“I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility…”
William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads
“Emotion recollected in tranquility” — for some mysterious reason, this phrase popped into my head this morning. Actually, it kept buzzing in my brain while I was half awake in bed. I think there’s something here that I’m supposed to apply to my writing and share with you as well.
Mmm…what could it be? Just recently, I’ve been working hard to add more juice and drama to my YA novel by recreating the emotions my little heroine Britomar is feeling when she’s in danger. It’s as if I’m sitting on her shoulder going through what she’s going through and then capturing it in words in the moment.
It’s exciting when I get it right. There’s a kind of breathless, alive quality to this writing: it has an energy and “headlongedness” to it. I made this word up, but I love it! For me, it describes the feeling you get when a story just drives you along, plunging you forward. You feel swept away by it. The words leap from the page as pure image: you are not reading the story, you are in the story. You know the feeling!
To bring this kind of energy to my own writing is tricky, but doable: I have to be both inside my character feeling what she’s feeling and outside of her at the same time, so I can get those feelings down on paper.
In a way, perhaps this is a form of “emotion recollected in tranquility.” I have to get excited enough to feel fear or loneliness, but I also have to be relaxed enough to observe what’s happening and then record it. Is this a real-time version of what Wordsworth was describing? Maybe. In any case, here’s how he expressed his idea in his beautiful poem, “I wandered lonely as a cloud,”
“For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”
How about you? Is there a way you can bring “headlongedness“ — forward-driving energy to whatever you’re writing today?
Do you have any advice you can share on ratcheting up emotional intensity?