Home > Writing > Are Writers Actors of the Mind?

Are Writers Actors of the Mind?

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” ~ Robert Frost

crying emoticone

(Photo credit: Wikipedia – Public Domain)

Robert Frost nailed it in this quote. If you want your reader to be moved by your story, you need to be moved by it. If you want them to cry, write yourself to tears first. If you want fear to immobilize your readers, to cause their breath to come in short gasps, write yourself into that fear.

You cannot write like an android. You must become a part of the story. You must get into the body of your character to make the emotions real.

I see your mouth open to protest: “But I don’t understand the fear I’m trying to write into my character.”

…or the anxiety of waiting all night for a child to return home.

…or the sorrow of losing a loved one.

…or the joy of childbirth.

No sweat. You are a writer. Writers are full of imagination—so imagine! Sit down and imagine the scene before you. Be an actor—an actor of the mind.

Imagine the anxiety as you wait for a child that should have been home hours earlier. Your mind races. Sleep won’t come. You’re trying unsuccessfully to not imagine the worst.

Can you feel the fear that creates a constricting band around your chest, squeezing the air from your lungs, as you see a police cruiser pull up in front of your house? As the officer gets out of the cruiser and walks solemnly to your front door, your heart is pounding so hard it hurts.

Pressure builds in your head as you force your hand to reach for and open the door for the officer. You’re not sure if you’re hearing him right. Is it because you really can’t comprehend—or because you don’t want to?

Maybe you’ve never faced that exact scenario. Thankfully, I haven’t. But we’ve all felt fear. We’ve all felt anxiety.

We know we can’t negate the importance of life’s experiences.

We know that writing from personal experience will always ring true, but we don’t want to have to live through every heart-wrenching experience that our characters face.

So we take what we know, we take what we understand, and we build on it.

For myself, part of the writing process isn’t even done with pen in hand—or laptop. It’s the time spent living the next scene in my mind. It’s feeling the scenario. It’s playing out the characters actions and reactions, their thoughts and actual words.

Not every thought, not every feeling will end up in writing. But they’re still important because they set the scene. They set the feel for the scene.

Could I write all their thoughts and feelings? Sure I could, but it would be overwhelming for the reader. The goal is to give enough to set the stage—and then give the reader credit to fill in the blanks.

Comments anyone? I would love to know how many of you sit and live your next scene before writing it. Or do you just write it as you go? 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosie Cochran

I am a pastor’s wife, former missionary, mother of four great sons, and author of three books: Betrayed, Identity Revealed, and A Murder Unseen. (Available at: Amazon.com.) I have a passion for God, my family, and writing! Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Have a question? Email Me!

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  1. Zen
    May 22, 2012 at 7:30 am

    I try to imagine situations before writing, but sometimes it feels like the characters write themselves and I don’t really have to think much about how they’re acting or what they’re saying.

    • May 22, 2012 at 8:06 am

      I love it when characters write themselves! Been there. Done that. 🙂

  2. karenselliott
    May 22, 2012 at 7:57 am

    Thankfully, I’ve never experienced that cop-at-the-door, but I have been scared many, many times. Also, distraught from the death of a loved one. Experiences like this, though very sad, can lend themselves to real emotion in our writing. Excellent post, Rosie.

    • May 22, 2012 at 8:09 am

      I think I lived most of my life not comprehending fear—until one day I actually felt it and then it was like, “Oh my, I guess I’ve never been afraid before!” It was a strange moment.

      • karenselliott
        May 22, 2012 at 6:20 pm

        I have had the thought-my-little-boy-was-kidnapped moment (he was hiding), the second before the accident happened, the moment I thought someone was in my house and I was alone, without a weapon, and the worst – the moment when I discovered my infant grandson with blue lips and thought …”scared” doesn’t cover that one.

    • May 22, 2012 at 8:15 pm

      Scared definitely wouldn’t have covered that one!

  3. May 22, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Excellent post. And great advice.

    I usually just write as I go, but in my WIP I’ve discovered as I’m going through the editing process there are quite a few scenes that bring tears to my eyes or twist my gut when I read them. So I hope that means they will ignite the same kind of reaction in readers.

    • May 22, 2012 at 8:25 pm

      In a good way, my sister is my best critic. She’ll let me know if my characters are lacking emotion, if they are being too rational for the situation. How does she put it? “You’re making the character react too much like you would.” I guess I’m a bit overly rational, especially for a woman. I always believe her if she tells me that, and I go back and write until it’s emotional for me. 🙂

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