Getting ‘in the mood’

What do you do if you aren’t in the right frame of mind to write a particular scene or section of your story? Is it a case of sitting down to the job anyway and attempting to write yourself right, or is it a case of preparation and research to get you in the mood, or do you even admit defeat and move on until you are in a better position to tackle that scene?

I’m not talking about writer’s block here. I’m referring to the emotional content that, as writers, we have to invest into our work. This week I am a particular juncture in my novel whereupon two characters fall in love. The story calls for me to write it from a first person viewpoint. But how can I be convincing when I don’t remember what it is like to be in the fresh phase of early love? Trying to reach back and scrape together my personal experience just isn’t doing it for me – not because I’ve never been in love, but because right now it just doesn’t move me. Right now, I’m seeing love from a purely functional viewpoint.

Not quite the way to see love if you're IN love

Not quite the way to see love if you’re IN love

So, how can I re-discover those moments to bring the writing to life and not have it read like a chocolate-box of clichés that is currently my key reference for ‘falling in love’? How can I make it believable if I can’t even convince myself?

The important aspect to address, firstly, is that I have ascertained that it is ‘Me, The Writer’ who has the problem, and it’s not that my characters don’t want to fall in love (they were very happy to do so in an earlier draft) and not that the plot has caused issue (they do need to fall in love for the plot to work, but it doesn’t feel like that’s what’s wrong here). It’s most definitely my problem. I sit down to tell the tale of these two love birds and any words I get on the page read like hackneyed attempts of imitation.

What are my options?

I could try listening to some love songs: see if I can tap into the emotion being expressed there. I do happen to be going through a Country-Western phase at the moment (thanks, Nashville!), but perhaps that’s the part of the problem. All I’m hearing are the break-up blues rather than the raptures of being in love with someone. Need to change tack there methinks.

I could read a great love story. Although I’ve never been a big fan of the love story as a main driver for a novel, and I’m not particularly traditional in my choices. I’ve had arguments aplenty about the drivel that is ‘Wuthering Heights‘ (I’m sorry, but he’s a mean-spirited miser who kills a dog and she is a melodramatic princess, IMHO!). The most romantic scene I can ever recall is when Mr Bhaer proposes to Jo in Little Women: ..”I have nothing to give but these empty hands” – Jo puts her hands in his – “Not empty now.” 
Seriously..LOVE that!

THAT scene from Little Women (1994)

THAT scene from Little Women (1994)

I could read some love poetry. Poetry is filled with love, there are sections and verses that I could use as a starting point as exercises to move me me forward. Not to mention, poetry is often short and evokes strong imagery and emotion, which is just what I need to help me visualise the feelings I have to create.

I could watch a movie or TV show that features characters falling in love. But I suspect that this might take up more time than necessary and possibly send me down a rabbit hole of red herrings (mix metaphors much?). Also, I’m not the biggest fan of romance movies either…

I could step out of my current character and create an individual to ‘teach me’ about falling in love. I might need to develop someone outside of the novel writing process, a character who is not falling in love, but could still teach me as I write them. Perhaps he’s my ‘ideal’ man, or she’s my elderly self, looking back on life. It is possible that I just don’t yet feel I can do justice to my current WIP and therefore I need to explore other creative ways to tap into the potential that is there.

I could put aside this section and move on with the novel. But I will know that I need to come back to this particular story and therefore I do feel I need to push through and see if I can find a way forward, rather than just putting it aside. I am certainly not ready for this option just yet, but it is a possibility if I need it.

I think perhaps my best options might be to find songs from the past that might remind me of when I first fell in love and see if I can tease some emotion to the surface. In addition, returning to well loved books and re-reading the scenes that I find moving mightbook heart also allow me to tap into my romantic side. Just writing about Mr Bhaer and Jo made me smile, so that’s a good sign. I need something immersive, I think, to let me reconnect with a part of my brain that I haven’t really had to think about in a long time. If I can trigger these, perhaps I’ll be able to move forward and write a believable story for James as he falls in love with Madeline.


Do you have any tips or suggestions for how to make your writing emotive? Do you think we have to use our own experiences to help us describe these types of scene, or can we rely on fiction alone?
Let me know what you think in the comments or Tweet Me.


9 responses to “Getting ‘in the mood’

  1. Pingback: Letting your characters speak… | Cat Lumb: The Struggle to be a Writer

  2. I use a trick I learned in a theater class. Actors have to show what an emotion looks like even if they aren’t feeling it, so you have think about what your body is doing for various emotions. For example, when you cry you have a hard time breathing – so emulate that difficulty. One physical action triggers another until the emotion is playing out fully without actually feeling it. I try to work the physical act of an emotion into my writing as a means to convey what a character is feeling – just like an actor.

    • I did Theatre Studies at college and I recall that I was rubbish at this! I always found myself hamming it up and going a bit over the top!

      But, it is a good way to think about writing character and to tap into the potential manifestations that accompany different emotions. Thanks for reminding me of this: am sure it will help.

      Appreciate you taking the time to share. 🙂
      Take Care,

  3. I listen to music. I quite disagree with the assumption listening to love songs will lead to cliched writing. It is not the content of the songs you are hoping to use but rather the emotions elicited.

    You could also go to the park or somewhere you might be able to observe couples, I know in London that means all I need to do is look out the window (literally 🙂 ). They may stir you up!

    • People watching: always a great activity! 😉 I sometimes forget that I can use straight-forward observation techniques, because I think that I’ve gotten so used to doing this automatically now that I forget it’s part of my writer’s arsenal.

      And I can agree with you on the love songs…yes, sometimes the lyrics and love being sung about can be clichéd, but that doesn’t mean the feelings that are evoked are too. Songs are a powerful way to recall emotion for me, and I still associate particular songs with definite moments in my life.

      Thanks for stopping by Rilzy. 🙂 Having read some of your writing, I know I can trust your advice when it comes to writing love….
      Take Care, Cat

  4. I’ve found I don’t always need to feel/experience the exact situation I’m writing about. For example when I need to describe a character that’s traumatized I remember the death of my youngest brother. I don’t relive or “refeel” it; it’s more like I remember the feelings and the darkness and isolation and the loss. So even though I’ve never had a miscarriage for example, I can blend the things I’ve seen women experience in that situation with the feelings I had when my brother died.

    Maybe you could channel the passion you feel for something into the passion your characters feel for each other?

    • That’s a very interesting approach. I suspect it must take some degree of distancing to be able to consider the death of your youngest brother and not get lost in the grief of it all again.

      Having said that, I really like the idea of channelling my passion for something – as oppose to someone – into my characters in order to explore their passion for one another. Thanks for sharing this technique, I may well have to give it a go!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Take Care, Cat

  5. Personally I write the bits I’m in the mood to write, so that lovey dovey bit may have to wait until the aliens get their heads shot off.

    Listening to love songs makes me puke at the cliched drivel that is spouted to try and sell records. Music’s ability to tap into the emotions is dishonoured by these insincere lyrics.

    If I need to be reminded of what it’s like to be in love, there are a couple of chapters in unlikely books that I go back and read. Iain M. Banks has a chapter in Use of Weapons where the protagonist ponders the process of osmosis for information sharing between two people in love whlst he stares at the sleeping form of his partner. It’s quite emotive.

    The other is in China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station when one of the character’s has her mind sucked out and her lover cares for her, distraught, trying to feed her as she dribbles food all down herself.

    OK, so it’s not romantic, but it demonstrates the power of love and gets you in the mood.

    • I think we all have our own ways to evoke emotion and try and recapture particular moments to demonstrate the effects of love. I may be slightly less cynical that you when it comes to love songs, but I can see why you admire the passages that you describe. Love shouldn’t be a short-term infatuation or dependent on particular factors – like having a mind 😉 – sometimes what we need to believe is that someone will care about us, no matter what.
      Thanks for sharing; always interesting to have a peek into your world!
      Take Care, Cat

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