On darker emotions

Most of the time, I write my characters from the heart. And sometimes, that can cause problems…or provide solutions.

I’m generally a fairly happy person; I’m usually upbeat, prone to logic and even temper, and I have a sense of fairness that I apply to myself as much as others. I think a lot of my character comes out in my writing; I find it hard to find motivations for the darker emotions, because I don’t understand them very well. I can write them, but I often feel that they’re simply studies, or I’ve said to myself, “I need to add hatred in here…” as if I have a checklist. Even my murderer is just a guess at the emotion that lies behind it; the character is based on someone, true, but only what I saw on the surface. The dark side isn’t something that comes from the heart as many of my other characters do.

But one of my characters is starting to write herself, and she’s bitter, sarcastic, and jealous. She’s scared of losing face, and of losing someone that she can control; she sees people in the light of their use to her, and only tolerates stupidity or mistakes as a foil to making herself look better. She smiles insincerely, enjoys finding weaknesses and then manipulating them, and has a desperate, burning flame of hatred and fear. And I know exactly where she’s come from.

I’ve had a lot of the darker emotions rolling around inside in the past few months, which hasn’t been very pleasant for me. Jealousy and envy aren’t nice things to feel, especially when you know they aren’t justified. Anger, rage and frustration are hard to let go of when you can’t directly confront the situations causing them. Pride does go before a fall, and arrogance and vanity aren’t usually part of my make-up; the inflated sense of self-worth that goes with them doesn’t do anything good. The need to control and sense of ownership over other people might come from fear and loneliness, but that’s not what comes out to those people or to the world. The tangle of darker feelings is not who I want to be, and not how I want myself to be seen; that’s another form of vanity, but one that (I hope) has better motives than the usual beauty-brigade. And it means that when I feel bitter, jealous, envious, the logical side of me wins, and they usually stay inside.

So in many ways it’s nice to let go of some of that buried emotion, and be able to write it all out. By giving Hex all the frustration and spite and bitterness that her character would display, in some way I’m letting go of my own darker side. She’s not reacting in a way that I would, of course, and I hate her even as I write her; I don’t like what she’s doing, even though I can see where it’s coming from. But it’s drawing on a side of me that I don’t normally use, and it’s oddly satisfying to be able to display it. And, ultimately, I think it makes my writing better. I am writing well-rounded characters; I am teaching myself to write something that I wouldn’t be able to. I am using the darker emotions in an outlet where they are harmless, and at the same time, bringing a character to life.

At any rate, it’s cathartic – and cheaper than therapy!

Author: kate

Kate Coe is an editor, book reviewer and writer of fiction & fantasy. She writes the sparkpunk GreenSky series and blogs at writingandcoe.co.uk. When she's not working, she fills her spare time in between writing with web design, gaming, geeky cross-stitch and DIY (which may or may not involve destroying things). She also reads far fewer books that she would like to, but possibly more than she really has time for.