On Intransitive Emotions: Emotional Writing Practice

Writing emotions is complicated. Do all your characters’ emotions make sense? Tips for writing fiction and nonfiction.

Where Do Emotions Go?

Do feelings have direct objects? Many do. Most of the time.

We do not feel an emotion like love if it is not directed toward some thing or someone. We don’t usually feel anger without a source, a thing that is the reason for our anger. Whether or not anger and love are ultimately directed toward the correct thing is a separate issue. But overall, they are not objectless. Not without an objective.

But what about gratitude? Or loneliness? Or freedom? Or even anxiety?

Some human emotions, like some verbs in the English language, may not need to act upon a direct object. Some things we, as humans, simply feel without it being directed toward a specific thing. Regardless of who caused the emotion or where it came from. Or what we plan to do with it.

I have heard it said that grief is love with nowhere to go. How beautifully tragic. You have so much love, but no object to direct it toward. You’ve lost someone or something you love, and what’s left is this love with no object to love. So it is transformed into grief. And then what do you do with it?

If you can learn to harness and develop your most emotional writing, you may be able to direct these emotions and express their universality to others.

Emotional Writing Is about Range

Consider: It is easy to write about emotions that come from an obvious person or can be directed easily outward or inward toward some manifestation. It is easy to show through emotional writing that a character is angry based on his or her reaction to the circumstances.

But your writing can grow from learning to express the intransitive actions and feelings of life. The things we all simply feel. The things we can’t necessarily explain or simply express.

Consider the sentence: He ran.

The verb does not need to act on anything. It stands alone. No object. This is what makes it an intransitive verb.

What emotions might your character have that run by themselves? What emotional state does your character default to? What might be some of the intransitive emotions that your character feels but which don’t have an object? 

How can you express something like a character’s gratitude for the wind on her face with emotional writing? Is the character grateful to someone or something for the wind, or does she simply feel the gratitude without having anywhere to put it? 

Does your character’s emotion need an object? It can have one, sure, but it may not be necessary. Just like he can run quickly. Or he can run on the pavement, your character can be grateful to someone or something. Even if it’s ineffable.

And if you, dear writer, can make your characters’ actions and intransitive emotions tangible, you will lead readers into a much richer world through the emotional writing that draws readers in and makes characters come to life.

This may be something to incorporate into your own self-editing and revision, as well as an item to address with your creative editor to ensure you’re working together to make your emotional writing as creative and expressive as possible. 


Ready to talk with an editor about your emotional writing?


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