It didn’t really matter what the customer was complaining about, my angst was up. This is a hot button for me since I write sweet romance. Lately I have felt, well, a bit under fire for not exploring the intensity of sexuality in my stories. There seems to be an assumption that sweet stories automatically do not have depth or intensity. Wrong. I deal with difficult issues like death and heartbreak and lost love… not to mention parenthood. And, just as sex scenes can come off as contrived, so can philosophical themes if not handles properly.Which leads to my discussion in this post about Post-apocalyptic Romance; something the Genre-istas are highlighting in October.
As I found while researching reviews for this genre on Amazon, there is no way to handle this topic without delving into the depths of personal tragedy, pain and suffering that is caused by losing everything you know and love. An author can try, but in every case I found the readers sussed it out as superficial and lacking credibility (and reviewed it as such).
So whether you write sweet with emotional depth or post-apocalyptic, how does a writer seek out those feelings within themselves to create believable characters? Not all of us have (hopefully) lost a close loved one or seen tragedy occur right in front of our eyes; so how can we possibly relate to what we want to put our characters through?
In researching this idea of empathy I found that Doctors experience something very similar in their work. While patients expect or hope their doctor will be empathic, (or share their feeling so as to better diagnose or treat them), doctors must also maintain their focus on the patient, rather than on their own, similar experiences or emotions. To do this one article describes the term emotional attunement (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1494899/):
Emotional attunement operates by shaping what one imagines about another person's experience. In trying to imagine what the patient is going through, physicians will sometimes find themselves resonating. This is not an additional activity to imagining, but rather a kind of involuntary backdrop to it. Further, resonance is not a special professional skill, but a part of ordinary communication. While listening to an anxious friend, one becomes anxious, while talking with a coworker, one feels heavy, depressed feelings. Importantly, attuning to patients does not always involve resonating with strong feelings, but often is a subtle nonverbal sense of where another person is emotionally.
This then is something everyone already experiences living out our everyday lives. The question is how to tap into it, whether as an author writing a book, or a reader trying to relate to one. And this depends on conscientiously observing non-verbal cues, such as a bitten lip, a shaky hand, no eye contact, a lax face, hunched shoulders…..
The goal for this post then is to observe these cues in those around us; do not react to them but note how they make us feel; Anxious, scared, tired, bored, excited, concerned, hopeful? And then write down the association.
Then, when we go to write that post-apocalyptic love scene we can physically use the appropriate cue to help us recreate the emotion.
I’d love to hear how it works for you… be it in relating to a hot sex scene, a sweet heartbreak or a lone dog wandering the streets of post-apocalyptic New York.