On Emotion

 The Wild Words Retreat. Photographed by Peter Reid. 

The Wild Words Retreat. Photographed by Peter Reid. 

Emotion is common to us all. It’s basic to our experience of being a human animal.

Reading or listening to stories imbued with emotion stimulates much more of the brain than reading an emotionless account would do. The empathy areas light up, and oxytocin, a chemical related to feelings of love and trust, is released.
 
When our words are imbued with emotion, for both the storyteller, and the listener or reader, it’s like having the wild animal very close, breathing down our neck.
 
These wild words hook the reader. The power and the passion within them sweeps us along, all the way to the end of the story. There is nothing tame about these words, nothing predictable. They live in extremis. One moment the receiver is roused to laughter and joy, the next they are devastated by tragedy. Hooked by emotion, they journey with the narrator/lead character. It’s quite a trip.
 
Rachel Shirley gives a relevant example of how to work with emotion on the page. She explains that you could write,
 
She waited by the door. She felt so frightened, she thought she would begin to panic.
 
However, it would be stronger to write,
 
She waited by the door. Her heartbeat thrummed against her ribcage, her mouth tasted like iron and her breaths hitched in her throat.
 
Although wild words are infused with emotion, as you’ll have noticed in the above example, the emotion is often not named on the page.

Instead the experience of feeling emotion in the body, which is actually the experience of the intensifying of bodily sensations, is described. As these experiences are common to all of us, we know exactly what emotion is being experienced, even if it’s not named. Indeed, it’s more impactful for not being named.
 
Below is a wonderful (if stomach turning) example of how to work with emotion on the page, from Ian Fleming’s ‘Casino Royal’. Le Chiffre is torturing Bond. Notice how the emotions are never named, but there is attention to the detail of bodily sensations.
 
Bond's whole body arched in an involuntary spasm. His face contracted in a soundless scream and his lips drew right away from his teeth. At the same time his head flew back with a jerk showing the taut sinews of his neck. For an instant, muscles stood out in knots all over his body and his toes and fingers clenched until they were quite white. Then his body sagged and perspiration started to bead all over his body. He uttered a deep groan.