I subbed an old but revamped personal essay to my critique group last night. The subject was something very meaningful to me and it's filled with description. In fact, it could be a writing exercise in describing a place. This morning, I found the first critique on the essay. The biggest fault the critter found was the lack of emotion.
She went on to say that the descriptions were fine but there was no reaction on my part to what I'd been trying to show the reader. She also said that she knew the emotion was there, but it was still inside the writer. It had not come through in the words that were written.
When I sat back and took a good, hard look at the essay again, I realized she was right. There were lots of things to bring the reader into the farmhouse I wrote about, but the joy, the amazement, the puzzlement, the homesickness--none of those came through like they should. The essay, as it stands now, would have little chance of ever being published.
Numerous writers run into this problem. Part of the reason is that the writer lived it and felt it so doesn't make it clear to the reader. Readers are great people but they aren't mind readers. We, as writers, need to spell it out. Every action requires a reaction. Seems I was told that in a psychology class long ago, and it can apply to writing with emotion.
Another reason some essays or memoir stories lack emotion is the writer's reluctance to expose their own deep feelings. Conscious or sub-conscious? It could be either one. We need to train ourselves to open up, to delve deep for that emotion that we sometimes try to bury so no one will know our true feelings. Do we know why? Quite often we probably don't. We need to allow ourselves to let it all spill out for the sake of a good story. We need to show a reaction to whatever is taking place in what we're writing. If we write, we must be willing to expose our feelings to the reader. We want them to react with emotion to what we've written. A whole lot of paragraphs with beautiful description isn't going to result in that.
When you finish writing an essay or memoir story, go through and highlight the number of places where you showed emotion. Are there a lot of highlighted areas, a pitiful few, or even none?
Do you have trouble writing with emotion? Why or why not? Any tips for other writers? Tell us in a comment.
My job today is to rewrite that essay. I like it enough to begin a lifesaving job on it.