I asked my cousin, comedy writer, poker expert, and author, John Vorhaus, to share his thoughts on emotional truth. You can reach John at email@example.com, or his website: http://www.johnvorhaus.com/. Tell your story and change the world!
Writers often find themselves confronted by the question, “What is emotional truth?” and the further question, “How do I put it on the page?” In my experience of working with writers (and being one of course) I find that writers go through predictable stages in their struggle to convey authentic emotional meaning in their work.
At first a writer has no idea that such a thing as emotional truth even exists. He (or she – please forgive the English language’s awkward lack of appropriate pronouns) is only interest in making the plot work, making the jokes funny, and making the script lurch from event to event with no thought for deeper meaning or deeper human truth. I call this the “blowing things up” phase, for a writer has no concern for anything beyond the big bangs of plot mechanics.
As a writer continues to develop, he becomes aware that there’s such a thing as emotional truth, but has no effective means of exporting this information from his brain to the page. His efforts at doing so seem (to himself and others) to be awkward, stilted and self-conscious. He might write, for example, the words, “I love you,” and then recoil in horror at the awful obviousness of that thought. What’s lacking in the writer at this stage is a means of connecting simple human truths to stylish presentation on the page.
If the writer continues to grow and develop, he becomes aware that emotional truth exists, and starts to acquire some strategies and tactics for conveying such information in a stylistically satisfying way. He may, for example, have discovered text and subtext, and brought his writing to the point where he can have one character say to another, “Would you like some coffee?” and have it understood that this really means, “I yearn for you to the very core of my existence.” This is a writer who has both the awareness and the toolcraft to convey emotional truth.
And yet, often, he does not. Why? Because he is afraid.
In conveying emotional truth on the page, a writer must make a certain leap of faith. A writer must confront the knowledge that, in writing about emotional things, he will in some sense expose himself to the very feelings he’s trying to convey. He’ll have to own those feelings and take responsibility for them, with himself, with other writers and with the audience and the world at large. This is a profound challenge to many writers… a hurdle that some never get over. It’s difficult, for example, to write a venal and corrupt character authentically without feeling venal and corrupt yourself. Some writers never can do that. They never get past their fear of being honest on the page.
Those who do overcome their fear enter a state of maturity in relation to emotional truth: They know it’s out there; they desire to express it; they have the means for doing so; and they are not afraid. This, as far as I’m concerned, is the ultimate goal of a writer’s life: To know the truth; to speak the truth; and to be not afraid.