Are Artists Emotionally Scarred?

Delving into emotional devastation makes for interesting characters and good stories. “Hurt your characters,” the saying goes, “to make them sympathetic. Make the villain believable.”

But where do writers find the inspiration for all that hurt? The inspiration to write a psychopath, for example, or just a plain ol’ dark-minded guy?

A moviegoer asked me, How do they come up with this dark stuff, and aren’t they emotionally scarred by it? I didn’t have an immediate answer, but I’ve been thinking about it. It’s a good question, and it brought to mind all creative types.

The way I see it, everyone experiences loss and pain. While most people try to put their painful past behind them, creatives revisit their own inner mine filled with dark stories. Sure, much of it is changed to fit a certain criteria. But the surest way, I suppose, to understand a character (assuming he is derived from someone), is to visit that familiar place where the past resides: personal experiences and memories. 

And so, do such visits affect the creative type (negatively in whatever manner, or positively by making him a better storyteller?) Does it scar him — as the moviegoer said — or is the artist able to leave it all behind in the end? What about readers/spectators?

I’m sure the answer isn’t black and white, but would love your thoughts.


Image credit: Immovable Open Eyed, by Lowell Boyers — from Wikimedia Commons.


9 responses to “Are Artists Emotionally Scarred?

  1. I have often wondered about what it takes to write some scary,evil stuff. Even some of those ‘Criminal Mind’ episodes have some awful villains and I think, “How does someone dream that stuff up, what kind of person are they?” Kind of creepy.

  2. I have trouble writing about that type of story or characters. But I don’t think those that do are necessarily of the same mind set :-) I mean, look at Stephen King. He seems like a pretty normal mellow guy!

    • Great example, Linda. Here’s a guy who’s been happily married for many years, and by all accounts is pretty mellow, as you say. Yet, his fiction is pretty disturbing.

  3. I think it depends on the personality of the artist. For some it’s coming up with ideas, for some it’s revisiting their past, for some it’s taking a look in the news and then exploding the idea, I would think. So many varying ways to come up with the hard stuff. For ME, it would be hard. hard tow rite and to walk away from. I would be changed a little bit by it, which is why I tend to avoid reading or watching much less writing on those topics. But for some, it doesn’t change them. Not because I’m better or they are better, but we’re different and that’s why there are so many different genres, and variances within genres as well. I think.

  4. I recently wrote a scene between a husband and wife, in which the wife confronted her husband for cheating. I had never experienced it myself, although I knew people who had. When I finished, I was emotionally drained. I think what had happened is that I had taken in the pain of others and internalized it, letting it out in my writing. There are some subjects about which I can’t write, personally experienced, and maybe therein lies the difference. Great food for thought, Sylvia.
    By the way, who is the artist of the painting in your blog?

    • Great example, Noelle. Thank you. I bet it left you emotionally drained. And as a result, you likely have a great scene there. Lowell Boyers is the artist of the painting above.

  5. Kourtney Heintz

    I find mining my emotions and experiences very cathartic. It’s hard to go back to a difficult time but being able to use it to evoke an emotion in my fiction makes it feel like it had a purpose. Sometimes it helps me put it into perspective or free myself from it. :)

I welcome your thoughts.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s