Emotions are both elusive and effusive. We have little to no control over them in real life. That’s why some writers enjoy their creative opportunity to employ and direct the emotions of their characters at will.
And very often, they are channeling their own. This technique – sort of the literary equivalent to method acting – can be very effective, if you’re careful not to be overly self-indulgent.
Drawing upon personal experiences, whether pleasant or tragic, helps to inform and infuse your story with a realistic foundation, making it a more credible experience for the reader, even if you’re writing science fiction or fantasy.
These artistic echoes of raw reality can be allegorical or literal, depending on the genre and your agenda.
But the one thing you must avoid at all costs? As Holden Caulfield would put it: phoniness.
Falling Off the Bandwagon
Attempting to exploit current news events in your fiction is actually a rich tradition. Almost every writer from Dickens to Mailer to Didion and way beyond has reflected the realities of life in their times within the context of their craft.
Playwrights such as Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller were particularly sensitive to not only the state of the planet, but their own private circumstances. This resonance helped make their work reverberate on many levels: social, political, and personal.
It’s a very delicate web to weave, granted.
But in the cases of these literary masters, none of their source material was cynically fabricated, only creatively channeled. They drew from organic material in their immediate and wider surroundings, sublimating popular reactions to historic events as on many scales to create timeless meditations on human nature itself.
And human nature is the one thing we all have in common.
“I Feel You…No, Really”
But readers will resent and reject any attempts to capitalize on either their emotions or even your own when peddling your book as a product to be bought, not a status update to be read or ignored for free.
The “fake news” phenomenon is dominating current headlines, which sound more and more like the hyperbolic, horrific news reports in the 1987 movie RoboCop.
Separating authenticity from propaganda is hard enough to do in the real world. When it comes to fiction, keep it real. People deserve better than hacks and hucksters when it comes to literary education, escapism and entertainment, probably now more than ever.
Just don't string your audience along, and your work will be rewarded with praise and appreciation.
If you’re promising romance, make sure you’re really romantic. If your reader is expecting to be frightened (as if the news isn’t scary enough), don’t hold back. Whatever the context, make sure the blurb on the back cover is a sincere promise, not just another cheap pitch.
After all, if you can’t trust the therapeutic power of art, what can you trust these days?