Wordsmith Wednesday–Writing from the Heart

Anthony van Dyck - Cupid and Psyche (1639–40)

Image via Wikipedia

As we approach Valentine’s Day, I’ve noted a number of poems and posts dealing with love. Today, I want to briefly address the subject of writing emotion because most of us as beginning writers have difficulty, whether we write prose or poetry, in expressing strong feelings adequately, but without going overboard.

As a disclaimer, I am not a romance writer and this post will not deal with the sexual or erotic expression of  love but rather the underlying currents of closely related emotion. Today, let’s just focus on love and let’s begin at looking at three types of love. To do that, I’m calling on my poor old memory.

Resorting to Greek, an obvious kind of love that I’ve already named recalls Eros, or erotic love. This is the love that is charged with the energy of sexuality, the love between spouses and lovers. The second is related to Philia.Think of Philadelphia, the City of brotherly love. This refers to the love between family and friends. And finally, there is Agape, the love that comes from higher ideals, that is selfless and beneficient. (Such is the love that those of us who are Christians refer to when asked to love our neighbors and even our enemies–a love, of course, common to all schools of spiritual thought.) These distinctions serve as a reference point when we are writing our characters’ inner thoughts and dialogue. How can we express just the right amount of intensity? Here are a few suggestions:

Avoid purple prose–the overboard, maudlin expression of love. Think of words or expressions that just drip with sentiment–flowery, unrealistic description or dialogue. Has anyone of you ever had a lover tell you, “Your eyes are blue like cornflowers and I fall into them enjoying ecstatic thrills that make my heart-throb” ?

Strive for subtlety. Call upon your own experience and don’t be afraid to ask others for help. Think of words of love you have said or heard. Take notes when reading or watching movies or TV–jot down effective dialogue or descriptions.

Use metaphor or simile with care. This can work but calls for discretion. For example, in the purple prose example above. While “Your eyes are like cornflowers” may be over the top, you can always have the character see a field of cornflowers that reminds him of his loved one.

The nature of poetry is such that there is a bit more room for exaggeration, but even here I suggest evaluating your work using some of the above suggestions. While reviewing poetry for Jingle’s Poetry Potluck, I came across a poem by Bob at NotATameBlog that I believe exemplifies a well-written love poem. Thanks to Bob for allowing me to share his link with you: http://notatameblog.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/my-only-aim/

These are my opinions and if any of you have differing thoughts, I urge you to express it in comments. Also, if you have examples from your own work of either over-expression or effective expression of love, I’d love you to post it. This could be a fun discussion.