Meetup 147: Writing about Emotions


Last Saturday, Kabir hosted a session at Write Club with a focus on emotion. Though good writing ends up evoking deep emotions within the reader, it does so without explicitly alluding to it. That is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn as a budding writer: the importance of understating the emotion and focusing on the experience instead.

As always, the session was broken down into two exercises.

Exercise One

The point of this exercise is to write a scene about an oppressor or a victim of oppression. We could pick one of five possible options:

  • Sexism
  • Ageism (Discrimination based on age)
  • Classism (Discrimination based on economic or social class)
  • Racism
  • Ableism (Discrimination against people with disabilities)

My Piece (Sexism)

Dear Janaki,

Your mother told me yesterday about your phone call yesterday. Sorry I couldn’t speak with you; our firm’s final merger meeting was in full swing, and we didn’t finish until early this morning. I went straight to bed and only just woke up. I would have called, but you know how much I love writing more.

Mom said that you were thinking of getting into an Arts program. Your arts teacher at school, Mister Kailasamurthy, was all praise for your drawing at the last parent-teacher meeting. He said your lines have balance, that your colours are vivid. Vibrant. So I certainly think that arts is a great choice for you, if the only relevant question was whether you would be good at it.

But Janaki, unfortunately it isn’t.

When your mother and I were young, women could afford to be housewives and leave the earning to men. They could content themselves with housekeeping and childrearing. They had time, like your mother did, to pursue hobbies of their choice. The man’s job was to bring in the money, and the woman’s job was to run the house. In such a world, Janaki, I would have supported you to take up arts.

But the world has changed. Women today are not puppets or housekeepers or childbearing machines. They’re go-getters. They’re independent. They make money. Which means that before you ask yourself what you would be good at, you should ask – like I did when I was your age – whether your chosen career will earn you what you deserve. You will remember that I told you about my career conversation with Grandpa. When I told him I wanted to be a writer, he said, ‘Nobody ever marries a writer.’

He was right. If I had been a writer, I would not have married your mother. I would not have had you.

I will not say that nobody will marry you if you become an artist. But you will become someone’s liability. Your husband’s property. You will have no identity. You will be Mrs Somebody.

I’ve spoken to your Mathematics teacher too. I think his name was Mr Pandey? He said that if you work on your calculus, you have a high chance of making it into Engineering. If I were you, Janaki, I would give that all the time I had. A job in an engineering firm will not feed your soul, but you will always have your art for that. You don’t have to pick one or the other. Often, a middle path works best.

We will not force you into anything. We love you too much for that. Whatever advice we give you, I want you to know that we have your absolute good at heart. We’re hoping that you will not disappoint us.

I am coming to Pune on the first Saturday of next month. The new division needs setting up. We’re employing a few hundred people up there. I’m not sure if I will have the time to drop by and visit you. But I will try.


Exercise Two

This time, the brief was to write a piece which is entirely about one emotion. The five options we were given are:

  • Anger
  • Lust
  • Grief / Sorrow
  • Greed
  • Envy / Pride

For an examination of how a writer could stay with a single emotion throughout a piece of writing, you should read The Management of Grief – By Bharati Mukherjee.

My Piece (Grief)

There is a yellow spot on the moon today.

It isn’t there until I let my eyes come to rest over it. As long as the gaze flits and jumps, it burns bright and white. But when it pauses, just to catch a breath, the yellow seeps in and grows in size like a blot, as if someone had plunged a needle into its dark side and driven the piston down in one smooth motion.

The screen of my computer is yellow.

I sit with my fingers poised over the keyboard, certain that the words would come. They always did. The empty white curtain and the blinking cursor is all I see for a while, and then the yellow begins to fill. It starts around the corners of my vision – first the walls, the light from the mercury tube, the printed letters on my keyboard. My fingernails have yellow roots, and they seem to dig into my skin.

My breath is yellow.

Not the yellow of the sun. Not the yellow of the rainbow. Not the yellow of ripe corn. The yellow of jaundice.

There was yellow in her breath too, that night. Her nails had been white to the end, though. Sweat on her palms. The scraping sound that accompanies each laboured word. The smile. The teeth. The tongue that comes out to wet the lips. All of them yellow.
Her laughter rings out in my ear. She laughs in death like she never did in life. I hear her anklets behind me, tiny tinkles that float up into the air and touch me behind the neck. The hair rises, and absorbs the smell of her last, dying breath. She walks in death like she never did in life.

I look up at the moon again. The yellow spot has become larger. And darker.

Readers: If you’d like to write something in the comments space on this topic, please do. Just pick one emotion and run with it!

Image Courtesy: Listverse

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