How do we, as writers, construct authentic emotions just using words? Sure, we can talk about a character laughing or crying or feeling frustrated … but how do we get our audience to really feel those emotions with that character? We don’t want our reader just to ‘watch’, we want them to laugh, cry or stomp along with our character. This is where no amount of training or reading can help … this is when you have to dig deep into your own experiences to recreate that emotion.
Let’s examine one of the more obtuse emotions: embarrassment. The Dictionary.com definition states:
the state of being embarrassed; disconcertment; abashment.
Now, that doesn’t really tell you much about the emotion, does it? Now, let me be brave and share with you two versions of one of my (many) moments where I have embarrassed myself. The first version will be a straightforward telling of the event, and the second will be how I felt during the event.
My immediate family, my husband, my two daughters, and my eldest daughter’s partner, were meeting with me for coffee at the Maroochydore Shopping Plaza. We were sitting out in an alfresco area of the boardwalk, in the delightful dappled shade of trees. I noticed my eldest daughter had a cute cloth bag in the shape of an owl, and wanted a closer look. As I asked her about the bag, I reached for it and gave it (what I thought was) a gentle tug. I scattered the contents of her bag over the entire wooden deck, including condoms and tampons. Several of our fellow diners helped us retrieve all the items.
How could one little bag hold so much stuff? I cringed as it all rattled to the ground, some of the items making a determined dash for freedom. They rolled under tables, across the deck, and every eye in the vicinity turned to watch the chaos. There was the usual random belongings that all women have in their bags, makeup, a hairbrush, tissues – used and unused, coins and keys. But there were some very personal items as well, condoms and tampons.
I could feel my face burning with shame while internally I cringed. I wanted to curl up into a foetal and wish the world away. I bent down to retrieve the contents of the bag, while various kind-hearted strangers came up with the doodads that had rolled away. A lipstick. Mascara. A makeup brush. And – oh god, how I winced as the pink-cheeked young man handed it to me – a tampon.
My daughter was crouched beside me, her lips clamped together. She wouldn’t meet my eyes. I though she was furious with me, and embarrassed on her own behalf, and I felt utterly wretched for my clumsiness. My face could have been used as a beacon for the Space station. And then she burst out laughing…
“You should see the look on your face, mum,” she told me, gasping for air.
Ask yourself how you know this doll is ‘sad’ (or ’embarrassed’).
Now, how could I ‘borrow from life’ to use that incident in a Steampunk novel? Easily. I am going to have a girl mechanic drop her toolbox, and have some personal items secreted among the usual contents of hammers, pliers and wrenches…