Getting Emotional – a writing prompt from Angela Ackerman

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Today, Angela Ackerman invites us to think about our character’s past emotional trauma and how it affects them in the present.

This is a really useful exercise for deepening any character in any length of story. Use it for a character from a novel, or for the character in a short story. It can’t help but make your story more rich.

And remember: emotion is the key to a reader connecting with your story.

The Prompt

Emotional trauma is an experience, or set of experiences, that can change your character in fundamental ways, altering their personality, embedding fears in their minds, affecting their ability to connect and trust others, and steering their needs and desires during your story.

Write about a wounding experience from your character’s past that changed them into who they are today.

HINT: most wounding experiences involve someone close to the character as it is the people closest to us who are able to do the most psychological damage.

For emotional wound ideas, try this list: https://onestopforwriters.com/wounds


About Angela Ackerman

Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Expression and four other bestselling writing guides. A proud indie author, her books are available in five languages, sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors and psychologists around the world.

Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site, Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop For Writers, an innovative online library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.

http://writershelpingwriters.net/
https://onestopforwriters.com

[Write On Wednesday] Laughter

Following up on the recent theme of emotional writing prompts, here’s one that’s good for a laugh.

smile!
smile! by Lin Pernille Photography LLC, on Flickr

The Prompt

Write A Story That Features Laughter

Tips

  • Laughter can be cleansing, hysterical (in a bad way), nervous, comradely, cruel. Pick one, or cram as many as possible into one story.
  • Think about the physicality of laughter at the moment it happens.
  • Think about the emotions the memory of the laughter (happy or cruel) elicits later.
  • Use the moment of laughter as a plot device. It is the start or the end of something. It is some place/time/state your character wants to get back to or escape from.
  • If you’re showing laughter-following-a-joke, take a tip from Joss Whedon’s Firefly. He has a couple of scenes where he skips the joke and cuts straight to the characters laughing uproariously at whatever was said just off camera. That saves the audience from having to analyze the joke (“was it really that funny?”) and allows them to watch how the laughing characters react and interact. It allows for the sense of catharsis from the laughter without having to share the writer’s sense of humor. (Watch for the dinner scene in the episode Out Of Gas, around the 5:00 min mark).

Go!

[Write On Wednesday] Anger

Continuing a trend from last week and the week before, here’s another prompt that leads you into plot via your main character’s emotion.

Rage Wallpaper
Rage Wallpaper by Thoth God of Knowledge, on Flickr

The Prompt

Write A Story That Features Anger

Tips

  • You can start your story with an angry outburst then spend the rest of it unpacking what prompted the rage, or exploring the consequences of one person’s rage for all the characters around them.
  • You can build up to a big, angry finish — showing your character giving in to something they’ve been fighting all the way through the story.
  • Think about how you have experienced anger in your own life — both in yourself and observing it in others.
  • Try to get inside the head of someone who has a very different ‘anger vector’ than yourself. (If you’re a ‘push me for weeks until I explode’ person, think about writing a character who is a ‘rage and forget it’ sort).
  • Remember there is such a thing as righteous anger.
  • To avoid the story becoming too intense, use the concept of the opposite emotion to show that your character(s) is/are capable of other emotions too. (What is the opposite of anger? Depends on the type of anger, doesn’t it? It might be charm, or humor, or kindness, or gentleness.
  • How can you tell a story that includes one character containing two opposing attributes. Think about what a character like that wants and go from there).
  • What kind of language will you use? Animal metaphors? Short, choppy sentences? Dialogue? How will you avoid clichés?

Go

 

[Write On Wednesday] Joy

Write A Story In Which A Character Experiences Joy

Continuing on from last week’s prompt about a character experiencing an emotion, this week we’re focusing on Joy.

joy!
joy! by atomicity, on Flickr

The Prompt

Write A Story In Which A Character Experiences Joy

Tips

  • How to define ‘joy’? I’m going with ‘a momentary experience of intense happiness’, though CS Lewis famously mixed that feeling of happiness with one of ‘longing’ in his definition of joy.
  • The main character does not have to be the character experiencing the moment of joy. They can be an observer.
  • How do the characters observing the joy-filled character’s behavior react? Do they reflect the joy? Do they feel bereft because they lack it? Do they envy the other person? Do they show that directly by being sad, or do they bury it and act like a jerk?
  • Will the joyful moment happen at the beginning of your story and kick off all the events that follow? Will the character be sustained by the fleeting sensation or spend a miserable existence in a futile attempt to recapture it?
  • Will you build up to the moment of joy at the end of your story (huge climax? Happy ending?)
  • What does it actually feel like to experience (or witness) joy?
  • What kind of a character could really use a little joy, and how can you put them in a situation where they experience it? Do they deserve it? Does that matter?

Go!