Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I Get So Emotional

Maven Darcy BurkeI beg your forgiveness for inserting that insipid Whitney Houston song into your mind (and for somewhat copying Maven Erica's Monday Post Title). Unfortunately, it's the first thing that popped into my head when I thought about what I might say about emotion this week. See, I'm a sentimental fool. I choke up when I check my children late at night. Stupid songs (Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star???) trigger my sob reflex. I cry at parent meetings or watching a school play that doesn't even include my own children or any that I'm related to. It's horrifying. And I'm completely incapable of stopping it.

How does this translate into my writing? I'm not writing tearjerkers, that's for sure. What I hope I'm writing are emotionally rich characters and deeply moving themes. My favorite reads are those that make me feel what the characters are feeling. I hate when I read a book and it gets to the end where things tie up nicely and you only get one POV. You get how either the hero or heroine feels but not the other. Makes me want to throw the book. I don't have that problem so much anymore, but it seemed like this happened a lot in the books I read when I was younger. Does that mean books have changed? Maybe. It may simply mean that writers are getting better at tapping into that emotion and inviting the reader to do the same.

I think POV is an important ingredient. Probably a lot of the older books I read contain a certain amount of head-hopping, which is not always conducive to conveying emotion. It's hard to share a character's triumphs and woes if you aren't with them long enough. Deep POV is a really great way to have a direct line to emotion. And of course, as Maven Jacq pointed out yesterday, showing emotion rather than telling it is a huge part of drawing the reader in. Even in movies, I relate better to a character by their actions instead of their dialogue or facial expressions. They can look sad, but I need to feel their sadness (or whatever emotion). Think of Chewbacca. No understandable dialogue and a lesser range of facial expression than humans. Despite this, we feel his sadness when Han is tortured and then frozen in carbonite. More than that, I feel his anger, his frustration and everything in between.

And that's a tough thing: varying emotions. Deeper emotions are sometimes easier to convey because they are more black and white: despair, joy, anger, fright. But what about amusement, boredom, contentment, annoyance? These can be more difficult because they are grayer shades of those deeper emotions. Too many deep emotions and you might have a caricature. Too few and you may have a character who doesn't resonate.

I mentioned in Monday's comment thread that Elizabeth Hoyt did a great workshop in Atlanta at Moonlight and Magnolias about polishing your ms. She said to make sure that the POV character's emotions are clear in each scene. I'm doing a polish pass on Glorious using the tips from her workshop (the tidbits were too good to not go back and use) and emotion is something I'm going to be looking at very closely. I'm also making notes of emotion as I storyboard my current book. In fact, I used emotion words when crafting the arcs for my hero and heroine. You can do so much with emotion! Or maybe that's just me (see post title).

How do you use emotion in your writing/plotting/polishing? What draws you into a book emotionally? How much do you hate me for the title of this post? (Answer must be in the form of an emotional response.)

Oh, and I wanted to share this because it's pertinent: I got a great Maven crit yesterday asking how my heroine felt about something a secondary character said. Since this is the very beginning of the book (yes, new book - without a title yet!) and we're just meeting these characters, it's important information to have about both the heroine and the secondary character. What will be fun is what the secondary character's emotion really is versus what the heroine thinks it is, or better yet, the emotion it strikes within the heroine! See, emotion can be fun! Or, again, maybe that's just me.


Jacqueline Barbour said...

For the title of this post, Darcy, I hate you with the sharpness of a thousand of Erica's machetes.

As to the other questions, I think I'm finally learning to really craft a book's plot points around their emotional impact on the characters. If a scene doesn't bring about some sort of emotional change in the main characters (especially in a novella--you get more leeway in a novel, of course), it doesn't belong!

Erica Ridley said...

This is my personal challenge. Well, I have a lot of personal challenges, but making story events matter on an emotional level to my characters happens to be the personal challenge I'm actively trying to address. Jury is still out on current success rate.

How do you use emotion in your writing/plotting/polishing?

When the Mavens say, "How does Character react to this?", I put some in. Other than that...

What draws you into a book emotionally?

I am a cyborg.

How much do you hate me for the title of this post?

Every tiiiiime I thiiiink of yoooouuu! *g

J Perry Stone said...

I'm pleading a Teresa Medeiros on this one, Darcy. She says she can't answer some writing questions because she writes more on a subconscious level than a conscious one.

Okay, I admit the real reason I can't answer this question is because I'm an impatient dingdong who would rather stick the heel of your new shoe in my eye than think about my WIP in terms of my characters' emotional impact--that's WAAAYYYYYY too cerebral for me--but I would LIKE to think it's because I write on a subconscious level like Terri.

I hope my characters are emotionally, uh, impacted, however. You mean we're supposed to be conscious of it while we're writing? Can emotional impaction (don’t laugh; I’m being serious here despite the constipation imagery) just happen without being aware of it? Doesn’t it merely occur because of the story and the characters’ emotional responses to such running through your head?

And now I’m starting to worry my ms is going to need yet another overhaul. I don’t think I can take that.

You mavens are scaring the hell out of me and now I have to go reread your post.

But WOO HOO about using your shoes for the good of mankind ;-)

B.E. Sanderson said...

Not hate really, but a severe irritation. Throughout the day that song keeps popping into my head. Ack.

Like you, I get weepy about the littlest things sometimes, but I don't think it translates into my writing so much. Although I have to admit when I re-read the ends, I catch myself getting choked up. When I can make myself cry, I know it's good. =o)

lacey kaye said...

I can't hate you for the title of this post. But I can make you hate me by telling you that's because Whitney Houston was before my time...

Great post. I'm terrified of following it up. That's emotion, right?

Manuscript Mavens

Manuscript Mavens