Monday, April 26, 2010

Mixed Emotions

In less than 50 days, South Africa will be the first African nation to host the FIFA World Cup in Soccer (Football). Many of the matches are already booked to capacity. The stadiums will be full of screaming, cheering fans. Because it's South Africa, there will be thousands of vuvuzelas bellowing out to add to the cacophony. 
(A vuvuzela is a plastic trumpet-like instrument, about a meter long that South African fans blow at soccer games.)
These spectators won't be sitting quietly watching the match, they'll be going wild. They're not scared to express their emotions.

Recently, the Mighty Men conference hosted 300,000 men to a week-end long rally on a farm in KwaZulu Natal. The men travelled from all over South Africa.

They stayed in their own tents, miles from the "preaching area". This photo shows them during a time of worship. (Photo taken from the middle of the crowd! There were just as many behind.) They clearly weren't scared of emotions.  

On Friday, Daniella spoke of how our emotions can influence our writing. Then on Saturday, Harry spoke of the need to reign in our lives and not be ruled by outside circumstances or emotions. Today, I want to take this unintentional theme one step further.

How does what we read or write influence our emotions? Both gave me problems this past week.

As a reader: The other night, I couldn't get to sleep because I'd been reading Face, by Angela Hunt. (Excellent read by the way.) I eventually knew I had to get to sleep, so put the book down at the end of a chapter. Stupidly, it was also the middle of a scary part of the story. Eventually, I had to get up, heat myself some milk, put on a flashlight and climb under the blankets. (No, I wasn’t hiding so my mother didn’t find me reading. I was trying not to wake my husband.) After I read past that section, I could get to sleep. I had been so caught up in the emotions created by the story, my mind couldn't switch off.

As a writer: For several days, I struggled with a section of a non-fiction chapter due to go to an agent. My critique partners had returned the chapter with comments such as, "This is terrifying. I wouldn't read it if it applied to me." Yet there was a lesson for the reader further on in the chapter, if they ever managed to reach it. If I took the section out, there would be no point in the rest of the chapter. But did I want to create negative emotions in someone who was already battling with health issues? My own emotions went in a spin. Should I water the story down? Or do I owe it to my reader to tell the truth?

We all know about the mind/body connection. It is medically recognized that emotions affect our health. Too much stress leads to high blood pressure and ulcers.

Since childhood, I have absorbed emotions from stories. Whether I read the story, or watch it on film, I become engrossed in the lives of the characters. Romantic films make me warm towards my husband. Films with an unhappy twist leave me disgruntled and wishing I hadn't wasted the time watching them. Thrillers have me sitting up wide-eyed at night, drinking warm milk and wishing I'd had more self-control. 

Often when I do manage to fall asleep after reading a gripping story, I continue to live the story in my dreams. Why, even Harry Potter had me doing battle on broomsticks. Stories where the hero/heroine is encouraging, like Finding Forrester, leave me wanting to do something grand and leave a mark on the world.

Many people, with stronger constitutions than I have, love thrillers, the more gory the better. Their hearts pound and their mouths turn dry as they leaf through the pages as fast as their eyes can take in the words. When they finish the book, they'll say, "What a wonderful read." Yet if the same events happened in their lives, they'd describe it as "the worst time of my life." What’s the difference? It’s simple. We can put the book down. We can make ourselves a cup of coffee during the advertisements. We can control the strength of our emotion.

For a fulfilling life, we need to experience the full range of emotions. If we never experienced fear, how would we recognize calm? If we didn’t ever get angry, we wouldn’t learn control. The key is to keep moving on. As a reader, we trust the writer to give us calm periods where we can catch our breath (or go to sleep!) Even Paul warned us, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (Ephesians 4:26 NIV)

As a reader, I need to choose my books so that they will create positive emotions for me, especially at bedtime. When I'm awake, I can take deliberate steps to overcome negative feelings. But when my mind slips out of gear and into Slumberland, I lose that control. So if I want to be healthy and happy, I need to be selective of what I read and when.

How about us as writers? Are there ways we can influence our readers to think clearer, live better, be healthier? Surely as Christian writers, we have an exciting responsibility to help our readers experience emotions—the full range of emotions. Let’s excite them, scare them, bring tears to their eyes. But let’s be sure we leave them with emotions that will make them want to come back. Let’s give them emotions that will leave them better people. It's a powerful challenge.

Jonatan MÃ¥rtensson said: "Feelings are much like waves, we can’t stop them from coming but we can choose which one to surf.” He has a point. I need to avoid the thriller type waves, especially at night. But what sort of waves should I look for? 

As writers, we need to weave in the happy emotions as well as the negative. We want to increase our readers’ heart rates and metabolism. But we want to leave them feeling good about themselves. And as readers, we need to choose which waves we will surf. Especially last thing at night.

What about you? Have you ever read a book that affected your actions in a positive or negative way? Tell us about it.

SHIRLEY M. CORDER can be contacted through her website or you can follow her on Twitter.


  1. Excellent and thought provoking post. thanks for sharing this Shirl. Keep writing! Clella

  2. Shirl, I'm with you when it comes to thrillers and suspense books. I read and enjoy these genres but I make sure I have time to read the darker and more scary books during daylight hours :-)

  3. Thank you for the interesting post.

    A book that comes to mind is Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery. The way in which the trees, wind etc on Emily's beloved Prince Edward Island come to life in the book inspire me to make the setting of my book vibrant and full of character. It has also planted a desire in me to visit Prince Edward Island.

  4. The best books move me emotionally. If it doesn't, I always feel cheated.

  5. I have forgotten how many times over the years I've read "Captain Jim" by Mary Grant Bruce. Sure, I read it now as a writer more than a reader but I still get a lump in the throat, even a tear still when the brother she thought had been killed in the first World War comes whistling down the English lane at dusk.
    Why does it affect me like that. Many reasons but the main one is that the writer has made me really love the two characters so much and written so beautifully I can just picture that incredible reunion.
    Shirley, I especially love your thought "Let’s give them emotions that will leave them better people. It's a powerful challenge."
    A very powerful challenge! Thank you so much.