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  • Writer's pictureTracey Lee

Love and other stuff

Writers create emotional landscapes where characters play out the gamut of human feelings. Those feelings need to be real and resonate with readers. The words must induce in the reader an understanding of the emotion being experienced or, if they can, the feeling itself. As a reader I have been infuriated, hysterically amused, revolted, broken, terrified and bewildered by the descriptions of a character's internal life. In film, all that visual and auditory stimulus assists in the creation of that landscape. The writer has only their words. I think for writers trying to find that balance between over-sentimentalising or exaggerating through description can sometimes feel like walking a very fine line. Perhaps more so when writing about those big emotions like love, grief and fear. A writer needs to avoid the melodramatic, schmaltzy or pretentious description if they want to create sincerity and realism. It's also hard to avoid clichés and figurative language in the process of drawing the reader into the emotional world of characters.

Few of us, if any, would use the estimated three-thousand English words we have to describe our feelings. (You can set your self the task of trying to name them if you like-or that might just be something I'm likely to do). But even with this bounty of vocabulary it is sometimes hard to find just the right word and it's here we need to borrow from other cultures. Three words from other languages that I think are so beautiful and evocative and worth knowing are the following.

The first is HIRAETH. This is a Welsh word that refers to the longing for something of the past or that is lost. It relates to homesickness. We might call it nostalgia but there is greater depth in experiencing hiraeth in that the longing might be for something that did not exist. Or was not ours. It speaks of a loss that almost can't be explained or a yearning that can't be named.

Secondly is the Ifaluk word FAGO. This comes from the Ifaluk people in the Caroline Islands. It refers to the blurring of the boundaries between compassion, sadness and love. It embodies the pity we might feel for someone who experiences misfortune and compels us to care. It is tinged with the fear that we might lose that person. It speaks to the fragility and struggle with life particularly at the point of separation. At its core the word implies that the difficulty of life can be offset by our capacity to care for one another. The word suggests that love cannot be separated from loss. It's powerful.

Lastly is the Japanese word UKIYO which I've struggled with because it seems to have a number of contextual definitions. Its basic meaning refers to a sense of living in the moment or as one definition suggested 'living in the moments of fleeting beauty detached from the pain of life'. Another used the term 'the floating world'. And yet another, that the word conjures a world of pleasure and eroticism. But I like the concept that one can be immersed in the small moments of wonder and beauty that distract us from the struggle or ugliness of life. That might be in the natural world, or art or human behaviour.

Emotions are hard things to put into words. And generally harder to deal with. But they do form the basis of a reader's engagement with characters. I shall continue researching and follow up on this in my next blog.

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