Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011
If ever a writer doubted the power of universal emotions, s/he should have a vivid vision of it now, considering the events of this past week. What the writer might not have is a clear understanding of what s/he has seen.
As writers, we are charged with the responsibility and obligation of tapping the readers’ emotions as a means of creating the fictional dream. That artistic skill is vital because it enables readers to read words on a page and be mentally transported to living the events occurring in the novel. This transport is the writers’ vehicle for creating character empathy, and character empathy creates reader involvement. Reader involvement translates to sales. And sales are the objective of the commercial fiction writer.
Not all of us lost a loved one in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center or at the Pentagon. Not all of us knew personally someone lost or injured. Not all of us have been trapped in a building we knew we would not live to exit, or have had to choose whether to die by burning in a fire or jumping to our deaths from a skyscraper.
Not all of us have had to choose whether or not to run into a burning building to help others, or whether to stay or go and leave a disabled friend behind. Not all of us have had to witness these deaths and this destruction firsthand, or to explain that which cannot be explained to children, to console those in shock, to give last rites to those who are dying.
Not all of us have stood, raw and anxious, waiting for days for news on missing loved one, attended a memorial service, gone home to a now empty house or apartment, knowing a beloved person well might never come home again. Not all of us are New Yorkers or even Americans.
Yet all of us understand grief, sorrow, suffering. Feeling hopeless, helpless, or frustrated by distance or time or an inability to act. Anger, outrage, and loss. Being torn by forced choices at times when the best choice we can make is god-awful and its greatest asset is that it’s the lesser of two evils. We’ve all had moments in our lives when we have felt so much and yet were at a total loss for anything whatsoever to say. And we’ve all felt inadequate at such times.
We all understand anguish and agony and suffering. And those of us not experiencing these emotions firsthand feel a sense of gratitude that these troubles have not touched us firsthand–and feel guilty for feeling grateful that we’ve been spared that firsthand experience.
We see those who are directly affected and we empathize. Tears choke their voices, blur their vision. And our throats thicken and our eyes blur. We see the tremble in their chins and tighten our own, knowing that a sob born of despair and desolation is a half-breath away. Their body language and expressions, the timbre of their voices and their words touch us, envelop us, and we emote. We emotionally merge until what is happening to them is happening to us.
As the days pass, the shock wears thin, and with frayed nerves and wrung emotions, we notice intense bonds forming between strangers, gentle compassion, offers of concern and care and encouragement and hope. We see random acts of kindness and generous spirits and loving natures surface and integrate, and we are touched. Our hearts and spirits and generous natures engage and we connect.
We’re more attuned, we try harder to help others, work harder to make the impossible possible, the unbearable bearable–if only for a brief moment. We call upon strengths we didn’t know we had to help us help others. We respect and admire and emulate. We emote.
We learn much about others–their resolve, determination, their breaking points. We learn much about ourselves–our resolve, the depth of our convictions, the lines we feel compelled to draw in the sand and will not cross.
We don’t always like what we see–in others, or in ourselves–yet, emoting, we cannot hide from these truths. They are evident and blatant and unyielding. They are merciless and brazen. They are honest.
Emotions are indeed universal. Through them, we associate and integrate, and one human being–a writer–can touch the hearts and minds of many other human beings. We experience and imagine and, if we are very lucky, we grasp that all human beings are connected, and what affects us, affects all of us.
The events this week have been intensely emotional. Watching them, we see the impact of bitterness and hatred and evil. We feel the shock and outrage and the solace and comfort of human kindness, the gentle embrace of compassion and hope. We watch. We experience. We emote.
We see the worst and the best in all of us.
We touch our humanity.
As you write today and tomorrow and next week, remember the wide range of emotions you have experienced in the past week. Remember the harsh swings, the subtle nuances. Recall the events or acts that triggered your emotions. What brought tears to your eyes, and made pride swell in your chest.
Respect all of your emotions and reflect that respect in your writing, in your characters, so that when they are emoting, they are acting or reacting realistically–when we do, as human beings.
And remember. As writers, we have been given a gift. One that has the potential to open minds, to shape opinions, to touch hearts. Will you use your gift to wound, or to foster healing in the wounded? You do choose.
Be mindful of the power of your gift, and use it wisely.*