Writing Dialog and Experiencing My Characters’ Emotions

Photo by Marina Martindale

One of my cousins, who used to be an actress, once told me how she would feel her characters’ emotions as she portrayed them. She said that performing emotionally charged scenes left her feeling drained.

The same is true for me as a novel writer. With nearly every character I create, I experience their emotions as I write my scenes. Writing the dialog is usually the catalyst that drives those emotions.

I’m working on my next novel, The Letter. In one of the early chapters Stephanie and Danny, the leading characters, spend the Labor Day weekend at a bed a breakfast in Estes Park, Colorado. Writing the scene of them relaxing in their room and discussing their day hike in the woods was a pleasant experience. Danny, who’s also a photographer, has taken photos, and he’s showing them to Stephanie. After I finished the scene I felt calm and peaceful, as I too love photography, and one of my own life’s pleasures is to go out in the backcountry and take photos.

Unfortunately, not all is well with Danny and Stephanie. Danny is being hounded by Martha, a woman from his past, and I’ve been building up to a major confrontation between the two of them for sometime. This past week, I finally wrote the chapter where their conflict reaches its crescendo. I expected this scene to be fun to write. Martha really has been a pain in the butt. She most certainly has it coming, and I wanted Danny to feel vindicated. However, as I wrote the dialog I started feeling emotions I didn’t expect to feel.

Danny wants no further contact from Martha, but an obsessed Martha refuses to let him go. As the scene plays out, Danny becomes more and more frustrated with her unending state of denial, and as he struggles to get through to her he becomes more verbally harsh. I started feeling anxious as I wrote the dialog. Harsh words, even when justified, can hurt like a fist, and some of the verbiage I used brought back memories of arguments I had with of some of the jerks I dated in the past. By the time I finished I felt like I’d been sucker punched by both of them.

It was at this point that I’d planned to write Martha out of the story and have another antagonist take over, but now I think I’ll keep her around a little longer. Martha has a real knack for pissing people off, and talent like her’s really shouldn’t go to waste. While the new antagonist will be the main focus for the remainder of the story, Martha will spend some time going after those who she thinks turned Danny against her.

The Letter should be available by the spring of 2018.

MM