What’s Your Dominant Emotion?

The November/December 2010 issue of Writers Digest featured an interview with Ken Follett & David Morrell. I don’t read either author, and I probably won’t, since they write in genres that don’t particularly interest me. But I’m grateful for once for my almost obsessive need to read everything in those magazines, even that which I don’t think pertains to me. This interview is full of pearls of writing wisdom (forgive the cliche), but one idea put forth by David really stuck with me. He says:

“I think every writer has a dominant emotion. . . . [where] writing becomes almost a form of self-psychoanalysis in that regard, and each book becomes a personal statement. And half the time you probably don’t know until afterward.”

David pins his own dominant emotion as fear because of a difficult childhood, and he writes thrillers to examine that emotion and, presumably, to see his characters overcome it. One of his students admitted to being very insecure, and writing about characters who were able to become confident. This got me thinking about what my “dominant emotion” might be in my writing.

Of course, all stories and characters are different, but after giving it some thought, I settled on “loneliness” as my dominant emotion, with “isolation” being a common motif in my writing. Almost every piece of fiction I’ve written is about a character who begins the story feeling a sense of distance, who may or may not realize that she’s lonely. The purpose of the story is to bring her in contact and, eventually, authentic connection and relationship with those around her.

I’d never really thought of this deeply because connectedness seems such an important life theme that didn’t seem very particular to me. We’re social creatures who ALL need to feel connected. And of course, that’s true. But loneliness must be enough of a “dominant” emotion in my life that I continue to work through it again and again, whether that’s my intention or not, in my writing. I suffered from the typical “middle-child” syndrome of feeling invisible, but I also endured bullying in middle school that caused me to push people away from me for a long time. I lived alone for three years, which I claimed to love–and yet, now that I live with my sister, I find myself disappointed when she’s not home. I managed to, more-or-less, sidestep any serious romantic entanglements for 28 years. And yet, as secure and independent and self-sufficient and empowered as “going it alone” can make me feel, it never, ever erases that need for connection. And when that need goes unmet for too long, it can do real damage to our psyches. So that’s why I try to help my characters out, at least. And yeah, I guess I’m still working on myself, too.

What’s your dominant emotion? How does it play out in your writing?

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