Writing Strong Emotions

So Krivash’s prelude was kind of a bummer. I knew it was going to be, when I had developed Krivash for our Starfinder game, I had most of that mapped out in my head.

Problem is—it’s a bummer story. About halfway through writing it I suddenly had some doubts: what is the point of this story? Is it’s only point and purpose to be sad? I tried to add a positive spin on it; Krivash was going to try and become the diplomat that Ashraya and Lafid saw him as, and try and give their memory validation.

Since Rogue Trader started, I’ve ended up talking to a bunch of my players and their writing. Seems that our group getting back into RPG’s has kicked off a personal writing renaissance. A common theme I’ve seen among my friends is that the writing is usually a pattern of tragedies. It makes sense: a very common thread among calls to adventure are negative emotions. You don’t often see adventurers happy from the get-go. At least I don’t.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I want to write happier things, and some of the stories I have in my head definitely end happier, but I realized a couple things as I mused on it.

It’s easier to write sad things because everyone has experienced deep, profound sadness in some way, but not everyone has experienced deep, profound happiness. It’s interesting to think about how great happiness and great sadness manifest themselves in the same way emotionally.

Not many. I’ve been thinking about this because I’m crafting a narrative for Rogue Trader, and I don’t want everything to feel sad. I had a reunion between a player and her characters lost brother, and thinking about how to act that out I realized a bunch of these things.

When you think about someone dealing with loss, you see quiet, disbelief, usually accompanied by crying.

When you think about someone experiencing great happiness, you see disbelief, usually accompanied by crying.

Here’s the thing: 99% of books I’ve read end happy. The conflict is resolved, the protagonist gets the love interest, and they all live happily ever after. So why is it hard to write happiness in the shorter form, like me and my players usually write?

We lack the time and space to develop the investment needed to feel happy. Sadness is often a shortcut.We write sad things because we believe having an emotional reaction to writing makes it good writing. Sad things are caused by emotions everyone has felt before: heartbreak, betrayal, death, abandonment.

How many of us know the feeling of suddenly having our burdens relieved? How many of us have beaten cancer? Inherited a ton of money? Found a long lost loved one?

Stories have happy endings because there is enough time for the reader to understand the characters, parse the problems that they face, and most importantly, develop an investment in what happens. This is what I hope to achieve in my writing, and what I hope to achieve in Rogue Trader.

This probably wasn’t a ground breaking thought to a lot of people, but I need to move past the point where sad things is the point of my writing. It’s neat to evoke an emotional response, but I know that I can craft stories better than that. I need to write something longer, or at the very least explore other ideas in my short form writing.

—DTM

 

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