Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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September 25, 2013

Emotional Barrier in Fiction: Why is it so important for you to learn how to cross it? (Part One)

We are fortunate to get a double-dose of Tiffany Lawson Inman this week with her insights on the emotional barrier in fiction. Look for Part Two on Friday. Oh, and read on. Tiffany's offering a "seat" for one lucky commenter to her next online class at the Lawson Writers Academy.

Tiffany Lawson Inman, headshotby Tiffany Lawson Inman

Emotions play a big role in writing fiction.

That’s not a big secret, right?

Nope, but what I say next might surprise you. One of the many things I learned during my years as an actor is that most people, including writers, are afraid of their own emotions. Feeeeeeeeeeelings.Kermit Oh yes, those pesky feelings.

Most people are afraid of the thoughts and situations that forced them to feel hate, shame, guilt, terror, deep sadness, and dread. Humans are blessed to have the ability to emote, but they also have within them an emotional barrier to protect them from feeling some of those nasty things. It also protects them from revisiting past emotions. Unfortunately this emotional barrier makes emotions one of the most difficult area of fiction to write.

I say most people because it seemed that all of us crazies that were in the theatre field were only mildly afraid of our emotions. Mildly afraid and wildly fascinated. Any scene or play I came across that would allow me to crack open my psyche, I dove after it with open arms. I knew it was an opportunity to really dig in and polish my craft. Actors relish the chance to explore the demons inside of their brains, hearts, and blood. Because actors know THAT is where the drama is.  That is what the audience wants to see.  And as an actor, writer, or any other type of artist, if you can’t manipulate your emotional barrier you won’t be making true dramatic art.

Really, is that all?

Nope. Writers also have a thread of fascination with crossing this emotional barrier, however, in all of the books and manuscripts I’ve read, I’ve only seen a handful of authors create true emotion. Many get close. Even more miss the mark and are completely disconnected from their emotions.


The emotional barrier is tall and wide. It has thorns that pierce flesh. It has poison that can flow into your bloodstream and taint the day, week, year after you dare to cross through it. There is no wonder why most people are very comfortable leaving it up for protection.

A few years ago I created an online course to help writers find their way through the emotional barrier and use what they find to fuel more dramatic writing using The Method.

Yesterday I cracked open a book on writing craft to gather inspiration for this post and I was more than pleasantly surprised to see Donald Maass also touching on the subject of human emotions in his book Writing 21st Century Fiction. He asks writers in the beginning of Chapter Three,

“But what is it that moves readers’ hearts? What conjures in readers’ imaginations a reality  that, for a while, feels more real that their own lives? What glues readers to characters and  makes  those characters objects of identification: people with whom readers feel intimately involved about whom they care, and whose outcomes matter greatly?


He later goes on to say:

“…some writers slide into genre clichés or literary imitation. To put authentic emotions on the page, you need to own them. When you do, readers will respect you. It’s when you hide that readers feel shortchanged, cheated, and only minimally involved.”

Well gosh, we don’t want to cheat or shortchange our readers. And we definitely don’t want to become cliché or just another Joe Writer. That won’t sell books.

As an editor I want writers to be proud of their product and as a reader I want to fall in love with fiction every time I read a book. Maass makes a great point and that is exactly what I was referring to when I mentioned feeling disconnected from a character’s emotions.

One or all five of the following is happening in this type of fiction:

  • The author wasn’t allowing themselves an emotional release.
  • The author didn’t know how to cross their emotional barrier.
  • The author didn’t know how to use the emotions they could reach.
  • The author was too afraid to use their own emotions.
  • The author didn’t think emotions were an important factor in fiction.

Unfortunately in today’s technology age, we have more and more distractions to aid us in keeping the barrier up.

  • Instead of facing a feeling we can just stick our noses to a screen and entertainment will quickly cover up any emotion we are feeling. (have you ever trolled over to Netflix or YouTube for some “feel good” imagery?)
  • Instead of waiting for acceptance or rejection from a potential friend, we click around and connect with another friend.
  • Instead of the dread of not knowing a dollop of information, we can just Google it.
  • Instead of heading into a confrontation that might hurt us or be uncomfortable to face, we can just send an email, or better yet, a text.

As I was mulling over how to express how important I think this emotional barrier issue is, this hugely debilitating artistic conflict in today’s blog, I sauntered over to Facebook for a little brain-distraction (yeah, I know, ironic.) Whilst scrolling through sarcastic status updates, quotes, and friend’s family photos, I stumbled across a link to one of my favorite comedians, Louis C.K., doing a bit with Conan O’Brian on why he doesn’t want his little girls to have cell phones.

*Twilight Zone music!*

The Universe must have been watching me write this blog, because Louis C.K. brilliantly zeros in on the emotional barrier and why humans are so conflicted. And then he talks about a reaction he had to a song that rolled into his own emotional breakthrough. I actually got a zingy-zappy-tingly feeling in my limbs as he came to the end of his conversation with Conan, because everything he says plays into what I am talking about today; he hits the emotional barrier issue on the head with a cannon ball. 

I transcribed the conversation to the best of my ability because I think it is another learning experience to read the emotion in his language throughout the story. The link is below, if you’d like to come back and watch it.

Louis C.K.’s Case Against Kids Having Smartphones

Louis: Some parents really struggle with, like all other kids have the terrible thing, so my kid has to ……yeah, let's let… no let your kid go and be a better example to the other kids. Just 'cuz the other stupid kids have phones doesn’t mean that yeah, ok, my kid has to be stupid or otherwise she’ll feel weird.

Ya know I think these things are toxic.  Especially to kids. It’s just this thing (head down Miss Piggy and Kermitmiming texting) it’s bad.

They don’t look at people when they are talking to them. They don’t build the empathy. Ya know, kids are mean because they are trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, “You’re fat. “ And then they see the kids face scrunch up and they go, “Ew, that didn’t feel good to make a person do that.” But they’ve got to start with doing the mean thing. But when they write, “You are fat!”, they go, “Mmm um that was fun, I liked that.”

Conan: Mmm that tasted good.

Photo 1Louis:  Yeah, exactly. You need…um, the thing is you need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That is what the phones are taking away. Is the ability to just sit there, like this.  (he sits there, arms still, not doing anything) That’s being a person. Right?  You gotta uuuh, uhhh… you gotta check (mimes frantically checking his phone)

Because underneath everything in your life, there is that thing. That empty, that forever empty. You know what I’m talking about?

Conan: Eh…hehe…yes.

Audience: Hahahaha

Louis: That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you are alone. You know and it’s down there.  And sometimes when things clear away and you aren’t watching it and you are in your car and you start going, Oooooh no, here it comes… that I am alone. and it starts to visit on you, just this sadness, life is tremendously sad. Just by being in it.

SO when you are driving you are going, Aaaaahuuuhaaa…(he mimes just sitting there being a person and looking around at other drivers, alone. )

That’s why we text and drive, I look around and pretty much 100 percent of people driving out there are texting.  They are killing and everyone is murdering everyone with their cars.

But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own…because they don’t want to risk being alone for a second. Because it is so hard.

I was in the car one time and a Bruce Springsteen song comes on and it made me really sad. It’s like Jungle…what's the …Jungle?

Conan: Jungleland.

Louis:  Uh, yeah, it’s the one that goes “Aaaarrrhuuuuhuuuuuuuuh! “ And he sounds far away?

(Much humor ensues here and they both start imitating the end of song, then Louis comes back to his story)

Louis: It gave me kind of like a fall-back-to-school depression feeling, it made me really sad. I go, Ooohokay I’m getting sad, I got to get the phone and write “hi” to like fifty people.  And then ya know somebody cool writes back and then them somebody not as cool writes after and I’m like, Eh, f’ you I’m gonna talk to somebody better…but uh… .

Audience: Hahahaha

Andy: Hey how come you didn’t answer my text?

Audience: Hahahaha

Louis: Eh, well. (he laughs) So anyway I started to get that sad feeling and I was reaching for the phone, and then I said, Ya know what? Don’t. Just be sad. Just let the sadness in…stand in the way of it and let it hit you like a truck. And I let it come and there was Bruce,  “Aaaaarraaaahhhooooh”

And I just started to feel, Oh my god, and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch. I cried so much and it was beautiful it was like this beautiful…just this…(gestures to his heart)

Sadness is poetic. You are lucky to live sad moments. And then I had happy feelings. Because when you let yourself feel sad your body has like antibodies, it has happiness that comes…

Conan: …Rushing in…

Louis: … rushing in to meet the sadness so I was grateful to feel sad and then I met it with true profound happiness and it was such a trip. You know, and the thing is because we don’t want that first bit of sad we push it away with a little phone *($)#*@ (wacking off gesture with phone)  and you get a little kinda… you never feel completely sad or completely happy you just feel kinda satisfied with your product …and then you die…that’s why I don’t want to get a phone for my kids.


Yup, you just learned something from a comedic bit on Conan. Amazing.

  1. People need more direct contact with one another to be able to see and react to body language and tone. This enables us to build and recognize empathy.
  2. People are constantly being reminded of their own fears which prompts them to seek outside stimulation and social recognition on an almost OCD level of intensity.
  3. When one is in the presence of another person releasing emotions it is possible for the observing person to have an emotional reaction of his/her own.

That last line towards the end of their conversation makes me want to ask you something very important. On what level of satisfaction do you want your readers to be when they are reading your book?  How much true emotion are you infusing into your product?

So, as Louis C.K. explains it in his so-wonderfully-awkward-honest manner, in today’s techno-bombarded world it is very easy to avoid emotion.

The strange thing is humans need that release. They yearn for it. Maybe a little more than pulling off the road for a good cry. Although, I do commend him for sharing this moment with the world, I think we need more than that on a daily basis, so it doesn’t bottle up and pop during a Bruce Springsteen song. But most people don’t get that release and instead of reaching inside themselves and risking getting hurt, they look to fictional characters to do it for them.

Most folks are drawn to art like movies and books for two reasons: they want to be entertained and they want to feel something.  I think it’s easier, um, no, the word I’m looking for is …safer for audiences to experience those feelings by watching/reading a fictional character experience them first.

Yup, you guessed it!  That’s where writers come into the picture!

What does that mean for your fiction? The emotions you write had better be as close to human as possible.

  • Be vulnerable.
  • Look into your past.
  • Observe your inner self.
  • Put the technology away.

You don’t want your readers to feel like they are having a conversation with a kid attached to a smartphone.

Pop by this Friday’s blog for Part Two!

I’ll be magnifying what Donald Maass calls The Emotional Landscape and getting down and dirty for a dramatic deconstruction (stripping down) my most favorite emotionally saturated writing; showing what works and what doesn’t work.

Do you have a favorite author that nails true human emotion? Do share! If you can, drop me an excerpt from them in a comment, or just say “hi.”   I will be drawing a name from the comments to get a free slot in my online course, From MADNESS to Method: Using acting techniques to invigorate your story and make each moment Oscar worthy!   **Yup, you guessed it, this is the class where I teach you how to cross that pesky emotional barrier and how to apply what’s on the other side.**

From Madness to Method uses the father of all acting techniques, The Method. Writers will learn how to create the most real of real moments. Course exercises push writers to enhance their emotional repertoire. 

If we held an Academy Awards for fiction, would yours be a highly acclaimed nominee? Polish those shoes and spray on a tan.  After this workshop every moment in every scene will be worthy of actors like Meryl Streep and your characters will be hitting the red carpet!

From Madness to Method includes lectures, mental and physical exercises, assignments and examples from multiple genres. There will be hands-on interaction between you, your writing, and the instructor.

  • Access your sense memories to fuel character emotion on the page
  • Turn reality into fiction by awakening your innermost observational skills
  • Thrust your story forward by using every facet of character
  • Increase your character’s emotional authenticity
  • Create memorable moments readers will remember for years
  • Write with your scars

Sound like fun? Drop me a comment and your name will be in the drawing to get a free slot in this course!

Tiffany Lawson Inman (@NakedEditor) claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. There, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development.

She teaches Action, Choreography, Physicality, Violence, and Dialogue for Lawson Writer’s Academy, presents hands-on-action workshops, and will be offering webinars in 2014. As a freelance editor, she provides deep story analysis and dramatic fiction editing services. Stay tuned to WITS to see Tiffany’s upcoming guest blogs, contests, and lecture packets.

114 comments on “Emotional Barrier in Fiction: Why is it so important for you to learn how to cross it? (Part One)”

  1. What a great post. Rings true for me, not only as a writer,but as just an everyday Rebecca Q. Public that sees a whole generation detaching from each other. Love these Lawsons and their spot-on advice! --Now all I have to do is go back and edit for the 2,345th time. But hey, these folks will connect with each other when I'm done! -- thanks again, Tiffany--

    1. Yes, Rebecca. It's getting kind of scary out in this generation. I'm looking at all the ways I can teach my growing daughter how to stay connected emotionally to people. (she's 6 months...)

      2,345 edits. YOU are my kind of writer! It takes a whole lotta guts to edit like that.

      Thank you for reading WITS today!

  2. Terrific post, Tiffany. Thank you! For me, Khaled Hosseini comes to mind. My favorite was THE KITE RUNNER, a book packed with emotions.

  3. This is really one of the best blog posts I've read in a long time. Quoting anything from Louis C.K. helps (the guy is amazing and hilarious), but really, it is just such a thorough, thought-provoking post while also providing a nice framework/guide to make it more concrete.

    I, too, read D. Maass' most recent book. I absolutely recommend it to everyone, although I did walk away from it feeling a bit overwhelmed and intimidated (probably because it pointed out all the ways in which I'm 'failing' to live up to the standard he sets).

    I'm a very introspective person and give a lot of thought to my own feelings about my life and the world around me, but I haven't yet been able to translate that fully to my writing. But this post gives me the kick in the pants I needed to dig deeper.

    Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us.

    1. Jamie, wow, thank YOU for the lovely compliment.

      I was hesitant to bring comedy into the conversation, for fear that it wouldn't be taken seriously. But really, comedians rip the truth out of the air and make it tangible for us in audiences. It's fascinating how well Louis can do it in his routines. And i just couldn't ignore the fact that we were both talking about the same thing!

      It is VERY hard to reach those emotions deep within us, and then to actually use them and have it make sense in our writing, even harder. I got lucky and started out in theatre. Well, either lucky or cursed, sometimes I think I feel too much. :/ Hope to see you in my class in October, I'll get you connecting with your inner-self in no time!

      Thank you very much for popping over today, and thanks again for commenting.

  4. Thanks for the great post, Tiffany. I always enjoy learning from you Lawson ladies. Deep POV in getting emotionally connected with the reader is a must in today's market. A personal Lawson workshop is on my bucket list. 🙂

  5. This is a brilliant post. I never thought about being plugged into a cell phone all day as a way of avoiding the uncomfortable, but it is SO true, and the bottom line of my avoidance of an iphone for years. I never completely understood why I did that, but knew it had something to do with my writing, and needing to observe...

    And you're dead-on about the emotion in writing, and why our readers are looking for it.

    Wow, seriously love this, Tiffany - your class sounds awesome! I'm off to recommend it to someone right now. Thank you for blogging with us - we missed you!

    1. Laura,
      I'm going to confess something. One day after I started writing this blog...sigh...my hubby and I got our very first smartphones. For years we complained about hanging out with smartphone users because of how disconnected they were (and sometimes rude) But it was time to upgrade our crappy old phones and we made the leap.


      But don't worry - I WILL NEVER BE OUT OF TOUCH WITH MY EMOTIONS! Theatre school kinda slammed my emotional barrier down to crunchy rubble, so I now have a superhighway through that sector of my brain. LOL!

      Thank you so much for letting me stomp around WITS this week. I hope lots of writers open their eyes to all the emotion they can use in themselves and the world.

      1. Oh don't feel badly, Tiffany. I too fell into the devil's hands about six months ago. But after reading your post, I'm more aware of the devil's voice, sweet in my ear.

        And I'm resisting!

  6. Wonderful post! You gave me so much to think about. For example: I'm a shy introvert who is comfortable being alone, even in public. I don't need that phone barrier. While I"m not actually interacting, I *think* I'm paying attention to everything around me: body language, snippets of conversation, imagining all the little dramas playing out around me. And most people don't notice me; their faces are focused on the screens in front of them.

    And yes, I need that release through reading. I just finished The Book Thief, and my family watched me just let the tears flow. Now I'm making my husband read it--I don't know if he will appreciate that release so much.

    1. Kerry Ann -

      Thank you for sharing! Its a very interesting thing within us that yearns for that release and folks that don't know what their trigger is, yikes - it's on the side of the road crying for them.

      Book Thief is on my to be read pile. Good to know I will need tissues.

  7. Maass rocks. Can't wait for your next post! I know I'm hitting my marks when doing a read through of a WIP and either gooseflesh or gasp and ask, "Who wrote that?"

  8. So true! I readily admit at times when I'm stressed I'll either read or do a jigsaw puzzle on jigidy.com (like Pinterest -so addicting).

    Will try to remember to infuse emotion into every page. You got me thinking - my favorite book ever I read when I was nine years old - The Diary of Anne Frank. Why? Raw, gut-wrenching reality. It's also the reason I love Anne Lamont - she is so honest and clear in expressing her emotions - all the secret, shameful, guilty thoughts that can be taboo.

    1. Debbie, Oh no - a Pinterest addict?!?! 🙂 just kidding.

      It's not your fault. This world has so many "entertaining things" to pacify us these days.
      You can run, but you can't hide! LOL

      Question for you: what did you do before the internet during those stressful moments? I spent more time outside connecting with friends and nature and read more books (even more than I do now.) And thinking about that just now, I have MORE quality memories from those times than I do from plugging in to tv or internet.

      Just told hubby we are going for a hike with dog and baby after work 🙂

      Yes! Think about all the gritty and beautiful stuff you have read that has had an affect on you. Anne Frank, good example for sure!

  9. Thanks for all the great advice in this post. Our entire culture these days seems focused on avoiding emotions- which makes it crucial for us as writers to cross that barrier and portray emotion in an authentic way.

    1. Alice -

      It's sad, but it makes me feel a little good that I have a job that is crucial to the mental survival of humans. Although, part of me wants there to be a mass-internet-wipe-out and we all have to go back to the way things were when i was growing up. Life seemed simple. And free. And there wasn't so much stress on social image on this LARGE of a scale.

      Taking my baby out to a park, we are going to sit in the grass and look at clouds and trees today 🙂

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

  10. I left a critique group when I first started writing for being "too emotional." I think we often compartmentalize characters and say that men must behave this way and woman another way. When I write and read, I need to feel the characters. If I cry, I know the book is good. If I cry when I write a scene, I know I've accomplished my goal.
    Great, great post!

    1. Nancy -

      Absolutely! In my Part Two of this post I show how one of my favorite writers digs into male emotion as well as female. Males are human too!

      I gotta say, I'm glad you left that group. Hope you found a more open (and smarter) bunch of critique peeps.

      Thank you for reading and liking and commenting! See you on Friday for sure!

  11. My friend's child died this week. I got busy being with others, nodding, smiling, doing - avoiding my own recent loss, not wanting to be reminded of that pain. I spent the entire day before the funeral watching Sandra Bullock in "Miss Congeniality" over and over, avoiding my fear. I went to the funeral, stoic as always and during the final music, looked into the eyes of the grieving where I faced my own fears and finally allowed my tears to flow. Thank you for this blog and for helping me to recognize the difference I, as a writer, can make.

    1. linbreeden - I'm HUGGING YOU RIGHT NOW!

      Thank you so much for giving that piece of emotion to us today. I read your post to my hubby and cried.

      I'm glad you faced your fears and had people around you when you could finally let go. I had a hard road with infertility and when I was finally staying pregnant, I was so afraid to be afraid (or do anything for that matter) that I watched all of the old GLEE and LOST episodes. I used TV to block everything out.

      It's normal to fear these emotions.

      Sounds like you are on your way through a little crevice in the emotional barrier. You will be a better writer for it.

      Thank you again for sharing. I am so glad you were on here today.

  12. Lovely post, Tiffany. I've been thinking a lot about emotions and their place in our writing. So important to embrace and express our sensitivity, IMO. Your course sounds fab, too!

  13. Perfect timing! I was just talking to a critique partner about how I was playing it too safe with one of my characters. I just wasn't letting enough bad stuff happen to her and having her negatively emote on the page! Consequently, my CP couldn't really identify with the character. *sigh* Great points, Tiffany!

    1. Julie, so glad to be of assistance 🙂 When you are diggin in
      don't go for the obvious emotive descriptors, really dig for how you can show
      them in a totally unique way. I bet that will pull your critique partner in more.

      Have fun!

      Thank you for being here today. See you on Friday.

  14. Wonderful post as always Tiffany. I was just talking to someone about a scene I've avoided writing because the character has to say good-bye to his father. I just did the same thing a few months ago, and I have avoided that scene. Why? Because I was avoiding getting in touch with my own feelings of my Dad passing. I didn't want to revisit it, but I know, if I want to nail that scene. I have to. As for an author who grabs you with instant emotion, I have three: Robin Hobb (avoided reading a book because I knew a favorite character was going to die, but she handled it so beautifully, and I cried), Tana French (strong, strong emotion and Margie grad) and Nicholas Sparks (I cried on the airplane when I read the book. The stewardess stopped to check on my because she was so worried.) Thanks for a great post!

    1. Merry,

      I'm going to chat with you privately about how to handle a recent emotional event and using it in your current writing, ok? Hoping you will be in my class so we can work on it together. I can be your dramatic counselor 🙂

      LOL, Tana French is NOT a Margie Grad, my mom just uses a lot of her examples in class...because there are SO MANY! Oh and gosh, she just happens to have started out as an actor 😀

      Which Robin Hobb book? I might dig in to that one for an example!

      1. Thanks Tiffany! I would appreciate your advice.The death in my book is different than the death I experienced in real life. Still, I think subconciously, I'm avoiding writing it. I'm considering taking your class, because I know it would be awesome!

        I thought Tana French was a Margie grad. Oops! I must have confused that with her being referenced in your mom's classes. Thank you for clarifying. 😉

        The Robin Hobb book was Fool's Errand. I won't give away any spoilers, but the scene I'm referring to happened on pg. 605 and continues for a few more pages after that. I just remember crying as I read it. 😉


  15. I mean the one you were talking about, I'm not sure whether I do emotion well. I know I don't in real life. But I'd always like to improve.

    1. Riley,

      Ooh, I sparked some interest? Good. 🙂

      "‘The Method’. The Method trains actors to use their imagination, senses and emotions to conceive of characters with unique and original behavior, creating performances grounded in the human truth of the moment."

      In my class, From MADNESS to Method: Using acting techniques to invigorate your story and make each moment Oscar worthy, I take 'The Method' and teach writers how to use it to write deeper character, emotional scenes, and story moments.

      Sounds like you have a very solid emotional barrier. Have you ever asked a reader (not a friend or family member) if they felt emotionally connected to your characters?

      1. Well, the deal is that I've never actually finished a book. But my goal is to finish the novel I'm currently working on before I go to college. So about two years. I'm crossing my fingers, but I'll definitely ask them in the future.

        1. Okay. Good to have goals. 🙂

          You should join a writers group or critique group right now. The sooner you get feedback on your writing, the better it will be when you finally finish the book. And the CLOSER you will be to publication.

          It would totally suck if you finish your book and then give it to someone to read for the first time and realize you have some major issues in it. Starting over is doable (cuz, heck, you are YOUNG!) but editing as you go might be a smarter option. That and you will learn TONS from taking classes (outside of school) attending workshops, and talking with other writers.

          What genre do you write?

  16. Loved the post. But there are other emotions besides sad, and I guess those are the ones I try to write. Exhilaration, love, exuberance. My stories tend to start low and and work to a high note. I think my struggle is to make the sad genuine. Sometimes it's so hard to go there.
    Look forward to your next post.

  17. Tiffany,

    Awesome post. My eBook THE WRITERS’ STUMULS talks about this vulnerability subject object. It must come from the author and it must be in the characters.

    Tools in my eBook state how we have to go deep within ourselves to go to that pain and then write our material. If you have to bring yourselve to tears to get down on paper what you need, then do it.

    And we want out readers to connect with our characters and using vulnerability is my favorite way to do it. When a character bares his or her soul, we feel comfortable with him or her for they were totally honest with the world – we love that, which allows us to let down our defences and welcome these characters close to us.

  18. I loved this post and got so much out of it. My content editor always busts me for shying away from emotion in my writing. So I know this is an area where I need work. hahahaha

    But it's like Louis C.K. said (and you, too) that we as humans have a tendency to avoid feeling emotion. Personally, it's that I don't want to go to the dark side. But you're right. Going to the dark side and making my reader "feel" is necessary.

    That's why my wonderful content editor says, "But how did this moment make this character FEEL, Catie?" I always cringe when I see those words because I know I've got to dig and that it might hurt.

    I'm going to put some thought into taking your class. I might be too busy to participate, but I can at least lurk.

    1. Catie,

      LOL - she's your fiction psychologist? NICE!

      I bet if you are lurking in class within 2 days you will be participating! 🙂 It's not a lecture-question-answer class. You can use chunks of your WIP and we can dig-claw-break apart some of your emotional scenes (or the ones that need plumping) and then put them back together again. But if you must lurk, you must. I understand, and you can learn from what everyone else is doing too.

      No more cringing.

  19. Reblogged this on NAKED EDITOR. DRAMATIC EDITING. and commented:
    My site is under construction this Month, but never fear, I'm guest blogging over at WritersInTheStorm ALL WEEK hammering in the importance of breaking through the emotional barrier (fiction that even Donald Maass would be excited to read) and giving away a FREE ONLINE COURSE on breaking down that emotional barrier (and what to do with the dark ugly crap on the other side.)

  20. Very intriguing post. I very much enjoy writing emotional scenes-they are very cathartic. Sometimes I feel kind of silly, crying along with a character I made up or feeling their anger burn inside me, so it is reassuring to know getting on that emotional level is a good thing for writing. Your class sounds wonderful!

    1. Melissa -

      Yes yes YES!!!! Feel the burn. I like that!.

      Writers should absolutely be feeling something while they are writing - and no, not just the pressure of a deadline :/

      Thank you. I'm glad you get into that emotional boat with the character. And who cares if you feel silly? Not me!

  21. Awesome post, Tiffany. My emotions are my strongest and weakest asset as a writer. They allow me to open up and make characters come alive on the page at the same time they leave me vulnerable as a person. Would I trade them for "emotional safety?" Not a chance.

    1. Lori, when you get pubbed (and maybe even before then, if you let me) I would love to use some of your writing as examples. Yes, they are a strong asset for you, and wow does it make your writing SHINE!!!! Turn that vulnerable feeling into an "I am a kickass writer" shield. Because woooooweee it works for you 🙂

  22. Fantastic insights Tiffany! And, I experienced a small visceral just thinking of crossing that barrier - because you are totally right. It gets into your blood for a bit amd you sometimes have to do a cleansing ritual after! But the reward of seeing that emotion on the page - totally worth it!

    1. Hmmm....Christina, a cleansing ritual?!?! ABSOLUTELY! Um...does it involve Ben and Jerries S'mores ice cream? 🙂

      No, sadly that will just give you more issues. Yup. Emotions are big and sharp and they get stuck in your veins.

      Well, don't we ALL bleed for our art?

  23. Hi Tiffany! I've never thought of using acting techniques, i.e. the Method, to empower the emotion of my writing, but I'm so intrigued by the idea. And you're so right-- how can we ever identify, relate to, and relay emotions on the page if we're not exposing ourselves to the emotional reactions of others and mining our own emotions? Great post!

  24. I've written the negative emotions a lot, but something another commenter said struck a chord. Writing positive emotions is important too and often just as hard.

    1. Kate - yup, I focused a lot on the darker emotions in this post. Those are the ones that are painful and scary to use as writing. But yes, some of the happier emotions are just as hard to write because we don't want to over do it and have it read as cheesy or cliche.

  25. Good article! I think Kristan Higgins does that great emotional inner dialogue for her characters. You can really feel what they're feeling.

  26. So I have two things to admit...

    If I'm sitting alone in a café, waiting for friend for example, I pretend to be reading and writing texts on my phone...so I don't look like a loner.

    The other day my husband and I were watching a documentary about bears. There was a young mother pear (called Parsnip) with her two cubs. They both under weight and she's desperate for food. She's looking for clams in the soft sand, digging frantically again and again, and then the tide starts coming in, hiding the sand and the clams in it.

    She should turn back now but she doesn't. Fish, fish would be good food. So she leads her young cubs into the rising cold water. They try to follow her but they're tiny and weak and they start to get pulled away by the current. She can't save them both. She leads one to safety and then stands in the fading light calling to her lost cub.

    I cried. Not just a few quiet tears but bone jarring, gulping, snorting, sniffing crying. I could imagine her pain, her loss, her desperation.

    I'd like to be able draw the same feelings, just as real, from my readers. I'm certainly working towards it.

    1. Littlemissw, It takes a strong person to admit that - kudos to you! and I've seen MANY folks do it too. On the train in Chicago, waiting in line for something, even at the library.

      There is a real vulnerability to being alone. I used to wait for friends at the bar and pull out a book to read. I just couldn't stand sitting there "just being a person" as Louis C.K. puts it.

      Ok, and thanks for the friggin' bear story 🙁 I can't watch the animal channel because of stories like that and you actually got a few tears out of me just now from reading about it. But, yes. Those are real feelings coming out of you for these creatures and you want the same for your readers. Make them feel something for your characters. It's as "simple" as that.

      Thanks for posting (even though you made me cry.)

  27. Hi Tiffany,
    Wonderful post. It really got me to examine how I deal with emotion in writing and in real life! I was considering taking your course in Oct. It looks like you have an interesting take on adding emotion to prose.


    1. Pam,
      It seems I have alerted a few others about how they deal with emotions (or don't deal with emotions) in real life. I'm hoping everyone on here takes a few moments each day to unplug and take back a bit of their lives each day!

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I do hope to see you on Friday for more learning, and then gosh, my October course is right around the corner 🙂

      I can't wait!

  28. Great post! I'm not sure that I convey emotions well in my writing and your use of The Method to aid in that is intriguing. Looking forward to your next post.

    1. Melanie,
      It's not easy, but the takehome is HUGE! Actors work for years to learn this stuff and as you have probably seen in a movie or on tv, not all of them have it down yet. LOL!

      Thanks for being here today! See you on Friday (and maybe in my class?)

  29. Great post, Tiffany! And so true. Robin Williams said in a stand-up bit on technology: I walked into a Starbuck and there were 5 young girls sitting together, tapping away on their phone, like a coven of cyber witches, not saying a word. Finally one looked up from her phone and said, "I know." I've seen that coven of cyber witches in many Starbucks....

  30. Debbie,
    In the last week, I've been bawling over books like crazy so your blog rang so true to me as I'm writing (OK to be completely honest avoiding emotional scenes in my revision). And, I did feel those happy feelings after the bawling. (Great video clip)
    The author? Laura Wiess. She had me in tears with "Ordinary Beauty" and "Leftovers." She pulls you in and you're in the gut of the character trudging down the frozen road, alone or walking into that empty house. She does this immediately on the first few pages. It's pretty powerful. I also highly recommend her book, "Such a Pretty Girl" ILooking forward to your Friday blog.

    1. Cathy,
      Not sure who Debbie is...I'm Tiffany, the author of the post 🙂

      LOL- seems like a lot of folks know which books are the emotional tuggers. and most of them are favorites! I will definitely check out Laura Wiess. Feels good to hear about new authors (new to me)

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting today, Great - will see you tomorrow!

  31. I am currently doing a rewrite of my first book. I am working hard at infusing my characters with true emotion. It is far more difficult that I had imagined, but they are starting to come to life on the page.

    1. Kate, indeed, "bleeding" for our art is never easy, but getting good feedback from readers, that's the easy part! 🙂 Glad to hear you are having success with it. And good luck with that rewrite. It's a long road - kudos to you for tackling it.

      Pop over tomorrow for a little more learning! And maybe a fun assignment for you to play with.

      Thanks again for reading today!

  32. It's easy to feel after reading the comments that your post raised emotions. Thanks, Tiffany, for touching nerves.
    I hope to win admission to your class. It begins on the eve of my birthday and would be a gift of increased power.
    My first published novel, Vagilantes - Pedophiles, be Afraid. Very Afraid, is about buried emotions which erupt. The next book in the series, Vagilantes - Wrath Rising, will amp up the visceral response to child sexual response. I have a lot to learn to make this happen.
    I write a non-fiction weekly blog – 1/52 Ways to Stop Pedophiles. (This is week 39/52.) It needs to communicate strong emotion. This is painful, enraging and exhausting to write despite the slant of being tongue-in-cheek. (Perhaps I should pull my tongue out of the cheek and stick it straight out.)
    The comments here indicate that your post will affect more than our fiction. Prediction: your words have crossed barriers and will inspire deeper responses in fiction and in our real world.

    1. Julie, wow that does sound like a heckovan emotional book! It takes a brave writer to be in your shoes, so you might have already crossed more of the barrier than you think. Kudos.

      I do feel like this class can change a little more than your writing. It's hard to go back into some of those dark places. We tread as light or as heavy as you think you can. I trust the students to be honest with themselves about the level of intensity. It's a journey for me too. Pulls forward a bunch of my demons but I think it is necessary to reach the drama. Our readers deserve it.

      Thank you for reading and commenting today. I will head to random.org to draw winner, and will post on Sunday evening. I hope you join the class even if you aren't the winner!


  33. This was SUCH a terrificfantabulous post! This is what I have been seeking to do with my own writing, and I tried a bit yesterday in a blog post, but I chickened out and went the humor route. A) it wasn't the right place to bare the soul and B) I wimped out because the audience was full of those that I am emotional about. From my past.
    Does that even make any sense?
    I love Elin Hilderbrand. The first book I read of hers was The Island - it was in the bookcase at a house we rented on an island.
    And there was a point in the story about the two sisters that resonated with me. The older sister was the golden girl who could do no wrong, but the entire plot of the story is the big fat wrong she did do. The younger sister had grown into her own worth, was comfortable in her skin for the first time in her life, but here comes that golden girl, ready to steal the light away again. And the words she wrote : "... Tate had grown up socially stunted, always in Chess' shadow." <paraphrased. And then the BIG, Emotionally Satisfying Payoff (for me!) was the blow up between sisters where Tate actually pushes Chess and says "You make me wish I had never been born!"


    1. Pamela,

      Well thank you thank you! Ya know humor does have its place, but if you grab the funnys at every turn, then thereisn't any up or down. The reader wont believe the seriousness of any event.

      Yes. It does make sense. Absolutely. It is 10 times as hard when your audience is someone or a bunch of someones that you know. That is brave writing. I think they will respect the emotions if you are honest w them as well. With any art, it's better when the artist is giving up a piece of themselves. It's a sacrifice, it is. But that is what separates artists from the rest of the world.

      We are the brave ones. 🙂

      I will have to check out the Island. Sounds really good!

      Thanks again for commenting today! See you tomorrow!

        1. Georgia Romance Writers' Moonlight & Magnolias in Atlanta, Land of Con.
          I think there's a conference of some kind going on every weekend here from January to December.

  34. Oh, this is an excellent post, and something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I recently read a novel by a published author and just rushed through all the wild ups and downs of the story without feeling a thing. But whenever I read a new chapter by my favorite fanfiction writer, who writes just for fun and is not "professional," I'm moved to tears!
    So I got to thinking, "What on earth is going on here? And how can I learn from this?"
    Now that I've read your post, though, I think that it's about the emotion. Something about the way the fanfic writer is conveying emotion is different, and works better for me. Can't wait for tomorrow's post, so I can learn more!

    1. Saraleee,

      I feel cheated when I read a novel like that! Grrrr 🙁 I'd love to know who your fanfiction writer is. Do tell, pretty please!

      Thank you for commenting! Nice to hear this is a topic that resonates with a lot of writers.

      See you tomorrow!

      1. Thanks! I'm looking forward to reading your post tomorrow.
        I'm a fan of The Hobbit movies, and I particularly like the writer who goes by the name of Thorinsmut on An Archive of Our Own. They wrote a story called "Touch" which I think is very good. It takes place in Middle-earth, and presents the story of The Hobbit from the perspective of two of the dwarves in the company instead of Bilbo. http://archiveofourown.org/works/903889

  35. Loved this article. Emotion is something that I am struggling with in my writing. For me to write honestly about emotions, I have to re-experience them — sometimes again and again, to get it right — and that can hurt– big time. But it’s necessary if I want the reader to also experience these emotions. To evoke them, I remember something that a writing instructor told me years ago — your senses have memories too, and if you can get your skin, and your nose, and your taste buds (not just your eyes and your ears) to recall an experience, then you will be more able to examine it thoroughly. Good advice, I think.

    1. Dot -

      Interesting. Sounds like my kind of thinking.

      My upcoming course uses“‘The Method’. The Method trains actors to use their imagination, senses and emotions to conceive of characters with unique and original behavior, creating performances grounded in the human truth of the moment.”

      In my class, From MADNESS to Method: Using acting techniques to invigorate your story and make each moment Oscar worthy, I take ‘The Method’ and teach writers how to use it to write deeper character, emotional scenes, and story moments.

      Sounds like you are on the right track! So glad you were here today to read on WITS! I'm back on Friday, hope to see you then too 🙂 Much more to learn!!

  36. I need this class--this resonated. I looked at the course, but its says for April..Even if I don't win, I will purchase it. (Sounds like a junkie grasping for a fix). It's true--you know when you read something what you may be struggling with or lacking.
    Thank you for this!

    1. myfreeman - Nope, it's for October (right around the corner!) LOL I feel that way about buying books, I get my fix and it's still not enough! 🙂 Thanks for popping by today, hope to see you on here tomorrow too for Part Two.

      I'll be looking for you in class!

  37. Tiffany, I so want, no need to take your on-line course! When is it and how can I attend? I must say that I do feel better after reading all these comments that I am not alone in this department. But I am anxious to learn more about this. Please let me know ASAP @ karen@karenmcfarland.com and I will sign up immediately! Thanks for this post Tiffany. 🙂

  38. Over vacation I read a book called "The Silent Wife." Gut wrenching. What was so fascinating about this was that one of the main characters, the wife, was so distant, so meticulously perfect in how she handled her environment, yet somehow the author made me care a great deal about this woman. I felt everything she went through--sometimes even when the character was numb to her own emotions. It was an amazing experience.

  39. ooooh, Kara, sounds like this author is in control of some subtle emotional nuances. VERY hard to do and very effective with the right character!

    Heading over to amazon now to see if I can read a sample 🙂

    Thank you for commenting today! Have you made it over to PartTwo? Some cool stuff going on over there with the tiny assignment I posted.

    Stay tuned on Sunday for the winner announcement!


    First I want to thank you all for participating in my two part blog on Emotional Barriers.

    Thank you to the writers who put their creative hearts on the page and stepped up to the mini- assignment challenge.

    Thank you to the writers who put their emotional hearts out there and shared a little of themselves after Wednesdays blog.

    Thank you to the writers who gave me virtual high fives and kudos on the blog.

    And a HUGE thank you to WITS for letting me do a two part blog this week!

    It is such a wonderful feeling to see the writing community come together to learn and share on these sites. Kudos to everyone!

    Even Marcus Sakey, Jay Asher, and Lisa Unger popped over to read and say "Hi" and "Thank You" and "You nailed it' on Twitter. (yes, it proves these top-notch writers are in fact human. )

    How fabulous is that?!?!?

    Wicked fabulous 🙂

    And now, the moment you have all been waiting for.............The winner of a free slot in the Madness to Method class:

    JUDY HUDSON *applause!* (I''ll contact you via email tonight, Judy.)

    As for the rest of you. If you are out here reading and learning and applying what you learn to your writing. And if you are willing to put yourself out there and take a classes to better your fiction, well then gosh, you are winners too! *I just can't give you all free slots in the class...sorry!*

    I hope to see your bright shiny faces in class on October 2nd! Enrollment is open now, here is the link: http://www.margielawson.com/lawson-writers-academy-courses/detail/2-writing/94-october-from-madness-to-method-using-acting-techniques-to-invigorate-your-story-and-make-each-moment-oscar-worthy

    I'll be back on WITS mid-October.

    See you then!

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