Emotional truth is what’s really going on in your story. The real truth of what is happening to your characters. The surface of things – what your characters allow to be seen and heard – can be manipulated to conceal what they are feeling. But great stories are all about feelings revealed.
This is exactly like real life and real life is the mother lode from which you mine your own emotional truth and refine it into storytelling treasure. The deeply felt emotions that are the beating heart of your story. The deeply felt emotions that make your reader feel deeply too.
I write romantic suspense novels. Scary things happen in my stories. The main character of the story I’m currently writing is assaulted and strangled. That happened to me once. My character and I both survived. Now we both benefit from my emotional truth of that awful experience.
The powerlessness while it was happening. The shock and numbness after it was over. The way others might have seen me at that moment had there been anyone present to see. I didn’t need to take notes. All of that was branded on my psyche in indelible emotional ink.
Unfortunately we have all had similarly indelible experiences. We have been changed by them – traumatized by them – sometimes stopped in our tracks by them. Now we get to convert them into the very raw material of intense and dramatic and powerful storytelling.
Stephen King said "For me, there have been times when the act of writing has been an act of faith, a spit in the eye of despair. Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life."
I say despair can be a way back to the act of writing at its most vivid and vital center. I’m not talking about memoir writing though digging for emotional truth is crucial there also. I’m talking about re-imagining real-life experience into the spit in the eye that is a riveting piece of original art.
Our emotional truth is not necessarily what we show on the surface of ourselves. It is more true than what we show on the surface. Our stories can be the expression of that subterranean truth brought to the light and wrought in words. The result can be the best writing we have ever done.
You know what these stories are for you. Write them the way your heart feels them to be true which may differ from factual truth. Facts are verifiable. Feelings are not. Someone else’s emotional truth may vary from yours. That doesn’t make your truth any less valid.
Emotional Truth is individual. Your characters’ truth is what they honestly feel. That honesty gives your story authenticity. That inner authentic truth is what really matters. It’s what will make your story really matter – to you as you write it and to your readers as they read it.
So dig down and dig deep. You’ll know when you hit the mother lode because it will zing straight to your heart – just before you zing it straight to the page.