Peggy Bechko: Writing with Intensity

raymondchandlerquoteby Peggy Bechko

There’s a lot of psychology and emotion that goes into great writing.

Emotion is something we all deal with every day and not all of our emotions are easy to deal with. There are all sorts of ways people use to deal with emotions, to cope with the fall-out and generally claw their way through no matter what.

What’s that got to do with writing? Really, you need to ask?

Lots. The way your characters deal with the emotions resulting from the tasks, tragedies and motives they’re given maximizes the vital conflict and resulting tension in your novel.

Think about everyday life. It’s not very often simple or direct. One friend takes out his or her anger on another not associated with the source of that anger. Some hapless soul becomes the target of that anger, someone who’s a convenient or easier target than the one who caused it. Complicated, huh? And just think it applies to pretty much all emotions. Think of guilt, love, fear, doubt and the whole host of other emotions that we try to tame every day.

The transference of these intense emotions can be at the root of your character. Once you’ve established how that character manages emotions you have free rein. You can use that tension, those reactions to reveal internal beliefs and the character’s view of the world in general. You can create drama. You can let your reader in on the interior reasons for that character’s determination to transfer those emotions to another (while the other characters in the story haven’t a clue), like blowing up at one person when angry with another or with life in general. That can throw open the door to irony, even humor when handled right. And you have the golden opportunity for escalating tension, one anger feeding another, as your story moves forward.

How about love? What if a character gives love, misplaced, is rejected and goes on a killing spree? I think we’ve all seen similar plots. What if a husband, after losing his job, comes home to find his wife embracing his best friend? Though it’s innocent enough it triggers a frustrated homicidal rage and the husband begins to plot a murder that will include his best friend and his wife.

If you, as the writer, keep your characters hopping, give one no time to recover from some traumatic event, it’s easy to see how without time to recover his balance a character might take out whatever keyed-up emotion inside on the next friend or family member who makes the smallest miss-step.

In real life emotions aren’t neatly contained, but spill over into every area of life. You can use that in story creation. If you know your characters well you’ll see the opportunities at every turn.