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A little bit of background: I am trained as a electrical engineer and the more analytical stuff comes very easily to me. I've become way too analytical in my everyday life, always searching for information, facts, etc and I'd really like to have more balance by getting in touch with my aesthetic/emotional side.

I've been planning to start writing fiction for a while now, but before I start I have to undo a lot of my analytical habits. (Seriously, when I write something, it seems like a robot wrote it- there's no ambiguity or humanness about it - it's very much like what you would find in a scientific journal)

So, my question is: What are some everyday tips for new writers to sharpen their sensitive side, their powers of observation of the human heart? How does one go from a world of black and white to one of technicolor?

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This may be who and how you are. You can't just say you don't want to love the taste of your favourite food anymore. Changing a basic personality trait requires intense therapy and often has unwanted side effects (think Clockwork Orange and the dishabituation of violence).

In my opinion, you have two options:

  1. Embrace your self. Accept who you are, and write from that point of view. This could be interesting.

    As I understand it, you are not a recluse suffering from social phobia, so obviously you do interact with people, and that requires that you have some kind of insight into how they "tick". Try to become aware of how this awareness works for you, and write about that.

    Not all fiction needs to be the same.

  2. Get into personality devolopment. There are trainings for men who can't speak about their emotions to their wives; there is therapy for autists to better understand and deal with the emotions in other people they don't have themselves. I don't know where you fall along this continuum, but certainly you are not the only one and professionals (psychologists, psychiatrists, relationship couselors and so on) have been dealing with it and developed programmes to either help you get in touch with your own emotions or better empathize with the emotions of others.

    This is of course outside the area of this site and our expertise, but I'm sure you'll find something through Google.

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Reading through your question above, I don't find your writing to be overly analytical or unemotional. You report quite clearly your desire for personal improvement and in your words, I can sense your emotional concern about your ability to write emotively. Seems to me that you are doing that already. At least when you are writing in the first person point of view.

Writing in a 1st person narrative style, is a powerful tool for inserting characterization and emotions into your storytelling. It frees you from the God like perspective of 3rd person omnipotent, forcing you to describe what your narrator sees and feels rather than what is really going on. If your writing is coming off as too factual and sterile, I would guess that you're writing from a God's eye view. Climb down into the trenches with your characters and tell the story in one of their voices.

Then as an added bonus, don't let yourself use the word "I" in more than one sentence in five. That will allow you to start each paragraph with a statement of what you (the character) is doing, but it will force you then to add four more sentences explaining your motivations and your responses as your actions yeild fruit.

In response to the question you added as a comment on Kristina's answer, I would suggest that both reading and people watching are valuable tools for your quest. But I would also venture that your understanding of yourself is a solid starting place for understanding others. When you see someone else behaving in a manner that confuses you, take ownership of their actions and silently ask yourself, "why did I just do that?" With practice you should become skilled at recognizing exactly which fears and hungers influence specific kinds of actions. You already have a comprehensive reference for this study in your own behaviors and mannerisms. All you need is the courage to open it by asking "who would I have to be and what would I have to be feeling to act the way that person (or my fictional character) is acting right now?" Be creative in looking for answers and you'll be surprised at how accurate the answers you create will be.

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Close your eyes, put your fingers to the keyboard (or pen and paper), and just write. Block EVERYTHING out. Don't think about the quality of the writing. It can be total nonsense. The important thing is that you're writing something.

If you're really stuck for a topic, use a writing prompt, but sometimes it's fun to just babble on about your day or whatever's on your mind.

Make sure to time yourself. I'd aim for 3-5 minutes. It doesn't sound like a lot but once you get started it can be harder than it sounds.

You can go back through what you've written if you want, but you don't have to. If you do go back through it, underline interesting words or phrases that you've used. You can then use these in other works or to start your next freewriting exercise.

The important thing is to not think. If you feel that you will, close your eyes, listen to some relaxing music for a few minutes, then when you feel ready, start writing. The best time to write is when you're sleepy because in this state of mind we're less likely to overanalyse things - first thing in the morning or just before you go to bed, for example.

Make sure you read, too. This will help with the different ways you can construct a sentence and how to get more emotion into your writing. If you have the time, keep a book journal and write down things that you think worked in the book and why. You don't have to, but it allows you to keep a record of what you do and don't like in books, and you can then translate this into your own writing.

Good luck!

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  • Thanks for your answer. BTW, my major hurdle is understanding people. How do writers learn about what makes people tick? Is it through observing real people or reading about other characters? – Joebevo Feb 2 '15 at 3:48
  • @Joebevo considering you're the analytical, systems kind of guy, studying personality types might be useful. I recommend Keirsey's book Please Understand Me 2 (a quick overview here: keirsey.com/4temps/overview_temperaments.asp). If you want to use personality typing to figure out how given types spiral into madness - always useful in fiction - check out Enneagram (enneagraminstitute.com). I'd recommend Keirsey's stuff first, though. – Patches Feb 9 '15 at 15:58
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1) Try to be more observant of people in general. It may sound strange, but see if you can interact with them in a loving and non-judgmental manner --it will affect how you write about people.

2) Read books by authors who write good characters --it's as close as you can get to getting inside the head of another human being.

3) At a mechanical level, make your characters less rational and more likely to do the kinds of things we try --as reasonable adults --to not do. Give them poor judgment, hot tempers, childishness, oversensitivity, unrealistic goals (all the things that probably drive you crazy in real life). As part of this, when you write dialog, try writing it at two or more levels --in other words, first write what the characters are actually thinking and feeling, the things they would like to say to each other, and only then write the things they actually do say.

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