I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Friday, August 5, 2011

Writing by Heart

Credit: Michael Pohl

There's nothing to writing.  
All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.  
~Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

Wednesday morning after I hit snooze about three times, I came awake with a revelation—I have become my character.

When I began my current work-in-progress (WIP), my character struggled with financial hardships. About that time, my husband lost his job.

My character discovered a maintenance issue in her place of business. We had a major leak in our bedroom. Then we found another one in our back entry area.

When my character needed hope, God provided me with a book contract.

I’m editing the Black Moment where the character’s daughter is rushed to the ER. Nine days ago my mother was taken to the ER by ambulance. Last night she was admitted to the hospital again for more testing for her heart.

The waiting, the worrying that Josie is feeling—I get that.

Writing is about creating relationships with your readers, allowing them to feel the same character emotions as they turn the pages.

In order to create those emotions, you have to sacrifice a part of yourself—become vulnerable on the page.

Before you write a scene, think about the emotion you want the character to feel, then think back to a time when you had a similar experience or emotion. Now bleed how you felt onto the page.

Tuesday night when I visited my mom in the hospital, I smiled and laughed because I didn’t want to stress her out by the worry bouncing around inside my head. When I came home, I channeled those emotions into my scene and wrote this:

Birthdays were supposed to be celebrations, not spent fighting to breathe in a hospital room painted the color of chicken soup.

Children’s laughter should be bouncing off the walls instead of beeping monitors and hissing tubes. The scent of sulphur from extinguished birthday candles and the sweetness of frosting should be lingering in the air. Not the stench of antiseptic that had become as familiar as Josie’s own shampoo.

Her gaze fixated on Hannah’s closed eyes, memorizing every curve and line of her face. Her chest rose and fell in a peaceful rhythm. Too peaceful. Too final.

Please, God, one more birthday . . .  

She’d pray that prayer every day for the rest of her life if necessary.

Losing her only child would surely shred her heart beyond repair. Hannah was a piece of her. A small representation of the good in Josie’s life. She’d lost so many people already. Couldn’t He spare her daughter?

She swiped at the tears crowding her eyes, swallowing back the boulder-sized lump that seemed to be a constant part of her anatomy. Hope appeared to be the large tanker in the middle of the ocean and she resided on the island of despair with rescue being a stranger.

When Nick walked away, he took another piece of her heart with him. Would he return? The voice inside her head screamed for him to stay. She couldn’t bear to be alone anymore, to lose someone else she loved. Instead, she told him not to bother coming back.

Your turn: How do you write emotion? Do you find it a challenge? What suggestions do you have to offer?

Lisa Jordan


  1. Very powerful, Lisa! It gave me chills. I don't let emotion show very much. Writing the heavy emotional scenes gives me an outlet for the things I can't seem to release in real life. It's theraputic. I access those pent up feelings and let it bleed out all over the page.

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  3. Lisa, so powerful! I'm sorry you've had so many challenges. I can definitely see how what you've lived would deepen your writing. Thanks for being so transparent and for showing us the beauty that can transfer from real life into writing life.

    I have started an emotions journal to help me journal, but I'm still trying to get better at putting emotion down on paper. Love how you did it.

    So appreciate you!
    PS Sorry for deleting my last comment--I forgot to write something. :)

  4. Great and thought-provoking job, Lisa. I began registering, writing about and living lots more emotion after meeting the Ponderers. I know that is something God wanted me to do, though not entirely sure where it will end up., Thanks for your part, Lisa.

  5. Beautiful scene, Lisa! Masterfully written!

    Writing emotion is hard for me...because, frankly, I'm an avoid-er at heart and I'd rather not dwell in not-so-pleasant-feelings territory. But I'm learning more and more that "bleeding on the page," like you said, is a perfect way to face what I'm feeling through my characters...deal with it...and then move on to the next "scene" in my own life. It's good for my writing and my real-life mental wellbeing. :)

    Susie's emotional layering exercises, too, have worked wonders on my deeper scenes!

  6. The emotional journal exercise, recommended by Suz and Rachel, helps a lot. As you've heard me say, just don't leave your emo journal in the office at your daughter's elementary school. That can kind of, um, cause some confused looks when you come to pick it up after the "Did you leave a journal in the office?" phone call.

  7. Andrea--I'm probably too emotional at times. I can tear up at sentimental commercials, going through my boys' scrapbooks or even reading emails. It is hard for me, though, to really open up and share what I'm feeling. Writing helps me to release some of that deep emotion too.

  8. Jeanne, thanks for your sweet words. Each of these challenges have come with incredible blessings. I'm so thankful for God's constant provision and protection.

    Each time you tap into the emotional side of your writing, you'll get better at it. :)

  9. Dee, having The Ponderers in my life has strengthened my prayer life, so I know how you feel about God's hand in bringing us all together. I'm so thankful for that.

  10. Melissa, thanks for your sweet words.

    I'm a great avoider too, so I hate to dwell on the downer stuff. Writing helps me deal with the emotions I'm going through. Instead of burying them, I can lay them out and then begin to heal.

  11. Beth, I can't even imagine what the office staff thought if they read your journal. Susie and Rachel have really helped me learn how to weave emotion into my story for stronger character development. Reason #987909823 why MBT rocks! :)

  12. Well done, LJ. There's a lot of food for thought here. You have me thinking about other scenes I need to stop being a coward about writing. ;)

    In my latest WIP (Twisted Fate) I have the mother and 5yr old daughter freezing to death in the snow. Later at the hospital, I had to let the daughter die, while the mother came in and out of consciousness. I decided to write the scene in the mother's dream, watching her daughter happy and laughing as she drifted away, telling her mommy she liked it when she smiled, (the daughter saw it rarely). After that, I had to go spend time with my kids. I had a hard time detaching myself from the books reality.

  13. Wow, Lisa. Absolutely moving. You have such poetry in your writing. Can't wait to read all of it.

    I've learned so much from Susie and Rachel on emotional layering..but sometimes it's still hard to bleed those deep-seated feelings I want to describe.

  14. Lisa, I'm sorry to hear about the challenges you've been facing. I hope your mother is doing better.

    Like you, I work hard to infuse my scenes with emotion, tapping into my own experiences to add authenticity.