Or: On The Art of Writing Emotional Parting Scenes.

Since last week I’ve been working on two chapters that lead up to and end with one of many parting scenes I’ll need to write in Willa. These scenes have made me shed a few tears, wrenched my heart, and generally sent me into an emotional tail-spin right along with my characters.

But there’s an art to writing these types of scenes–in hope that a reader will feel what I felt in the writing of them–and it doesn’t come easy for me. That art is called restraint. Most of what I know of it I learned from writer Diana Gabaldon, who has often given the advice “use a lot of emotional restraint when you write a deeply emotional scene.” We’ve had many a discussion on the subject at the Books & Writers Forum over the years. Here’s some of what I’ve gleaned, in a tidy list:

~ Hold back on telling the reader how the character is feeling. Instead show their response to what’s happening, what’s being said, and trust the reader to get it.

~ Use sparse and simple language. The emotion should be evoked by the characters and the situation, so the writing itself doesn’t have to force it on the reader. 

~ Don’t drag the scene out. Let it pack a quick punch. Otherwise it will exhaust the reader.

~ Stay focused on what is most important. This is not the time for too much detail, or trying to focus on everything (sensory and visual detail, extraneous goings on, memories, or thoughts that might dilute the scene’s impact).

~ Most importantly for an overwriter like myself: write the scene and let it cool off (overnight, or a week, or while you write another scene), then come back and edit it. Read it out loud. Edit it again. Repeat as necessary.

Any writers out there have additional tips for not laying it on too thick during those scenes of high emotion? Please share!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This