Writing With Heart or Mind?

I’m a pisces, but I only inherited the creative flake side of that zodiac sign. I did not inherit the over-emotional weepy side, or much semblance of emotional depth at all. I’m logic-oriented, which strikes most people as being cold, aloof, or even clueless about human interaction. For example, people wonder how I could consider something like a pre-nup, or why I always add the “if we broke up” caveat when I talk about my relationship. To an emotional person, my caution to trust my finances and future with my partner of four years means that “I don’t really love/trust him.”

Bollocks. It’s got nothing to do with love or trust. When I consider marriage, all I see is the 50% fail rate. Both my parents have been divorced twice and I’m not naive enough to think it can’t happen to me.  But with all aspects of my life, I always have a Plan B. I don’t trust life to go right the first time. And because I hold others to high standards when it comes to their life choices (as in, not making dumb mistakes), I expect myself to do the same.

What’s this got to do with writing? Well, my logical objectivist mind doesn’t seem like a great conduit for creativity, does it? As I said yesterday, empathy is necessary for an author. To make readers have an emotional response, we must know how that response should feel. We must know what makes US feel that response. What makes us cry? What makes us angry? What makes us feel beauty?

I struggle with this sometimes. It’s not my nature to write from the heart. I write a web of plot from my mind. My characters are designed logically, featuring personality traits meant to manipulate the audience into liking and relating to them. I do try to create high emotional climaxes, as well as emotional depth in my characters, but it often misses the mark. Either betas don’t “get” that I was going for their heartstrings, or I made the characters emotional to the point of being whiny.

But emotions do inspire me. They might not result in full-length books, but they do result in ideas. My revulsion upon visiting Space X, and my fear for any future astronaut friends, is what inspired me to write my short story Goliath. When I was in a long-distance relationship, I wanted to write a story about longing. About being in a relationship that was very far apart, but perhaps not by physical distance (this turned into a plot bunny where one member of the couple slowly goes blind over the course of their life. The eventual lack of shared sight becomes a distance that creates longing). Fear is one of my most powerful emotions to draw from, because fear and anxiety are the two emotions of which I’m most capable. I rarely get angry or ecstatic. I rarely get melancholy. But I’m a worrier. And it’s the things I worry about that inspire pretty good stories for me. Many of my story ideas have a sense of “uhgh, hope that never happens to me…”

And don’t underestimate the emotion of caring. I love the projects I work on. I care about them deeply. That’s certainly an emotion, and I hope it’s obvious that my book is a labor of love. Perhaps it’s not an overt emotion on the page, but that love is subtext beneath the print. Most of my favorite works of fiction have an obvious amount of love put into them (Guardians of the Galaxy is a recent example) and it’s amazing how much quality that gives a story.

So I don’t think you need to be a bleeding heart in order to write good stories. If you have enough emotion to care about what you’re writing, that’s all the reader will see in the end.

6 thoughts on “Writing With Heart or Mind?

  1. Two things:

    First, if there was a “requirement” to write, we wouldn’t have as many writers we do today. You don’t need an overly dramatic life in order to get your emotions across. If it were so, there wouldn’t be as many men writing (lol, jk on that). Sincerely, a lot of people would not write.

    I think it’s a little bit in reverse. I think writers write because they are unsure about how to express their emotions, so they try to put it down in a medium they understand better. It’s not something we are all good at, but we need to practice.

    It goes hand in hand with a running joke I tend to tell people: “I need to get a drug addiction to be a great writer. Just look at the greats!”

    Sure, they all had the drug overuse. And granted, you CAN make an argument that some drugs open up your mind, but they are not the answer. It’s the same way with emotions. Yes, you are supposed to make your audience feel something. That’s what stories are for, but there’s other means to get this across, not just the one.

    As for my second point, it’s a recommendation. From what I’ve gathered in your posts, you write like anyone would play with dolls or action figures. You move the character as if it were part of you. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. I do that a lot. But sometimes, the author needs to remove themselves a bit.

    Play it from the other side. Make the characters and let them populate your world. Think of them as sentient beings that exist. Then, take the role of the world’s “god,” while keeping some restrictions. Rule one, you cannot change or control a character’s actions. Think of it like some of those supernatural novels that deal with gods. They can influence but can’t intervene. Same concept.

    Your goal will change, moving from “I got to write this character doing this” to “I got to get my character to do this.” It’s a small difference, but it could be useful.

    I do know that this might be a little…egocentric since I’m calling the writer a god, but technically, that would be what you would be. Not the puppeteer, but a maker.

    Anyway, You seem to be a “plotter,” so this might actually be something good for you to try. It’s a strange mindset to try at first, but it works well in some difficult parts. This doesn’t mean it is easy. You’ll have to create the character and define them well in order to let them have authority. Then, you’ll have to play this like a tactician, trying to set up events in a way that gets the character to do what you want. The only bad thing about this is that the character might fight you back ;)

    • That’s not terribly different from what I do now, honestly. As tactically minded as I am, I actually write in a fairly organic, removed way. At least in Paradisa, I feel like a complete observer (the new book I’m working on is much more “me” for now…but that’s a very unusual case). I also won’t work on a project if the characters do not feel “organic” to me, like they have their own minds and personalities that are richly defined. Almost like they feel “alive”. Much like an actor, I don’t want to work with a character that’s indecisive :P

      Now, one problem I run into is that I seldom feel my characters ARE organic. I’ve had a lot of great ideas for plots that I set aside because the characters running them were not good (yet). Only about 10% of characters I come up with are ones I fall in love with, which is a pretty bad batting average for a writer. So I could use some practice with that.

      But overall, one of my favorite things to do is to offer characters really tough choices that challenge their nature. I think this may be what you mean by “influence but not intervene”? I lay down the paths they can take, and they choose where to go, but it’s not like I’ve got a pitchfork in their back prodding them into one direction. I know that controlling your characters with a stiff hand is a huge “NO”, and that overt manipulation of them to advance the plot is the sign of a bad author. Truthfully, that’s something that doesn’t even tempt me anymore. It takes extra time to figure out believable ways for the characters to find their path, but I know that’s the correct method. The way you say it kind of makes me sound like an evil mastermind leading the heroes to their doom, and I kind of like that too XD

      • lol, yeah. My other example would have been a GM leading the party to their doom… (I’ve never actually played an RPG, but I can imagine an evil GM doing it).

        Well, that’s pretty cool. I don’t usually do that. I tend to tell a story where people do things (most of my stories are plot driven rather than character driven, which I think is a weakness of mine. [it materializes at its worst when I don’t know where I’m going with the story]). My best example of this is: the story plays out like a movie in my head and I just write it down. I don’t feel like I have control in any way. But when I play with the characters, as if they were actors, it really sends me back to my whole Drama years, when I directed a couple of plays.

        Directing takes a very different skill from writing. You can’t “tell” people what to do (Actors are annoying that way. They won’t do what they are told). Instead, you have to “suggest” what they should do. Rather than say “kiss her passionately,” you have to tell the actor, “That woman is the one you’ve been longing for. You see her from afar and you know your heart belongs to her and it hurts. Now she’s in front of you and this might be the only time that you can feel her lips against yours…” Yeah… directing is interesting.

        Anyhow, directing is different, but it can be useful when writing. That’s really what I meant. Make the character and think of them as actors. They have personalities and are different people. Sometimes even thinking of real life actors to play the part might make it easier. For example, I sometimes like to think of some one like Ryan Gosling when I have the silent brooding character (I know, I’m typecasting him, but that’s part of the game).

        Long responses again. Love to engage in these discussions!

      • Heh, this makes me wonder if you saw yesterday’s post where I talked about a ton of this –


        I too use real life actors in my mental image of characters. Helps me hear their voices and see their mannerisms. I don’t imagine that the actors ARE my characters, but they’re PLAYING my characters…if that makes any sense. The other half of me is actually a filmmaker, although I’ve been knee-deep in novel writing for the past year. It’s been a few years since I got my hands wet with a movie project. But I’ve always loved cinematography, to the point where I sometimes wish I could show specific shots in my writing, lol.

        Directing, I admit…not so much. I never liked actors much or really knew how to handle them. But I feel like knowing how to direct would certainly make one a good storyteller/writer. That’s pretty great advice – to give your characters their motivation instead of telling them what to do. :)

      • Oh no! I must have missed yesterday’s post :( (which is weird, since I’ve been spending waaaaay too much time ’round blogs since my last class ended)

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