If you were following WriterUnboxed back in 2013, you may have read a version of the column you’re about to read. (If you can remember having read it, you’re better person than I am; I can barely remember what I had for breakfast.) I was reminded of it recently, and inspired to share it again, while helping a protégé understand that the journey of a writer – a real writer – is the journey toward emotional truth.
Writers often find themselves confronted by the question, “What is emotional truth?” and the further question, “How do I put it on the page?” As someone who has taught and trained writers all over the world – and of course struggled with these questions myself – I find that writers go through predictable stages in their quest to convey authentic emotional meaning in their work.
At first, many writers have no idea that such a thing as emotional truth even exists. They are focused solely on making the logistics hold up, making the jokes funny, or advancing the action from event to event. At this stage, there is little or no thought to a work’s deeper meaning or deeper human understanding. I call this the “run and jump” phase of our writing careers, when all we can really see, and all we can adequately convey, are the mechanical aspects of the work. The mysteries of the human heart yet elude us.
As we mature as writers, we become aware that there’s such a thing as emotional truth, but we don’t quite known how to get this information from brain to page. Our first efforts in that direction often seem awkward and stilted. We might try to write, “I love you,” only to recoil in self-conscious horror at the awful, inauthentic, clichéd obviousness of those words. We hate ourselves for writing so artlessly about subjects of such importance. We haven’t yet made – at least to our satisfaction – the connection between simple human truths and their meaningful, effective, evocative presentation on the page.
But we get better. We do. We grow and develop, deepen our awareness of the truths we wish to convey, and also acquire the means to do so. We discover tools like text and subtext, and bring our writing to the point where one character may ask another, “How about some microwave popcorn?” and have it understood to mean, “I yearn for you to the bottom of my soul.” We become writers with sufficient insight to detect emotional truth and sufficient toolcraft to capture and preserve it in words. So we’re home and dry, right?
Maybe not. Maybe we’re still afraid. [Read more…]