Stories and Feelings
by Bill JohnsonMany stories are a journey of feeling for a story's audience. As characters overcome or pass through various obstacles to get what they want, they pass through stages of feeling, and readers who identify with these characters or become invested in what happens to them, share these feelings.
This makes a story different than real life, where many people struggle to access their true feelings, feel a need to take drugs to mute or control their feelings, or feel unable to express or experience feelings.
Some writers struggle with writing about feelings because they tend to be thoughtful and reflective, waiting until after an experience to process their feelings. Writers who deal with their feelings with detached reflection tend to create story characters who deal with their feelings with detached reflection, often off-stage and out of sight of a story's audience. The story's audience gets an objective report about a character's feelings, but does not get to share those feelings in their most immediate and potent form.
The very creative process that helps fuel storytelling, thoughtful reflection and an ability to visualize the creation of a story world, lends itself to storytelling being an objective process (watch the movie in your head and write down the details). The trap for some writers is that when they draw on their own experiences from life to create objective portraits of characters, they experience these objective portraits subjectively. Think of this in the context of someone else's home movies. To you that collection of stills of a Hawaii vacation might include some great shots of beaches but, since you aren't on them, so what? But, to the creators of these home movies, each picture helps them relive, re-feel, the experience.
It's the job of the storyteller to help his or her audience experience that beach in Hawaii, what it feels like, and to suggest a story-like purpose to being on that beach (that something is in need of resolution and fulfillment).
I'm not suggesting there isn't a place and purpose for objective writing. Hemingway, for example, appears to be writing in an objective fashion, but he is always direct and immediate about creating a sub text for what the action of a story means, both to a character and to a story's audience.
Writing feelings that connect with actions and suggest a dramatic purpose is a skill that some writers need to study and learn.It's also important for new writers to understand that in many stories, the feelings story characters experience also allow readers to access those characters. Character who go through scenes with no shifts in feeling allow readers no way to understand what a scene means to that character. Or, it conveys that nothing that happened in the scene had any impact. If the action of a scene doesn't impact the character, why should it impact the reader?
I've heard literary agents when commenting on this type of character that it creates a void running down the middle of a novel.