What is your Dominating Emotion?
Where do you get your inspiration?
This is probably the most commonly-asked question when people are interviewing authors. It has always irritated me when someone I’m interested in is being interviewed, because I see it as a complete waste of time. My thought is, Come on! You get to ask Stephen King 5 questions, and this is the best you could come up with? I want to know how complex and huge his map and diagram system is for his world-building, and how he kept everything straight between books before computers became commonplace (Most of his books take place in the same town/region, so the different stories have a shared history/future to a degree). I want to know what motivated him to finish The Stand, which took him 10 years to complete. You know, interesting things like that!
Back in October I went to the Florida Writers Association annual conference. On Thursday I spent the whole day listening to a workshop presentation by David Morrell. Who? Yeah, I asked the same thing when I saw it on the program. David Morrell wrote a book in the early 70’s called First Blood, which later got turned into the Rambo movies. He’s also written about 40 other books since then. He’s a really interesting guy, and I learned a lot from him.
One of the things he talked about is where you get your inspiration to write. This isn’t an answer that you would give an interviewer, but it’s a concept that I found really interesting. He said that your writing is generally based on your Dominating Emotion. For him, a lot of his books are playing out various dysfunctions of his childhood. As he has grown and matured, his dominating emotion has changed, and so has his writing.
My Dominating Emotion
I’ve spent a fair amount of time getting to know myself over the last ten years, so this wasn’t too hard for me to figure out in terms of what my writing is all about. At the very core of my gut I have a fiery ball of helpless rage that surrounds a core sense of injustice. There are atmospheric layers of feelings like inadequacy, lack of confidence, need for approval, and all that stuff, but it’s all built around that sense of injustice, both on a personal and a global level.
I was conscious of this when I started planning the DimWorld series. I wanted to take my characters through an enlightening and perspective-changing series of experiences similar to my own journey of understanding myself and the world around me. What I didn’t know is that most writers do this, whether it’s conscious or unconscious.
How it shows up
It’s all in the struggle that your characters are going through. For David Morrell, he struggled as a kid with society as a whole, and with his step dad, who was the tyrannical authority figure in his life. This is represented in First Blood by Rambo’s struggle with the Vietnam War, and with the police chief. Rambo got screwed over by the world, and instead of getting support from what’s supposed to be a trusted leader, he got screwed by him, too. Morrell actually had Rambo die in the book, killed by the police chief.
In the DimWorld series, my characters discover that there are other dimensions. A company called DimCorp has developed the technology to travel between the dimensions, and they use this to go to under-developed places, enslave to people there, and force them to mine resources which are then sold to other, wealthier dimensions.
The goal of my characters is to stop this rape of the world(s) and mistreatment of people, but it’s an impossible task. It’s 4 people versus a megalith company, a giant with unlimited power and resources. The story is exciting (at least to me!) because they realize this and decide to fight anyway, and find ways to make a real difference.
This is a near-exact representation of my perception of life. Some of it stems from my childhood, some of it comes from being an INFJ personality type (we have a powerful sense of idealism and morality), and some of it comes from my conclusions about the human race.
So, what do I do with this?
I got to watch my friend and writing partner Angelique Bochnak as she had a moment of self-discovery during this workshop. We spent a few minutes during a break dissecting her book The Blood Trials and concluding that she is working out some anger issues, just like the rest of us.
I brought home the concept of a dominating emotion and talked to my wife about it. She’s a veterinarian, and her dominating emotion is much different than mine. Hers is centered around compassion, but it wasn’t really something that she had thought much about.
I think it’s a great exercise for everyone in the pursuit of self-understanding (and isn’t that a big part of being alive?). So, I challenge you to determine what your dominating emotion is. What drives you to do the things you do? What is your quest? The holidays are coming, so maybe this will give you something to talk about to all those people you love/hate/don’t know very well. The other challenge is to think about the book you’re reading right now. What can you surmise about the dominating emotions that drive the story? And what in the world happened to Stephen King that has taken him so much writing to work out?!
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J. Boyd Long is an author, blogger, website developer, and the CFO of Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic. In his spare time (ha!) he likes to paint, read, canoe, and hike in the wilderness. You can subscribe to this blog in the sidebar, and future blogs will be delivered to your email. Subscribing may increase your awesomeness quotient. Please feel free to comment, and share this blog on your favorite social media page! To learn more, please visit JBoydLong.com