Monday, January 7, 2013
How Do You Write Emotional Reactions?
I didn't think about this when I was writing, but I think I know what's going on here. I think there are two main reasons people are feeling like there's not enough emotional reaction in certain parts of my book.
First, I guess I subconsciously assumed that the scenario/situation itself would raise certain emotional responses in the reader, which they would then fill in for the characters reaction. Does that make sense? I don't want to say that George is obsessively worried about his daughter right now, I want the fact that he sleeps in the hall outside her door to speak for itself. That already bespeaks a certain emotional state. Am I thinking wrongly here? So, basically, since the reader knows how he or she is reacting, there is no need for me to spell it out for them.
Second, I believe and have always believed that writing emotional reactions, perhaps emotion in general, is very, very dangerous and a fine line. On the one hand, you need emotion in your book (unless you're Hemingway) or people won't as easily relate to your characters. On the other hand, it must be done perfectly or it will stink up your story like rotten cheese. There is nothing that can so easily slip in to cliche, nothing to expose ones amateurity like bad emotional reaction. My sister makes fun of me for not finishing my sentences and I think that comes from the same place; she knows my general meaning, I want her to experience the rest for herself :) Obviously I'm still figuring this out.
Therein lies my dilemma. I stand by my theory that the best emotional reactions are what the readers themselves are feeling, and that I don't want to condescend or fall into cliche by spelling things out for them. That ruins the emotion anyway. However, if I'm getting relatively consistent feedback that parts of my novel need more of an emotional response from my MC, something needs to be done.
That means I'm coming to you guys! This is very similar to when I asked about writing vocal tone and facial expression, and in many ways I'm asking the same question, just in different words. So how do you do it? How do you write emotional reactions? Some people make it work, but I refuse to go the "quickened pulse" and "chilled spine" route. Maybe give me some examples from your own work, if you're willing.
I also think I'm going to look very, very closely at some Wallace Stegner and Marilynne Robinson to see how The Bests do it. That might be an interesting exercise.
Your turn :)