Thursday, October 18, 2007

What Kind of Mood Do You Smell?

Maven Lacey KayeOn Monday's post, B.E. commented:

While I was writing tonight, I discovered that I write using different senses for different scenes. I don't think you could write them all for every scene because it would be sensory overload. Think about the way you sense things in your life. At different times, different senses are prominent. First thing in the morning, you may be smelling the coffee brewing, or in the dark, only hearing things. So it is with your characters. Sometimes everything is moving so fast, only once sense comes into play.
As I said in the comments of that post, this gave me pause. When I went back to read the comment and put it in this post, however, I realized I'm not entirely sure why that comment made me think of something entirely -- well, almost, since I'm going to blog about it today -- unrelated.

When I got back my Release Your Inner Vixen comments, I had one repeating observation that really stood out. Judge A said, "The hero and heroine seem disconnected. We hear their emotions but don't feel them." Judge B said, "This was very well written, especially how you made the heroine fight to make the scene non-emotional, and in turn made her so rootable and real." Judge C said, "Love scene was so sad and dark for characters that it weakened the romantic and sexual tension. Suggest a bit more emphasis on the joy and pleasure they feel to balance the anguish, a hint more of the sweet in bittersweet."

In other words, when you put all their comments together you get the effect I was going for; that is, a deeply moving, dark, sad consummation of a love that must end... the finality of a love that cannot go on forever.

Which is awesome.

But not perfect. It looks to me like two of the judges were concerned about reader/character interaction. I think part of this is because at this point in the book, I figured the reader would already know how it feels to feel through the fierce, passionate, yet distanced heart of a warrior, and part of it is because I got so wrapped up in conveying emotion -- last week's topic -- that I forgot to convey the five senses.

One of the judges observed in another comment that we lose track of the setting very quickly. The room and the bed (which is never described aside from being in the room when she walks in) and the time of day (or night, as the case may be) and the season -- is it cold, warm, or raining outside? You don't know -- are all left out. If there is a fire in the grate, it's not warming the room. If there is there a rug on the carpet, it's not soft between the heroine's toes. Whether she's in a man's room or a woman's is not apparent, and with a cultural divide that kind of detail seen through her eyes might be interesting. What we do have is, very simply, two people existing in their own tiny, private universe for just one demanding and emotionally draining night.

In a sense, I wanted it that way. But I wasn't trying to lose the reader's connection to the story. The reader needs to feel like she's there with the characters, not watching from outside. Actually, that's probably backward in my case -- I need a little more of that instead of what I have. Right now, the reader IS the heroine, and the heroine isn't concerned with the size of the hero's, er, bed. The reader is trapped by the blinders of an emotion overdose.

I think. Or maybe Judge A just didn't get it and Judge C likes a lot of sexy description.

What do you think? Are emotions connected to the character's perception of what she or he hears/smells/tastes/touches/sees?


Erica Ridley said...

Are emotions connected to the character's perception of what she or he hears/smells/tastes/touches/sees?

Yes? I think emotion might be when they perceive something (via the 5 senses) and then react to it.

I just critted something for a chaptermate yesterday and I found myself marking up places where she did the opposite--the POV character did a great job of noticing how the other scene character looked, smelled, acted, sounded, etc, but didn't react to those perceptions.

As I was critting ("He just shanked a boy scout with a machete. What does she think about that?") I realized that I may need to take a long hard look at my own WIP with regard to this.

My heroine isn't shy, exactly, but has her own reasons for trying to stay quiet and unnoticed, which means we live in her head a lot for her POV. Except we don't. She's like Madden commentating on a football game. "And then Char A's eyes flashed, and Char B reeked of sweat, and spittle flew from Char C's fleshy lips to land upon Char D's furrowed brow" etc. And rather than an impartial play-by-play, maybe she needs to react more to what her senses observe in those situations.


B.E. Sanderson said...

I think sometimes emotions are very connected to what a character is sensing, and it depends on what the writer is trying to convey (and how well they convey it). On the other hand, sometimes the emotional connection comes from the reader's perceptions. The writer may intend one thing, and the reader may get something completely different. For instance, if I read a passage describing in detail the nasty smell of driving down I-75 in Detroit - complete with factories, diesel fumes, and the salt mines - it might make me happy because we drove through that smell to get to my grandmother's house. *shrug* I also get nostalgic for the smell of horse farms.

(Does that make any sense, or did I just go completely off in lala land there?)

Jennifer Linforth said...

I think emotions are connected to the character in what she hears/smells/tastes/sees etc, 110%

My CP is always reminding me to use all 5 senses, especially in love scenes (She writes erotica, I historicals. Odd combo, but we click.)

What is a challenge for my current historical(1866, Austria) is that my heroine has Aspergers Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. Sensory overload is a huge concern for her. Touch, sounds, light can all cause her to react in very unusual ways. Ways that are different from the hero, who is not autistic. He is NT, or neurotypical. (And a hunk of the royal family...)

In the case of this book, I have to write the emotional connection in a whole new way, and be very aware of it. It is quite challenging and makes me appreciate how we connect a reader to a character.


Darcy Burke said...

Jennifer, I'd love to read your book!!

Emotions are definitely tied to senses. The smell of roast beef will always remind me of home, especially my gramma (hey, we're British!). Totally visceral reaction to that. Listening to the Dave Matthews Band will usually transport me to the Gorge where I've spent romantic evenings with Mr. Burke at DMB concerts. And that's just surface stuff. How all of your senses interact and trigger reactions play into our social and emotional behavior. When you feel overwhelmed, chances are your senses are overwhelmed too. For instance, a really messy house? Probably adding to your feelings of stress and frustration. Loud TV while you're trying to work (this one's for Maven Erica)? This will not only trip you up with your work, but will probably affect you emotionally.

It's all tied together!

lacey kaye said...

Definitely not off-topic, B.E. You are all validating what I'm toying with over here, which is that emotions are just words on the page if the body isn't picking up the signals & processing them. The way your body processes the signals, as Maven Darcy described yesterday, is a huge part of "feeling."

So now the question becomes more of a "how do you, the author, recognize when you've missed connecting your emotion with your senses."

Riddle me that, Batman.

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