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.
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.”
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 might 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.