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 theatrefolk.com 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.