Wednesday, December 16, 2009
My daughter and I were having an argument last evening, (no screaming and yelling, mind you), but we raised our voices at each other while she was holding her baby. At seven and a half months my granddaughter’s expanding her horizons daily. Upon witnessing our disagreement she broke out in tears. Inconsolable tears! Sobs!
We calmed the baby down and had her back to her smiley-self in no time. I can’t remember what the spat started over, and either can my daughter, some inconsequential thing. We felt like a pair of heels, making our precious sweetie cry, I can tell you that.
I was trying to fall asleep last night and began to consider human emotion, specifically the more extreme versions, and how anger can turn into rage, melancholy into out and out depression, and mere infatuation into full-blown obsession.
As a writer, I concern myself with writing true emotion, without resorting to melodrama. We are constantly instructed to show, not tell. It’s preferable to depict the character’s mindset rather than lamely describe their feelings.
For example, one should never write: Jane was angry with her boss for scolding her in front of a client.
A preferable way to show how Jane was feeling would be: After her stern boss scolded Jane in front of a client, she punished him by adding sugar to his coffee with cream, although he had demanded Splenda.
While we are absorbed in our fits of emotion we don’t stop to analyze how we are feeling right there and then. In fact, most of us digest our tragedies in bits and bites. It will take months, even years to process what happened to us, to grapple with the effects. The same goes for three-dimensional characters. They grapple. Some act out in destructive manners. Some may suffer, but endure by coming to terms with their pain. Addicts are people with overwhelming, unresolved grief. In an effort not to feel that unresolved grief they drink to excess, or take drugs, doing their best to stuff the feelings back down inside. In an attempt to end suffering, they add even more heartache into the mix.
Extreme emotions don’t always manifest in obvious action. It’s tempting to write: Jane fell down on her hands and knees after the doctor delivered the news that her baby died on the operating table.
Chances are; a woman having just heard such horrifying news might react with disbelief as opposed to sorrow; a self-protection of sorts kicks in. I have witnessed such behavior first hand. A better version might be: The doctor took Jane’s hand in his, and said softly, “I’m so sorry, Curtis didn’t make it. His heart gave out.” Jane shook her head, pulled the doctor’s hand close to her chest and squeezed tight. “No,” she said. “That’s not true. It can’t be!”
The truth of the matter is, there’s no right or wrong way for anyone to act or react at any given time. We are all individuals and differing emotions bring out differing reactions. The trick is to illustrate the depth of our characters in such a manner as to keep the reader convinced. That’s our job. Not an easy one by any means. I write and then I re-write, bearing all this in mind. Did I do the best job conveying how the character felt? I constantly ask myself this question.
Nothing irritates me more than when I’m reading along and feel as if I’ve read those same words a thousand times before. Predictable is not good. Memorable characters do memorable things.
What is the most extreme emotion you’ve ever felt personally?
What is the most extreme emotion you’ve ever attempted to write about?
All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.