How emotional am I writing my characters’ emotions?

I’m on a Sweet Salt Air roll, so this blog won’t be long.  But I’m asked this question often.  Do I feel what I write?  If my characters are shocked, do I feel the shock?  If they’re heartsick, do I cry?  And yes – someone recently asked this in a blog comment – if they’re aroused, am I?

You wouldn’t ask any of it if you’d seen me this week.  I’ve been writing three consecutive scenes in Sweet Salt Air, each pivotal to the plot, each filled with high emotion, and I’ve been wringing my hands, pacing the floor, writing with my heart in my mouth, waking at night with my characters’ worries.  We’re talking betrayal, heartache, and fear.  You may read it in passing, but I live with it.

Okay.  Maybe the Patriots’ loss got me started in a state.

But what my characters lived through this week really did take my mind off that.  Writing emotion is a matter of total immersion.  I haven’t been able to do any other reading this week (not that I wanted to read the sports pages anyway.)

Does the writing flow faster during these scenes?  Yes and no.  The words pour out and fill the page – but I change them more.  Have you ever had an argument with someone and wanted to take back what you said or say it in a different way?  In an ideal world, you can.  Writing is that world.  I can fine-tune those emotional scenes until they’re just right.

So I write in a burst, stop and feel, edit in a burst, stop, feel, and write more.  I take a thirty-minute car ride, feel what’s coming next, and speak dialogue into my microrecorder.  If a character puts a hand on her chest because her heart is beating that hard, my hand is on my own chest.  If her throat is tight, mine is too.  And hey, if the guy in a love scene doesn’t turn me on, I can’t write the scene.

So the short, sweet, intimate answer?  I feel everything.

What about you?  Do you feel those emotions?  Does your heart pound?  Does your jaw drop?  Do you put your hand on the top of your head in utter disbelief, as Charlotte Evans just did?

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  1. Lorraine Thacker on February 8, 2012 at 10:17 am

    If I don’t, I’m not reading a well-written novel by an excellent author.

  2. elaine light on February 8, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Hello Ms. Delinsky,

    I am currently enjoying Escape on CD and have one quick comment. Early on, you state that Emily looked out the window and enjoyed the blue of sky and red of a Norway Maple. Norway Maples do not turn red. Ever! They turn a sort of gold, only. Sugar Maples turn red, orange, and gold depending on how much sun they receive. Red, or swamp maples, do turn red. Occasionally they don’t quite make it; but most of the time, do.

    Sign me a tree-lover, reader, and lover of accuracy,

    elaine light

    • Barbara Delinsky on February 8, 2012 at 7:54 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Elaine. Being a tree-lover myself, I was speaking from personal experience. The Norway maples in my yard are a crimson red during the growing season. You’re right, they turn a weak gold in the fall, but ESCAPE opens in late spring/early summer. Please keep up that sharp eye when it comes to my books. I’m a lover of accuracy as well. Anything that’s wrong will be corrected in the paperback edition of the book. Again, thanks for your note.

  3. Becky on February 8, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    I do feel the emotions if they are well written. That is why I tend to lean to certain writers than others. You are one of them I really like. I don’t need every tiny detail in a sex scene, but I love the emotional and spiritual side of it as much as the physical. I can relate when characters situations are well felt and I can relate to them. I have been desparately trying to put into a words the most amazing dream I had because I don’t ever want to lose it. I can feel the feelings, but can’t find the right words to describe them. I was hoping to actually make a story of it someday. But I can read other wrilters words and feel those feelings. I don’t want to steal there lines. So I am just more or less writing the sequence and dialogue. I admire you writers so very much for the talent that you have. Keep doing what you are doing Barbara. It is great.

  4. Shirley on February 8, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    I absolutely do. My heart aches, I laugh and I have cried so hard I felt like I had lost a loved one. Sometimes thinking about that person or persons for days after reading a particular book .

    • Shirley on February 8, 2012 at 5:32 pm

      I meant to add……like your book Three wishes. My all time favorite. I have bought several copies and given them as gifts. I love reading al your books. You truly are gifted.

      • Becky on February 9, 2012 at 12:25 pm

        I have passed Three Wishes around so many times, don’t even know where it is. I have never sobed so hard as I did with that one. What a powerful book.

  5. June Bourgo on February 9, 2012 at 1:13 am

    I absolutely feel what my characters feel. When I write heartbreaking scenes, I cry while writing them and have gone back later and reread them and cried again. I don’t think I could write a realistic emotion without becoming the character and feeling what she feels. I think you would agree that the writing process is can be a painful one at times for different reasons and experiencing your characters emotions is one of those times.

    I have a question for you. Do you ever go back and read a passage in one of your books and find your surprised that you wrote it? I do that sometimes and surprise myself wondering where it came from.

    Love your books, you inspire me. Cheers

    • Barbara Delinsky on February 9, 2012 at 5:45 am

      I’ve had that experience, June, but it’s more amazement than surprise, when I think a sentence or paragraph is really good and can’t believe it was me who wrote it!

  6. Char on February 10, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    I often use my drive time to talk through character dialogue of climactic scenes. I’ve found myself in tears at times. (Not really a good thing when you’re driving down the road!) Oh yes, I feel those emotions strongly, but I seem to need words of encouragement to make me feel that I know what I’m doing. I share those scenes with my writers group and know I’ve hit them dead-on when I see the expressions on their faces.

  7. Pam Lord on February 25, 2012 at 9:22 am

    I was actually asked that question at an appearance this week. My answer: “If I can’t feel the emotion, how can I describe it to you?” Since I am a “video writer”, I have to try on the different body languages and facial expressions that might occur during a piece of dialogue. She might sweep her arm around this way, I think to myself as I demonstrate the action. Would he have cocked his head to the right or left? What kind of frown would that comment elicit?

    Once my husband walked into the den as I trying on these emotions and thought I was losing my mind! Quite funny, though. But that’s what I have to do to make an immediate scene. My readers tell me it works, so I’ll continue to give my husband something to laugh about when he catches me trying out my new moves.

    Can’t wait for Sweet Salt Air, Barbara. I love you coastal Maine plots.

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