

— Natalie Goldberg

When was the last time a book changed you? What stories have made you think, cry, fall in love, feel uncomfortable, left you in a state of awe or despair?

Writing About Your Own Inner Life

When I think of emotional fiction, I always come back to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. The novel is about a young woman interning at a magazine in New York City. As she faces the intense social pressures around her, she sinks into a deep depression.

1. Borrow from Personal Experience

As writers, our lives inevitably bleed into our fiction, sometimes subconsciously but more often as a form of direct inspiration. We might hide our former loves in the pages, or inject emotions we’ve felt in real life into a funeral scene.

2. Explore Roads Not Taken

Through storytelling, you have the power to explore the paths not taken in your life and the feelings that evokes. Write Naked, Jennifer Probst’s book on her experiences as a romance novelist, talks about writing from your real self:

3. Find What Scares You

Author and editor John Matthew Fox expresses a similar sentiment as Jennifer Probst in writing about what you fear:

4. Seek Contradictions and Ask Hard Questions

Charlie, the main character in The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, says, “So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”

Illustration for “A Monster Calls” by Jim Kay

5. Create Beauty from Life’s Uncertainties

Ultimately, writing is a form of thinking. We don’t have all the answers; the best we can do is show the world as we see it and come closer to understanding ourselves. We can create beauty from life’s uncertainties.

How to Know You’re “Writing Naked”

Writing Exercise

Let’s do some soul-searching. Write about a time you felt ashamed, enraged, conflicted, or lost.

  1. Write this journal entry to an alien who has never experienced human emotion — and try to convey the intensity of the feeling in a way that makes someone share in your emotions.
  2. Now, think about a fictional scenario or character that you could imbue with that emotion.

The Risk & Rewards of Emotional Writing

The pieces of ourselves we hide in our fiction give the stories life, and readers seek out those intense emotions. Perhaps that’s why many popular novels are autobiographical; there’s power in vulnerability. As Jennifer Probst says:

Whatever you do, keep writing.

This post was adapted from a video on my YouTube channel Quotidian Writer. You can watch the full video below!

Fiction writer and editor, a.k.a. YouTuber Quotidian Writer. www.quotidianwriter.com

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