"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it." - Hebrews 13:2

Monday, March 26, 2012


~ Origami flowers made by my daughter Hannah ~
Quite an artistic imagination, wouldn't you say?

We as writers touch on many different emotions and life experiences as we write and develop the characters in our stories. Whenever possible, we draw from our own life experiences to make our writing genuine and unique. However, sometimes our stories call upon us to portray emotions with which we have no personal experience.

How does a writer connect with the emotion or experiences that he or she has not undergone in real life?

Merriam-Webster defines imagination as:
: the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality
a : creative ability
b : ability to confront and deal with a problem :Resourcefulness <use your imagination and get us out of here>
c : the thinking or active mind : Interest stories that fired the imagination>
a : a creation of the mind; especially : an idealized or poetic creation
b : fanciful or empty assumption

As a writer, one of the most important skills we have is the imagination. When we open our imagination - allow it to flow - anything is possible.
Are you exercising your imagination?
My two cents: This week I am challenged by writing a character that is a widow. I personally have never been widowed, so I must use my imagination to feel my way through the sadness, loneliness, and sorrow that accompanies such a difficult life experience.
Do you struggle when writing emotions that you have not personally experienced? Do you research events which alter our hearts and lives in order to write about them? Or do you solely rely on your vivid imagination?
Between you, me and the gatepost,


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Jessica Nelson said...

No, I don't struggle with emotions I haven't experienced. I find it pretty easy to feel. Let's say my imagination is a little on the overactive side. LOL

Your daughter did an absolutely beautiful job! She's so talented. :-)

Sandra Orchard said...

Great question, Loree. If I'm working on a character in a specific life situation, I'll seek out people who've gone through similar situations and ask them what emotions and thoughts they experienced. Sometimes their answers are quite different than I'd imagined.

Jessica R. Patch said...

I love those flowers! Very neat. When I'm struggling for an emotion, I pray and ask God to help me feel what that particular person would. I may not know, but He certainly does and that seems to work. :)

Melissa Tagg said...

I'm a big My Book Therapy (Susan May Warren) groupie and I love the exercise Susie has us do for finding emotion. It starts with identifying a time in our life where we felt the same emotion as a character OR a shade of that emotion (we talk about emotional hues and layers) and then we go through this whole writing exercise...it's a really great way to process the character's emotion...

Research and imagination are key, too...especially when the emotion is at the very end of the spectrum...murderous rage for instance...pretty sure I've never felt that...except, perhaps, toward Microsoft Excel when it's making me mad. :)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

My imagination has been a bloated beast since I was a kid. I lean into it. I feel an incredible sense of empathy toward others. I access that as I write my characters.

Great post!
~ Wendy

troutbirder said...

Having lost my eldest son to the effects of bi-polar disease death requires no imagination. For the non-experienced emotions empathy works on keeping imagination real...

Loree Huebner said...

Great comments here everyone!

Jessica N: LOL! I am also sometimes guilty of an overactive imagination.

Sandra: I find so much truth in your comment - "Sometimes their answers are quite different than I'd imagined." Researching and seeking out people who would be willing to talk about their personal life experience is a great way to understand the emotions...and sometimes we don't expect what they have to say.

Jessica P: Praying is great way to bring home the emotion. God touches our heart with all of the feeling and understanding beyond what we know. My daughter does origami for fun. She's extremely good at it.

Melissa: I've never heard about this book, but I'm going to check it out. I love the idea that you go back and feel something similar and walk through it. Great advice and LOL - you cracked me up on the murderous rage on MS Excel! Great example though - most of us have experience loss that we can draw upon, but murderous rage or other criminal impulses would take some research - at least for me.

Wendy: Welcome here! Using empathy is a great way to access emotions for characters. Your comment brings Romans 12:15 to mind - "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."

trout: I am so sorry to hear about your son. You are right, experiencing his loss requires no imagination. As a friend, I mourn with you...I'm sending you a big warm hug in friendship.

Jessica N, Sandra, Jessica P, Melissa, Wendy, and trout, thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed your comments today!

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Hi Loree! What beautiful flowers! Your daughter is very artistic and imaginative. I wonder who she gets it from? ;-) I rely on my imagination, research, and memories of difficult times in my own life. I think it would be neat to interview someone who has gone through a situation similar to my character's. :-)

Great Lakes Romances said...

How interesting that you mention the emotions of a widow. Many years ago I was writing about that very thing and having never experienced it, I asked my mother, who had been recently widowed, what she went through, how long did she cry (every night for a month) and the like. I rely on a combination of my own experiences plus research.

Donna Winters

Loree Huebner said...

Gwen: Thanks for the sweet compliment! It seems that we do rely on our own similar experiences. Thanks for sharing your steps. Very helpful.

Donna: Welcome here! Thank you for sharing. Right now, I'm drawing on sorrow, loneliness, sadness, and the pain of separation that I've personally experienced to create my character's emotional state. It seems to be working. I think it would be a great idea to talk with someone who has experienced such a difficult time.

Gwen and Donna, thanks for popping in!

Sarah Forgrave said...

Wow, those origami flowers are beautiful, Loree!

And I find that my imagination goes through phases where it's vibrant and active at certain times. And other times it's like pushing a freight train with my own two hands (usually when I'm tired or stressed). :)

MTeacress said...

Yes, I do. In fact, I try to avoid it. This is how I follow the familiar advice: write what you know.

Writing from a widow's point of view would be challenging, for sure, if you've never experienced it...I'd probably visit local widows and ask if they would mind sharing their experience.

Jaime Wright said...

I'm with Jessica on this one - although I will admit to interviewing some willing parties when it comes to emotions that pertain to certain disabilities or life circumstances that aren't as normal (like grief, or loss, or anger)

Lynda R Young said...

I thrive on daydreaming and role playing. If I haven't experienced a certain emotion I'll dream up the situation in my head and try and live through it to see how I might react.

Julie Musil said...

This has been an issue for me, personally. I've been blessed in life, and didn't have a horrible childhood or anything like that. So I definitely have to dig deep and try to put myself in my character's shoes, so to speak.

those flowers are gorgeous!

Loree Huebner said...

Sarah: The flowers are really awesome. My daughter really has a talent for origami. It's funny how the imagination can go from go go go to no no no.

Michelle: I do agree with "write what you know" - Thanks for the advice. I think the real challenge in writing this character is that my widow is also young...much younger than me.

Jaime: Thanks for sharing. I might have to find someone to interview. For now, my imagination is pulling the difficult emotions through.

Lynda: Excellent idea! Thanks for sharing that. I like how you dream up the situation and try to live through it in your head.

Julie: It is hard when you haven't experienced certain difficulties. The determination for the writer to dig deep is what makes or breaks a character.

Sarah, Michelle, Jaime, Lynda, and Julie, thanks for stopping by and sharing.

Shelley Sly said...

Love the origami flowers!

I don't generally struggle with writing emotions I haven't felt. I do tend to write about feelings I've experienced more often than not, but when I write something foreign to me, I use my imagination. Sometimes I really have to put myself in that situation, mentally, to get a good idea of how to portray it.

Charlotte Sannazzaro said...

I think I have learned a bit about the emotions of unfamiliar situations by consuming other stories which feature them in TV, movies, books, and even documentaries. I tend to be very empathetic if I really connect with how strong the character's emotion is, even if I have never been through that experience.

In my own work I do tend to work from a mix of my own observation and my imagination. So far I haven't interviewed anyone or dug deeply into any particular case study.

I have to be careful not to dwell too long in the extreme sad, angry or other negative emotions my characters are feeling, as it can drag me down in real life. Writing the difficult scenes is all-consuming, and for me I need to consciously balance the writing with low-stress activities.

Loree Huebner said...

Shelley: I'm so glad I posted the picture of the origami flowers. They really are cool. I love the lilies.

I agree that to feel the raw emotion, we must put ourselves in the situation. That's when the imagination goes to work.

Charlotte: I like working from the observation and the imagination too!
It can be a downer to work too long on a negative emotions. Balancing it with low stress activities is a great idea!

Shelley and Charlotte, thank you for dropping by. I loved reading your comments.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Beautiful flowers! Great post!
I do sometimes struggle with writing about situations / emotions that I haven't experienced, but I find with extra concentration and reading, I can get at, or start to get at what I want.

Jayne said...

Adorable flowers! My daughter needs a project like that to keep her busy--I'm going to have to show her your daughter's work.

Fiction does not come easy for me. Emotions, for the most part, do, though. Ordinarily, I don't have to reach too far to create emotion in my writing--but I struggle to get started!

Loree Huebner said...

Cynthia: It does take the extra concentration and bit of imagination to get there. Thanks for sharing.

Jayne: My daughter started doing origami several years ago. It started with paper cranes...we had them everywhere! lol If you look at my February 6, 2012 post, you will see a sample of those paper cranes in her old apartment. She's advanced to animals, dinosaurs, and now beautiful flowers. It's a great way to relieve stress.
Your writing is beautiful, Jayne. You can capture a moment with emotion, and I'm right there with you.

Cynthia and Jayne, thanks so much for stopping in. I love your visits.

Melissa K Norris said...

Great post, Loree. Brandilyn Collin's book Getting Into Character has some great insight on writing emotions for things you've never went through. For instance, she likens writing a scene from a killer's viewpoint by the feelings you have when trying to swat an annoying fly. It goes deeper than that, but we've all experienced every emotion, we just have to learn how to apply it to the scene.
I tend to go with my imagination, but I ask when I can.

Carol Riggs said...

Good point, especially if you've never been a widow. You have to tap into your feelings of grief and loss in another way and kinda extrapolate. I think good writers can do that. We can imagine situations we've never been in before, put ourselves into unique interactions/dialogues, and even write a totally different gender for our characters.

And I love those flowers!! So bright and spring-y. :)

J.L. Campbell said...

Hey, Loree, you're right in that I've written about so many things that I haven't experienced on a personal level. I do my best to read, put myself into my character's head and situation to come up with what I hope are genuine emotions.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Oh, I love the flowers! Your daughter is very talented--I like her use of color combinations!

A good resource for widow's emotions is Sandi Elzinga's blog called Grief Walk. That may help you, dear.

Loree Huebner said...

Melissa: Thanks for the tip on Brandilyn's book. I'll check it out. I hope that editor liked your article ;) I sent up a prayer!

Carol: Your blog post today was very timely. I'm writing a character who is a young widow. Your tips were very helpful. I'm finding "interactions" are very important...using subtle underlying anger, even she (my character) doesn't realize.

J.L.: Great to see you! Exactly! We want those "genuine" emotions to show through in our writing. We must do our best to put ourselves into our character's head and experience the emotion so we can write it.

Jeanette: Thanks for the helpful info on Grief Walk. Loved your interview over at Jill Kemerer's blog today. Fun stuff! Looking forward to your book release in April!

Melissa, Carol, J.L., and Jeanette, thanks for chiming in today! Great stuff!

Stacy Henrie said...

Yes! :) I've got to use my imagination a lot in writing feelings/situations I've never experienced. Love those flowers!

Julie Jarnagin said...

Those flowers are so cool! Some emotions are definitely easier for me to write than others.

Loree Huebner said...

Stacy: Sometimes we really have to put ourselves there to write it. Imagination plays heavy.

Julie: I agree. Some emotions are easier to write than others. If we can harness the emotion to bring it forth, then we've struck gold in our story.

Stacy and Julie, thanks for the lovely comments on the flowers. I may have to have Hannah do a blog post on basic origami for us. And thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

Terri Tiffany said...

I tend to write from emotions I've experienced or know someone close to me who has gone through it. I guess I need more imagination!

Loree Huebner said...

Terri: I bet your imagination works with the emotions...the trick is a balancing act to make it real.

Thanks for sharing, Terri! So nice of you to drop by.

Victoria Lindstrom said...

Awesome post Loree! Your daughter's origami is wonderful as well. All the best ~

Misha Gericke said...

Love the origami flowers.

I use my imagination even for things I haven't experienced, since I listen to my characters talking about it while I write. :-)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Loree -

I don't rely solely on my imagination. If I know an expert on the subject, I'll ask them questions.

BTW, if you need help writing the widow character, let me know. My husband died almost 5 years ago.


Loree Huebner said...

Victoria: Glad you liked the flowers!

Misha: Love how you listen to your characters talk about it! :)

Susan: Oh Susan...I am so sorry. I thank you for your kind offer. I may take you up on talking about this very sensitive subject. I'm sending you a big hug!

Victoria, Misha, and Susan, thanks for stopping by. Your comments are precious to me.