Have you experienced goosebumps when listening to music? Noticed your body tense up watching a suspense-filled movie? Felt sympathy for a fictional character?
Emotion can make or break music, writing, visual art. It's an ingredient that we are often not taught. When we add elements of emotion and love of creating while painting, or writing, or making pottery, or whatever your passion is, the piece will turn out that much better because it was created from a place of caring, of passion, of love. Interestingly, this expressive side is not explicitly taught in art or music school. We are often told to show the emotions, but not given the tools to know how.
Composers, film producers, writers, artists and other creatives know that the most successful art forms engage the viewer to enable us to experience a connection and feel emotion. And it has to be believable to at least provide the possibility.
So how do we, as artists and writers, do this? There's no formula that I'm aware of. But we can look to what has worked for the most successful in the various art forms and decide what may work for our own creative ventures.
For example, a visual artist may suggest emotion through the use of colour, which can say a lot about the mood of a picture and how the viewer interprets it. Strong colour can add energy and emotion. Anger may be depicted through reds and blacks, happiness through sky blue or yellows, dark colours for a howling Halloween evening. Gestures, brushstrokes, rhythm and gradation are also elements that convey energetic or calm emotions.
Some will create only using positive energy and thoughts to transfer into their creations. You may have heard that food tastes better when cooked with love. Quilters who make quilts for Victoria's Quilts Canada infuse their creations with hope for physical and spiritual comfort for the recipients of the quilts who are living with cancer.
Titles are important too, whether for a written work or song, art piece or play, and are what may first attract someone to a piece of writing. The title needs to capture - or hint at - what the book is about, but also reflect whether it is a romance, fantasy, non-fiction etc. Titles can play to the emotions of the reader. Referring to the picture below, if I had named it "Clothesline," well, it's kind of dull. But change the name to "Laundry Day," and we start to tap into the senses and memories, of the viewer. What did this title conjure up for you? Clothes flapping in the wind? A summer day? The fresh scent of line-dried clothes and sheets? You get my meaning. Whatever title you choose it needs to convey the mood you have selected for your written piece.
An author at the Ottawa International Writer's Festival talked a few years ago about how he develops the characters in his books. Much like an actor getting into their role before filming or for a play, he too would step into the roles of his characters, to better understand them, their feelings and thoughts, and to help them grow in their roles. The writing was done from the perspective of the characters, rather than his own. This role-playing would last several months until the preliminary writing was done, but was very effective in helping him portray the people in his books as real and authentic to his readers. By writing in first person rather than third person, he would become the character, understanding their thought processes, could create a history for them that would support their reactions to situations, and develop the character into seemingly real, authentic people. It's important when stepping out of one character and before stepping into another that transformation steps are taken, such as "brushing off" the role, shaking the character off the body, perhaps going for a walk to step away from their thoughts. This helps prepare the writer to then move to the next character.
Music composers and performers have the added challenge of not only infusing emotion into their compositions and songs but also of getting back into the same frame of mind when performing the same piece. Not an easy challenge.
Interestingly, some of the hit songs and most popular singer/songwriters are not necessarily technically proficient at what they do - they are good, yes, but following a melody perfectly or always hitting the same notes during a chorus doesn't necessarily translate into adding the emotion needed to take a piece to the level that will draw in the listener. Instead, they find the nuances, make the slight changes necessary to imply emotion, whether in rhythm, loudness or softness, tempo or other aspect of the music. Consider the difference between long chapters with lots of descriptions and character development versus a book that moves quickly with short chapters containing lots of action. The rhythm and tempo chosen for the writing and chapters work in concert with the style of book or story being written.
It's also important to pay attention to the silent parts - the pause between words, the silence between notes, a quiet spot in a painting - to give the reader a chance to reflect and to anticipate what may be coming up next. This can be done by changing direction after a scene that builds tension or suspense or anticipation. The next scene (and often the next chapter) could move to a description or give more insight into the characters (without dialogue), move to a different scene or idea entirely. The idea is to provide something temporarily that is much quieter or muted or peaceful, giving the reader a chance to rest before continuing the previous scene. The reader knows you will come back to the theatrics and has a chance to catch their breath while for a few paragraphs or pages while preparing for what is to come.
One final thought. I came across this quote recently which I think sums up this topic quite well. Although it's about musical performances, it applies equally to writing, visual art and other art forms.
"....most operas, symphonies, sonatas, concertos, and string quartets have a definable meter and pulse, which generally corresponds to the conductor's movements; the conductor is showing the musicians where the beats are, sometimes stretching them out or compressing them for emotional communication. Real conversations between people, real pleas of forgiveness, expressions of anger, courtship, storytelling, planning, and parenting don't occur at precise clips of a machine. To the extent that music is reflecting the dynamics of our emotional lives, and our interpersonal interactions, it needs to swell and contract, to speed up and slow down, to pause and reflect." 1
1 Quote from This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin
Anne Warburton is a Fibre Artist, exhibiting her work at various shows around Ottawa, and is current chair of the Navan Fine Arts Group (www.navanarts.com) She writes a blog "Musings of a Creative Journey" at https://annewarburton.blogspot.com/, and worked for many years as an events planner and facilitator. Her website is https://www.needleartsonpaper.com/
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