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Writing is emotionally draining (and sometimes lonely)

I don’t normally start a post with a negative headline – who wants to read about misery? – but this subject has been on my mind recently…and in any case, I have the perfect excuse! It’s time for March’s Round Robin, and this month the question is:

round robin, helena fairfax

Are you ever emotionally drained by writing certain scenes, and how real are your characters to you?

In answer to the first part of the question, when I’m writing a highly-charged scene I feel the opposite of emotionally drained. I feel energised. The words flow really well during such scenes. I love writing the moments of high drama, and I can often do them in one “take”, so to speak, with few rewrites. I finish writing such scenes feeling upbeat and happy about how the story is going.

Here’s a scene from my novel The Silk Romance, for example, which I loved writing:

‘They’d accept my money if you married me.’

As soon as he’d spoken, Jean-Luc knew he’d made a mistake. The words were all wrong. He heard Sophie’s knife-like intake of helena fairfax, romance, editor, writingbreath. Her face was frozen white.

‘What do you mean?’ The words fell from her lips like cubes of ice.

He rose to his feet, but his usual grace had left him, along with his ability to articulate. It was a lumbering, heavy movement.

‘Are you buying me, is that it?’ Sophie’s knuckles were white on the chair back. ‘Are you buying me like you bought all those other girls? A satisfactory arrangement? Is that what you think marriage is about?’

Jean-Luc felt a rush of blood thrumming through his head. He pressed one fist on the table to steady himself. In this maelstrom of emotion, something more was required of him, but through the roiling mist, he couldn’t discern what that was. He felt as he always did when a situation was slipping out of his control. He was a brave man. He had thundered past his opposition on a dark, wet race track, as close to their wheels as a whisper, and stayed cool. Now, at this moment, he was terrified.

This was one of the pivotal scenes in the book – a scene in which everything changes between the hero and heroine, and the die is cast. It was a pleasure to write. (Although now I’ve revisited it, of course I’ve seen lots I want to change!)

But not every scene in a novel can be so highly emotionally charged – otherwise it would be the poor reader who would be completely drained by the end of the book! There needs to be an ebb and flow and some pacing to the story, plus you need all those scenes where backstory is filled in, etc. How do you fill in the necessary backstory and still make the book a page-turner, and not a complete snooze-fest? How do you progress the plot and move the story along seamlessly, in a way that the reader can follow, and not have them wondering what on earth is going on? It’s the “everyday” scenes I find draining to write.

helena fairfax, romance, author, writing, editing

Here’s an example of a scene I’m working on at the moment. The hero and heroine have just met and are going to be thrown together in this scene. There is a bit of backstory in it. I don’t want either the hero or heroine to appear unsympathetic, despite the situation. As with every single scene, I want the reader to care what happens next, to care about the characters, and to want to read on. There is no high drama here – just a car that won’t start. I’ve written and rewritten this scene. I’m still not happy with it, but here it is as it presently stands, before I rewrite it for the umpteenth time:

A sudden image of her father popped into her mind – white-faced and furious after their last row. Fliss jabbed her key in the ignition and turned it, without the gentleness she usually showed for Agnetha’s old condition. The engine gave a whining screech, followed by an ominous whirr. The lights on the dashboard winked at her reproachfully.

‘Sorry, Agnetha!’

Fliss turned the key again – using more care this time – but there was complete silence from the engine. In her rear view mirror Fliss could see Patrick had climbed back out of his Land Rover and was making his way towards her, a resigned expression on his face. She gave an inward groan and opened her door.

‘She’s just not used to the mountains,’ she told him defensively. ‘We were fine in Norfolk.’ 

The furrow deepened on Patrick’s brow. Fliss noted how he was studying the exhaust, where a wisp of black smoke was slowly sinking onto the ground. She took a deep breath and stepped out of the car.

This is the sort of scene that can leave me emotionally drained :) It hasn’t come easily to write and it still needs work. The novel I’m working on is set in the Lake District. The author Catherine Gaskin, who also set several books in the Lakes, called writing “a slog” – and I quite agree!

To answer the second part of the question – how real are your characters to you? – I would say they are almost always completely real in my mind. In the scene above – even though I’m struggling with it – I can see Fliss and Patrick in my head, exactly as if I were there with them. I just need to convey what I can see to the reader.

If my characters aren’t real to me – if I can’t tell what they are going to do next, or what they will say, or how they will act with their friends, etc – then the story just isn’t working for me and I have to put it aside until it all comes alive.

* * *

This was another thought-provoking question from the Round Robin team. Thanks to author Rhobin Courtright for organising our topic.

I’m very curious to know how the other authors will answer this question. If you’d like to find out, please click on the links below.

I’d also like to know your view. If you’re a writer, do you sometimes find scenes draining to write? And if you’re a reader, are you sometimes emotionally drained yourself after reading dramatic scenes? If you have any comments at all, please let me know. I’d love to hear from you!

Victoria Chatham
Marci Baun
Margaret Fieland
Judith Copek
A.J. Maguire
Connie Vines
Rachael Kosinski
Dr. Bob Rich htt
Heather Haven
Beverley Bateman
Kay Sisk
Diane Bator
Skye Taylor
Rhobin Courtright

19 thoughts on “Writing is emotionally draining (and sometimes lonely)

  1. You make so many excellent points in this blog post, Helena. First, I loved the Silk Romance story and your scene from it made me want to go back and read it again! I’m energized when I write one of the pivotal scenes in the story. I always write the story in chronological order, so when I come to that all important scene, I’m pumped for it. Words flow, emotions build…love it. Like you, the scenes that don’t flow are the ones that take the most out of me. But I go on from there usually with a note in CAPS to revisit the scene. I don’t let the disappointment stop me from penning the rest of the story. Best wishes on completing your WIP!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi JQ, That is a great idea to just miss out a scene you’re struggling with and go back to it. I also write everything chronologically. My trouble is, I’m a perfectionist, and so I sit and struggle over one particular scene and let it get me down until eventually I get writer’s block. From now on I’ll follow your tip to leave it alone and come back later. Thanks for the advice! And thank you so much for your kind words about The Silk Romance. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!! That’s made me feel excited about releasing my next novel. I hope to have it available by the summer. Fingers crossed :). Thanks for dropping in, and your great comment!


  2. I’m with you. The action scenes are much easier to write. It’s the scenes in between that slow me down or stop me all together. How do you make them move the story forward without dragging it down? Some days, they flow; others, they don’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so right about the scenes flowing sometimes, and other days nothing happens at all. On bad days I manage to squeeze out barely 500 words. And then when I read over the finished book, I wonder what on earth my problem was! Thanks for dropping in, and for taking the time to comment!


  3. You hit the nail on the head (so to speak) when you point out that highly charged scenes are easy to write, straight out, as if you’re living them. The harder ones to write are the ones in between that don’t have all that emotional energy to keep them rolling. And it’s a slog. Same happens here. I find myself rewriting, revising, visiting every little word because I’m basically sunk up the hubcaps and not going anywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sunk up the hubcaps – I love that analogy, Skye! From now on I’m going to take JQ Rose’s advice (comment above) and when I get stuck, I’ll just leave the car and walk :) Thanks so much for your comment!


  5. Helena, I also tend to be very linear — to the point where, when we used to go the video store, I usually never got to any movie whose title started with N-Z.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your comment made me laugh, Margaret! I’ve started to realise how linear I am in many other ways. If I read a newspaper or magazine I have to read it in order from front to back, and I can’t skip to the articles that interest me most until I’ve reached the relevant page. This is obviously something I need to get over! Funny how these Round Robin posts make me examine how I write. Thanks so much for your great comment!


  6. I use a trick for bread-and-butter joining sciences that bridge between two high-tension ones. I write the exciting bits first, then I know where the bridge is heading. I once needed to do this for three whole chapters. Once I had the climax all written, it was easy to return and write the bits that led my hero there.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha! My phone is just the same, Bob. I have a friend called Georgette and my phone insists on calling her Georgetown :) I plan to try yours and JQ Rose’s trick of leaving the boring scenes and filling them in later. In fact, I’ve started today. I feel liberated! Thanks for the great topic, and for your comment!


  7. I haven’t really thought about this much, Helena, but when reading your post it made me realise how much emotion I invested in parts of The Highland Lass in particular!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved that book, Rosemary, and I can understand how close the story and certain scenes must have been to you as you were writing them. This topic made me think hard about my own writing, too.
      Thanks for dropping in, and for taking the time to comment!


  8. Helena, I always want to smack my forehead when my character says the wrong thing or royally messes up. Writing can be lonely too–though I usually feel that when I finish for the day and have to leave everyone inside the Word doc, not when I’m actually physically alone writing.


    1. I like that, Rachael, about leaving your characters inside the Word doc at the end of the day. I think the loneliness comes from not having anyone to talk to who knows these characters as well as you do. If you have a problem with the characters or want some advice on where they should be going, there is no one who can really deal with that problem except yourself!
      Thanks so much for your comment!


  9. Interesting post – that you get energized when writing the scenes.
    What I really like was your comment that ‘If my characters aren’t real to me – if I can’t tell what they are going to do next, or what they will say, or how they will act with their friends, etc – then the story just isn’t working for me..’ Well said and so true.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for dropping in, Beverley. I love these Round Robins. The topics always make me think more about my own writing. It’s the first time I’ve really analysed the fact that my characters are “real”. I’m sure it resonates with many other authors. Thanks for your lovely comment!


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