Forewarning: This is rambly.
The Anti-Emotions Campaign
I have a conundrum when it comes to emotions in writing. I am, in fact, a very emotional person. Further fact: I HATE admitting this, and I used to loathe it when (as a child) anyone one of my family members would point out how emotional I was, and then I would get emotional about that. Usually angry.
I am not entirely sure WHY, but early on in my childhood I got it into my head that emotions were silly, and I was in fact a tough, stoic, uncrying sort of person.
Now that I’m all grown and (mostly) over that, and (more) accepting of my emotional side, I don’t try to pretend to be serious and stoic about things.
HOWEVER, some of this self-created stigma still lingers in my writing. I feel embarrassed for my characters if they get too emotional, too romantic, too anything. (Except angry, anger I don’t mind) And this isn’t a good thing. It’s playing to that same old stigma that having emotions is a BAD thing. Which it isn’t.
Now, letting your emotions wreak havoc and rule your life and destroy you because you can’t be bothered to deal with them or control them or whatever? That’s different, and a whole different discussion anyway.
Getting in the Mood
Anyhow, whenever I am writing a scene I do what I suspect most writers do, and I sit there and empathize my way, as best I can, into the emotional state of a given character. This frequently results in my husband suddenly stopping whatever he’s doing and looking at me.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“Of course I’m okay, why do you ask?”
“You just looked really upset, REALLY worried there for a second. I though you might have gotten an e-mail with some bad news.”
“No, no. I was just imagining a scene. [Character X] is in a really bad situation and I was having their reaction for them.”
He nods knowingly, because this has happened many, many times.
Point being, I can even make myself cry [and it’s genuinely not because I’m sad…I’m actually quite happy. They’re sad.] , but then I have a hard time admitting their feelings on their behalf.
“No. Nope. He’s not crying [I almost am], he’s got something in his eye, that’s all.”
It makes no sense. I expressed this conundrum to my husband this morning, flailing my hands about, wondering why I was so afraid of my characters expressing certain types of emotions (mostly romantic or tragic…once again, anger is FINE).
“I mean, I cry in front of you ALL THE TIME. I don’t get it.”
“Well, would you be embarrassed if you cried in public? “
“Of course. I would never do that.”
“Does public romance embarrass you?”
“Are you embarrassed to get angry in public?”
Smiling. “Nope. Not even a little bit.” [I have a temper, in case you haven’t guessed]
“Well there you have it. Reading is public.”
If my character cries, even if they are all by themselves in the STORY, it’s in public. Huh. I never thought of that. But I suppose I just have to get over that and, if necessary, “cry” in public.
There is a second reason that writing intense (and very private) emotions is hard to do. It can tip over into cliche and melodrama territory in a hot second. When I see the phrase “burst into tears” or “sobbed” or whatever, I normally see this as a cartoon in my mind’s eye.
Unless the author does a really good job of leading me into this emotion, it may not play. That’s not to say it has to MAKE US CRY, but it has to make sense. We have to at least be able to go “Yeah. That’s about right.”
Books hardly ever make me cry, and when they do, it’s not always because the characters are experiencing intense emotions, but rather because of the overall depth or atmosphere of the story, building and building around the characters. If the emotions of the characters are OVER-emphasized, it actually destroys this atmosphere. The subtlety is lost.
So we have a Chestertonian paradox: You must let the emotions run free, and fear not the disdain of man! You must rein in the emotions, and let the reader find them on their own. You must show how the characters feel, but you must let it be inferred through slow consideration. Both and.
So…that was my ramble for today. As per usual, it is not so much things I have learned, but things I am learning.
For fun and good departure and because that crying gif is kind of an annoying note to end on: