Monday, April 03, 2006


Ambiguity occurs when the writer does not trust her own experience with emotions enough and therefore ignores what it really feels like to be sad or in love or angry. A hefty part of writing is being able to explore our own inner lives, to tap into our own emotions and histories, to revisit things that perhaps are unpleasant . . .
One way we fall into ambiguity is by labeling an emotion rather than honestly exploring it. You can avoid this by studying a model from literature. Who is one of your favorite characters? What is his emotional journey? How does the writer take you along without falling into ambiguity? You will see that the character was created without emotional shortcuts or cryptic language to label his emotional self. Clarity and honesty brought this character to life, and that is how you will create believable emotional lives for your characters.

--Ann Hood, Creation Character Emotions, p. 10

One of the hardest challenges of fiction writing is getting our character’s emotions across through dialogue, the character’s actions, or numerous other devices without stating what that emotion is. Yet when we allow our characters to experience their own reactions—whatever they may be—the more likely our readers will be pulled into those same emotions.

I’ve had many times when a reader has approached me saying, “Your story made me cry.”

I usually probe further to learn what scene stirred such emotion, and I’m pleased when the person is able to relate the scene back in great detail. Yet even before the person answers the question, I have a few ideas of which scene it will be. How do I know? Those were the scenes that I wrote with tears streaming down my own face, hardly able to see my computer screen through a haze of teardrops.

After all, if I as the writer do not experience the range of emotions with my character . . . how can I expect my readers to?


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