How much is too much when writing emotional situations?
Hello, good work here!
how do I make it so that I don't go overboard in detailing my character's grief but still have an effective emotional moment?
Description of the tragedies that actually happened to my main character below, if you'd like to know the gravity of her problem:
I've been trying to write a fantasy series since last year, I'm on book one. The story is focused on a young Pure Elf princess named Ergwen Rowyth, who loses everything- her two sisters, her brother, mother, and father- one of her sisters to the War of Magic, to her brother's revenge crusade on the Dark Elves, her mother to extreme depression thanks to two of her children's deaths, her other sister to a marriage that leads her away from the kingdom, and her father to the Regent-lord's secret betrayal that cannot be so easily proven to be true.
The only person she has left is the Chief Maid, the one person who believes, has taken care of, and loved Ergwen since she was born. Everyone else living in the castle of the Pure Elves is the traitor Regent-lord (now the ruler of the kingdom until Ergwen turns 100 years-old, old enough to rule the Pure Elves) and his family, who basically treat Ergwen like Cinderella's step-sisters and mother with the excuse of trying to groom her to become queen in 83 years. The exception to this is the Regent-lord, who shamelessly treats her as if he could ever replace her own father in an attempt to get her to marry into his family so he can become the undisputed king of Archinem, the kingdom.
The Regent-lord's wife banishes the Chief Maid from Archinem for attempting to "steal a royal ring" from her, which was actually Ergwen's mother's and the Maid was taking it to give to Egwen as consolation. Effectively, Ergwen loses the last person she needed to lose before she had had enough and decided to run away. On her way out of the kingdom, she overhears the Regent-lord giving an order to his Champion that told him to go find the Prince (Ergwen's brother), who was presumed dead for 3 years but was found alive, and kill him.
Ergwen now has a purpose and decides to go find her brother in foreign lands before the Regent-lord's loyal Champion finds him so that they can return to Archinem and her brother can take up the crown as King.
Now, my question is this, considering all the tragedies that
happened to Ergwen, how do I make it so that I don't go overboard in detailing her grief but still have an effective emotional moment?
Sorry for the length, I just wanted to emphasize that her losses are kind of a big deal to her characterization. They change her into a person full of hatred for those who harmed her.Answer:
Of course, you will have to trust your own instincts, and you may have to rewrite this key emotional moment several times before it feels right.
But here's one suggestion...
You will know you've gone overboard if you find you repeat yourself.
Of course, you don't want to repeat the same words (which would be really bad). I mean that you should try to not to illustrate the same point in different ways.
An emotional reaction does have several components. There are internal and external physical reactions, interpretive thoughts, feelings, realizations or decisions, feelings, and subsequent actions. All these components make up a sequence which, taken together, create one event.
Though there may be lingering effects of an emotional reaction, try not to have multiple reactions to the same event. Don't describe the reaction more than once or give the character more than one reaction to the same event.
You may want to brainstorm various ways you could illustrate the character's reaction and then choose the best. Look for something she could do externally that would symbolize her internal grief. Depending on the character, sometimes a big action or illustration is appropriate. Sometimes a subtle gesture is more telling.
But once the illustration is complete, move on. Don't repeat yourself. Don't keep describing her feelings in different ways at different times.
In this case, a number of tragedies have befallen your main character, and since I don't know your story, I don't know how many take place before the story begins. However, it would make sense to me if you introduce your heroine in a difficult situation and then make the banishment of the Chief Maid the inciting incident that begins her journey.
If I'm wrong and you want to start her off in a good situation and then introduce a series of bad developments, then you will have to illustrate her reaction to each of these separately -- and by separately I mean differently. Don't have her react the same way to each event but at a different volume. Each event is unique and needs a different type of reaction, otherwise the story will seem repetitious.
Best of luck.