Voluntary Masochism: Writing With Emotion - Writer's Digest

Voluntary Masochism: Writing With Emotion

Jane Myers Perrine shares her tips for writing with emotion and how it feels like voluntary masochism. But there is a power in allowing yourself to feel and show your emotions.
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Jane Myers Perrine shares her tips for writing with emotion and how it feels like voluntary masochism. But there is a power in allowing yourself to feel and show your emotions.

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I grew up in a dysfunctional family. Chances are many of you did, too. My family’s main dysfunction was that we were not allowed to express negative emotions. We could smile or not, laugh or be quiet but we could never show anger. Never. Confrontation was bad. Expressing pain or disappointment was frowned upon. Is it any wonder that I grew up with no idea how I felt about anything?

GIVEAWAY: Jane is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: writeandtravel won.)

Award-winning writer Jane Myers Perrinehas published books with
Avalon Books, Steeple Hill Love Inspired, and FaithWords, a division of
Hachette Book Group. Jane’s Butternut Creek series is about a young
minister serving in the beautiful Hill Country of Texas and is filled with
affection and humor. The latest book is THE WEDDING PLANNERS
OF BUTTERNUT CREEK (Nov. 2013, Faithwords). Jane lives north of
Austin where her life is controlled by two incredibly spoiled tuxedo cats.

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Then I started writing. Talk about a foolish career choice: a writer who feels uncomfortable around emotion. A writer who cannot express feelings. This pretty much explains why my first three published books were filled with humor and froth. I love my first book, THE MAD HERRINGTONS, a traditional and award-winning Regency, but the only bad thing that happens to the heroine that her parents show up at the house party she’s attending.

Readers expect emotion. Oh, they love humor as well but they expect and really want characters they can identify with deeply, who go through pain and learn and heal and come out on the other side changed and triumphant!

Writer Sharon Sala teaches a workshop on how to express emotion. Her advice sounded easy but opened a new world to me: to convey the emotions your characters feel, dig deep inside yourself, find those emotions you may not have allowed yourself to show before. Remember the time you were saddest or deeply devastated or very happy and imbue your characters with what you felt.


With that, I was able to write how Franny (THE PATH TO LOVE) felt when she realized the hero could not accept her for who she was and had the strength to walk away from him. Who among us hasn’t had to stand up to someone who’d like us better if we weren’t so much who we are? To write about Franny, I had to overcome my fear of confrontation, my habit of giving in for peace. Not easy, but my writing improved.

A friend who is reading the BUTTERNUT CREEK series said to me the other day, “Jane, do you realize how autobiographical these books are?” Yes, I do, but probably on a different level than she’d thought. Many of the events in the books came from what my experiences but more autobiographical were the emotions that came from deep within myself.

As well as digging inside myself, I’ve explored the feelings and emotions of other people, real people, observing the battles and heroics. We authors are shameless in appropriating whatever we can from our friends and families.

Sam, one of the heroes in THE WELCOME COMMITTEE OF BUTTERNUT CREEK is an alcoholic ex-Marine amputee suffering from PTSD. I have never been any of these. However, I watched the heroics of my husband as he struggled with difficult health problems. I used his courage and victories to form Sam.

Expressing emotion is like my getting into a swimming pool filled with cold water. At first, I stick my toes in and pull them out. Then, I go down a few steps and get used to the temperature. Finally, I immerse myself completely. For seconds it’s icily painful. I want to leap out and wrap up in my towel. But after a few shivering seconds, the water feels comfortable.

If you love to write and have a story you want to tell, the only thing that can stand between you and the success you’re seeking isn’t craft, or a good agent, or enough Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but fear. Fear that you aren’t good enough, or fear the market is too crowded, or fear no one wants to hear from you. Fortunately, you can’t write while being in the flow and be afraid simultaneously. The question is whether you will write fearlessly.

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When we as writers put our deepest emotions and feelings on a page and share them with others, we’re extremely vulnerable. It’s chilling to think that others will read about the most intimate details of our lives and feelings. We’ve exposed our failures. The readers know us and our pain and the ugly events of our lives, the emotions we’ve hidden for decades because we’ve spread them out for all to view. As writers, we’re voluntarily masochistic. Personally, I’d rather leap away and wrap myself in the comfort of denial and I can do that but my writing will not be as strong.

As I write, I attempt to convey the pain throbbing inside where the emotional anguish becomes physical, the times I’ve curled up and sobbed because I can’t find comfort or surcease. When Gussie (THE MATCHMAKERS OF BUTTERNUT CREEK) has to realize if she doesn’t face the pain of rape that she’s denied so long, she will surely lose the man she loves and when Sam recognizes if he doesn’t tell Willow about the horror of war and the loss of his best friend, she will turn away—the pain of sharing or not opening up is what a writer must express.

Don’t be afraid to feel and to show your emotions. You can always step back. You are allowed to pull your toe out, cover yourself with a blanket, and curl up where you’re comfortable. Or you can step into the cold and deep water and write what you feel, what the characters must feel, and create a far better novel.

GIVEAWAY: Jane is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: writeandtravel won.)


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