Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Do readers need emotion served with !!! and adjectives?

By Karina Bliss

I'm doing a workshop next week for my local romance writers chapter on writing emotion and while I'll be confident in my material I'm worried that for the first five minutes my voice will quiver and my hands will shake.

I have this reaction because I hate public speaking but this is a small, friendly bunch of writers, many of whom I know well. So really the only reason I'll be nervous is because I'm terrified of being nervous. If i tremble and shake people might feel sorry for me which will be embarrassing. And embarrassment, as any teenager will tell you, is the worst possible fate.
Now by confiding this I know you won't feel sorry for me. You're more likely to be thinking, this woman is crazy.

Thank you, crazy is better than embarrassing.

I've been thinking that we writers sometimes push readers away by overwriting emotion. By making our big scenes too painful or angsy or difficult to read. So the reader, much like the bystander witnessing a two-year-old's tantrum in the supermarket, is compelled to look away. Give the two-year-old's harassed mother some privacy.

Lindsay Price at writing for actors said: “The emotionally engaged moment will draw an audience toward the stage, including them in the experience. The emotionally overwrought moment will turn an audience away, shutting them out of the experience.”
And the same applies to readers, don't you think?

Overwritten emotion makes the characters seem like bad actors instead of the real people we need them to be to stay engrossed in the book.

Wonderful writing teacher Alicia Rasley said don't tell the reader what to feel but get the reader feeling what the character is feeling – or would feel if he let himself. “Don't tell the reader what the emotion is. Don't even necessarily show the reader the emotion. [Use the whole scene to] inspire the reader to experience the emotion.”
In other words less is often more. Lay the groundwork by creating someone readers' care about; give the reader enough information to understand what's at stake; then get out of the way and let the character do what comes naturally which is to resist, deny and try to control their emotions – just like real people. While their body language, and what they're NOT saying, gives them away.

What do you think? Are you more engaged as a reader when you have to do some of the work or do you like everything spelled out?

The pictures, by the way, are of my son as Fagin in the school production of Oliver. At least someone in our family doesn't get stagefright.


Snookie said...

LOL, yup crazy Karina :) Love the pix of your son.

Kaelee said...

I enjoy being able to work a few things out.

Great pictures of your son.

Karina Bliss said...

Snookie...all writers are crazy and don't let any of them tell you different.

Kaelee, I think the best writing leaves plenty of room for the reader to respond with their own emotions according to their comfort level. As a reader/viewer I never like feeling manipulated.

to both of you: Thanks, I think the pics are cool too! He did a great job. Now if I could only convince him to give up engineering and become an actor instead.

Jo Fereday said...

Really looking forward to your workshop next week, Karina!

Karina Bliss said...

Cheers, Jo. Got some work to do on it yet but enjoying the learning experience.

Mary Preston said...

I can understand you being nervous about being nervous. Sounds like me.

I don't like it when a writer just piles it on. Sometimes a lighter touch is called for.

Geri Krotow said...

I like to figure things out. It's too easy for a writer to come across as patronizing, and I try to remember that when I write, too. Your son looks like a professional!

Kristina Mathews said...

I like the more subtle approach. I especially like to be surprised. Once in a while, I even like a big shot of emotion right up front. But I don't need to cry in every chapter. And yeah, I need a happy ending. Always. If the protagonist dies at the end, I'm going to throw the book across the room. How's that for emotion?

Pamela Hearon said...

Too much angst in my writing causes me angst:-) I'll go back and rewrite scenes that I worry have too much emotion spelled out--especially sex scenes.
And I hate public speaking, too. Good luck with your class!

Karina Bliss said...

Mary, a fellow suffering of 'getting nervous about being nervous.' Welcome!

Geri, I always find the big scenes the hardest because they're so easy to overwrite. My editor definitely had to remove a lot of exclamation marks on the first couple of books.

Kristina, I've thrown a couple of books across the room usually when I'm reading about a single mom whose triplets sleep sweetly while slim and gorgeous she seduces the hero with a cordon bleu meal.
I'm also a fan of big shots of emotion but like our hero above need to be seduced into it by a delicious helping of 'real.'

Karina Bliss said...

Pamela, yes I relate to the angst writing many ways for a writer to be crazy. Excellent.

linda s said...

I'm sure your workshop will be wonderful. I prefer writers who don't have to tell me the heroine is mad. A smashed plate gives me the picture.

Karina Bliss said...

Linda s, I've always wanted to do that. The only thing that puts me off is the clean-up. I'll have to go to a Greek restaurant sometime.

mary sullivan said...

Karina, good luck with the workshop! Public speaking can be nerve-racking.

liztalley said...

First of all, your son is adorable and portrays fabulous emotion :)

I struggle with telling all the time. It's a hard thing to conquer as a writer and I work at it constantly. Often my dialogue is loaded with emotional triggers that deliver emotion without my having to do much else.

Great post!

Karina Bliss said...

Hi Liz, I love the idea of dialogue being used for emotional triggers. The first one that springs to mind is, "You're wearing that?" :)

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