Thursday, July 18, 2019

Making Friends with Your Emotional Past ~ Anna Hague

First, I want to say a big thank you to Kristine for asking me to do a blog post. Then came “But what will I write about?”

I didn’t have to tax my little brain too long  before I remembered that I needed to begin preparing for a workshop I’ll be giving at the Georgia Romance Writers Moonlight and Magnolias writers conference in October. (Shameless plug, yes I know.)

My workshop is about transferring real-life emotion into our writing. The idea came to me after a horrific event happened to someone I deeply love. My emotions were all over the place, and they weren’t exactly the emotions I would have guessed I’d experience through such an event.

Adding an exponential blast of intensity was that I was smack dab in the middle of writing a story that paralleled some of what was happening. I’d been researching for weeks and knew way more than what most people know about the due process of law in my state. Everyone involved were innocents in the field except me, and I kept what I knew to myself in this real-life nightmare—afraid because I knew the answers to questions they were asking.

Luckily for me, the publisher was in no hurry for this book because I numb from what was happening and couldn’t even open my WIP without freezing.

Too rough. Too real.

A few months passed before I was ready to begin work again. When I opened the story, I realized the emotion I was expressing in the book fell flat. How could I expect readers to connect to my characters’ emotions when I couldn’t?

I went back to the day when everything changed and started going over my feelings from the moment I knew what had happened. The words on the page became very different. The scenes I rewrote expressed raw, turbulent emotions and every-changing moods and feelings.

So many of us are very guarded about the emotion we let others see. I am especially guilty. Mostly my dogs and my husband are the only ones witness the displays. But I know if I keep these sensibilities at bay my work as an author can suffer.

Readers want to agonize, be angry, and ugly cry. The best way to make them wonderfully miserable is to pull your own devastation from deep inside and allow that entity into your words. Clearly, we can’t always relate to what we are doing to our characters. Life would truly be a tragedy if we could. However, all of us have had something deeply crushing transpire in our history.

As painful as reliving the past might be, go there, go deep. Remember not only the pain, but sounds, the smell, the feel of your own skin, the tightness in your throat. Was the dog barking? Or the birds singing outside. Could you breathe? Did you notice the scent of the candle burning or the aroma of the bacon you fried that morning? Were you hot or clammy?

All of those moments evoke emotion.

In my other job, I’m a sports journalist. On two different occasions I’ve had to cover the death of a race car driver, and the last time, I was there. I witnessed the accident and an hour later, I had to write a news story about the incident. The story was one of the best I’ve ever written I believe, because the event was so emotionally charged, the story wrote itself.

Not all emotion is of the negative sort. So many other memories can create the emotional impact you want.

In the last few years, I’ve changed my journalism focus mostly to writing about high school sports. It’s more fun and less stressful. When one of my high school coaches came to me and told me he was retiring after forty plus years of teaching and coaching, we both let a few tears drop. And when I want my characters to feel the impact of a major life decision, I draw on that memory of him sitting across from my desk telling me “It’s time.”

As authors, we need to realize we are our best resource. We’ve been there and we’ve done it. Don’t be afraid to expose your own vulnerabilities.

Listen to Anna Hague's podcast here.

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