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How to write feelings

Today is the last day that you can enter to win a book or gift certificate from my fabulous agent Diana Fox just for buying Alcestis. Details here!

I saw this post by Donald Maass about awe linked recently. Interesting stuff, and I think some of the tips — especially the question “Now, how will you provoke that emotion through action alone?” — are excellent. But I actually worked in precisely the opposite direction when writing Alcestis. I tend to be a quiet writer in terms of emotions, and the book as published contains far more emotional content than the first draft did (hard to believe, I know; words like “cool” and “restrained” seem to pop up in reviews!). I was reading a lot of Virginia Woolf — really a lot, I just shelved my Woolf again after moving the other day and it’s quite the little collection — and I noticed that, in To the Lighthouse in particular, her narrators often say something as simple as: “Character X felt Y.” (I’ve mentioned this before, I think.) That’s what Maass suggests writers avoid, and for good reason. If that’s the only tool you use to create emotion, it’ll lose effectiveness quickly. But I went through and added some clear statements of emotion to the manuscript, and I think it helped. Sometimes, one does just feel, and it’s okay to say that directly.

Speaking of strong feelings, do read J. K. Rowling’s essay on single motherhood and Tory politics, whether you’re a UK voted or not.


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