Written by JJ Barnes
You may have heard the expression “bleed onto the page” before, but what does it actually mean? You’re obviously not supposed to go full Dolores Umbridge and literally use blood to write your words.
In this post I’ll be exploring what it means to bleed onto the page, how to do it, and why it matters for the quality of your story.
If You Bleed Onto The Page You’ll Connect With Your Audience
When an audience connects so deeply with characters in a story that they have a strong emotional response, that story will stick with them. We never remember the stories that just trundle along and are fine. The ones that stick with us the most are the ones that give us feelings.
The reason we bleed onto the page, as writers, is because it can cause that emotional response in our readers. When a character feels something strongly, and you feel the writer’s own emotions, then it feels more real. When emotions feel real in the characters, they feel real to the audience. And then they translate through into the audience’s own emotions.
Flat emotions, based on what we THINK a character would feel but have no well of our own to draw from, do not translate as successfully. There’s a saying that the greatest artists are those with the most pain. Whether it’s true or not, I do know if your well of emotions is full you have more to use.
Connect With Your Emotions
There is no way you can have experienced literally every single experience of your characters unless you write endless autobiographies. So when I talk about giving your characters your real emotions, don’t feel like that’s what I’m saying. You’re still writing fiction, made up characters in made up scenarios, but the emotions you’re giving them come from a place of truth.
To connect with situations you’ve never been in yourself, and bleed emotions onto the page, go down to the root feelings. Whether the base emotion is fear, hope, loss or love, that’s where you have to grow out from.
You might never have been in a sword fight, but you can use fear and pain. You might never have held a lover in your arms as they died, but you can use heartache and loss. Rather than use the exact situation your characters are in, mine your own experiences of emotions that would be felt. Connect with them, and infuse them into that scenario.
Why You Must Find Your Truth
To truly bleed onto the page you have to be able to face diving deep into your own well of pain. It can be painful or humiliating or stressful, but it’s real. Write that raw emotion into the way your characters respond, even if you don’t think it’s how they SHOULD respond. Because the truth is we aren’t all walking textbooks behaving how we should.
The truth of our human emotions can sometimes be ugly. We aren’t always the best version of ourselves. Times of stress or pain or fear can bring out the worst in us. This is true of our characters too. We can be selfish or cruel because we are struggling to handle the feelings we have. My least favourite memories are the ones where I have struggled in this way. But when I see others respond that way, I connect to it. I remember it, I feel it all over again, and it is REAL.
Let those emotions out. Cry with your characters. Think of a person you have loved and lost when your character processes their beloved dying. Think of times you’ve felt fear and betrayal when you write a character being hurt by their partner. Pull those emotions from deep down and hold them at the very surface, however hard it is to keep them there.
Why It Can Be Hard To Bleed Onto The Page
It isn’t easy. It can feel overwhelming to be carrying all the emotions both of your characters and yourself bubbling away on the surface. Translating those feelings onto the page can be incredibly hard. It can be painful just to examine them in the first place.
But, if you’re willing, bleeding those emotions onto the page can create a story that will hold itself in your audiences heart for years after they have read it.
More From JJ Barnes:
I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.
You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk
Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books
Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose