Friday, January 30, 2015

Getting Emotion into Writing with Aaron Bradford Starr

I'm happy to welcome a friend from my writing group to talk about getting emotion into your writing. Aaron does a masterful job of showing us how it's done! Thanks, Aaron!

Emotions in Writing

I felt the rush of air as the dart passed by my ear, and drew up straight, the wrench in my hand dropping into the snow. From just behind me, a mass fell at once, clouding the area with sparkling flakes as it plowed into the drifts. I took one look at the white-furred bulk, my breath coming in gasps, and then turned to where Michelle sat atop the fuselage of our downed plane.

“You cut that a bit close, didn't you?” I asked with a frown, my heart pounding within my parka, suddenly too warm. Michelle shrugged.

“You're the one who wanted to work in silence,” she pointed out. “I keep telling you they're afraid of the sound of our speech.”

Gripping the pages of the repair manual in my gloves, I gave them a shake. “Well these are pretty hard to follow,” I snapped. “What language is this, anyway?”

“Hindi,” Michelle said, “with a mix of Greek and Esperanto.”

“Who writes engine repair manuals in Esperanto?” I asked.

“Esperantans, I suppose,” she said, opening the breech of the air rifle and slipping in another bright red dart. Jacking it closed, she leaned back once more, crossing her boots. Fixing me with a stare of supreme unconcern, she sketched a yawn. “Better find that wrench before it gets dark, and you can't read any more.”

Pursing my lips, I dug around in the loose powder until I found the tool, and straightened with a sigh, my cheeks reddening under my scarf. “Alright, you win. You can fix the engine.”

With a delighted squeak, Michelle hopped from the wing, handed me the rifle, and plucked both manual and wrench from me. Humming to herself, she flipped trough the pages until she found the diagram of the engine, and began following it with her finger, nodding to herself and murmuring in Greek and what I assumed was Esperanto. I clamored up onto the wing, and leaned against the fuselage, quickly scanning the horizon. All around us, the mountains of the Himalayas glowed orange and pink with the setting sun.

“Before we crashed,” Michelle said from below, “you mentioned something about writing emotional scenes.”

I licked my lips, eyes sweeping the ridgelines for the movement of white on white. “Are you sure you can work and talk at the same time?” I asked. Beneath my goggles, my brow furrowed. She laughed and waved a dismissive hand at the engine.

“It's just an engine,” she said. “Either we talk, or I begin to sing.”

“I'll talk, I'll talk,” I muttered. With her classical training in opera, Michelle was as likely to bring down an untimely avalanche as scare away yeti.

“Good,” she answered, her voice muffled from within the engine housing. “You were talking about feelings.”

“No,” I corrected, glancing down at the open box of tranquilizer darts at my feet. The yeti on it was smiling, a night cap on his furry head. “I was talking about how people feel emotion. That's why we call them feelings. Emotions, after all, are a mental state with a physical sensation.”

“And that's what you need to record, as a writer,” she added. “The sensations associated with their emotions.”

“Yeah, exactly. Readers will feel what your characters do more often if you relate how their body reacts to their emotions, rather than simply recoding what those emotions are.” I frowned, lifting my goggles to swipe at my face, which was running with sweat. The glare was blinding, and I quickly slid them back into place, my eyes skittering around to surrounding vista, drawn by every stream of blowing snow off the drifts. “How long is this going to take to fix, anyway?”

“What, this?” Michelle asked, patting the engine housing with her head and shoulders well into the inner works. “This is no big deal. Just a few minutes more.”

I gave an involuntary bark of derisive laughter. The plane was perched atop a huge slope, teetering and groaning. Even with two running engines, it would be a miracle to get aloft again. I sighed, and glanced across to the charred stub where another engine had once hung beneath the opposite wing. I'd give anything to have two engines again.

“What about dialogue?” Michelle asked, startling me. I stammered, quickly glancing about the surroundings. How long had I been daydreaming?

“Uh, characters could become distracted,” I managed, bringing the rifle up and peering through the scope at a shifting movement in the distance. “You know, like losing their train of thought.”

Retracted?” Michelle asked, her voice echoing within the engine housing, mixed with the clicking of a ratchet wrench.

Distracted,” I snapped, more loudly than I'd intended. “And irritable. These are all things writers can do to show emotions like nervousness. How much longer?”

“Don't be such a baby,” Michelle said, beginning to wriggle from the innards of the engine. “I'm almost done here.”

About time, I thought, casting my eyes this way and that. Drawing in a quick breath, I peered at the ridgeline, through the glare of the setting sun. Raising the scope, I took a closer look, careful not to blind myself, and drew in a quick breath.

“We've got to go, right now!” I shouted, dropping the rifle to my side and leaping from the wing. Scooping the spare darts to my parka, I hauled open the door and threw both box and gun inside the plane's dark interior. Michelle looked from me to the distant edge of the ice field. A mass of movement gamboled across the flat expanse, white on white.

“Wow,” Michelle said, her voice placid. “Now that is a lot of yeti. I wonder what the plural of yeti is?”

“It's get the heck into the plane!” I shouted, jumping aboard and clamoring up the the cockpit.
Michelle followed, shutting the door and sitting as I fired up our remaining engine. After a mechanical protest, it roared to life, and Michelle gripped the controls. With a fierce grin, she nodded to me.

“Hit it!” she shouted, and I triggered the detonators.

On the slopes far above, the dynamite broke the snowpack free, and I tightened up my straps as we waited for the leading edge, my eyes locked on the approaching yetis out the side window, and Michelle rolling her shoulders and cracking her knuckles.

“So how would you get your characters to establish-” she began, and then broke off as the plane lurched forward and up, driven by the sliding snow that roared around and beneath us from up the hill. “Oh, wait, here we go!”

The plane tipped forward off the ridge, plunging down the slope, my shriek and Michelle's laughter mixing with the roar of the lone engine, and the howls of the yeti left far behind or swept along beside us.

As we gathered speed, crashing and grinding echoing through the interior, Michelle leaned over and tugged my sleeve.

“So what do you think about showing internal conflict?” she asked.

I pointed out the window to where the cliffside streaked closer. “Are you nuts?” I bellowed.

We launched over the edge, and Michelle draped a wrist across the yoke, waving her hand in my direction. “Oh, fine,” she muttered, as the plane struggled for altitude, lone remaining engine screaming. I swept off my goggles and brushed back my hood, breathing hard, sweat stinging my eyes.

“Are you crying?” she asked, incredulous.

“No I'm not crying,” I insisted, wiping my cheeks. “I'm just relieved, is all.”

Michelle shook her head. “What a big baby.”


Aaron Bradford Starr has published short stories in paintings, and interior art in Black Gate Magazine, Black Gate Online, Stupefying Stories, and Rampant Loon Press. He is a member of the writing group The Speculative Fiction Forum on Agent Query Connect. Find more about him on his blog, Imaginary Friend

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