Friday, February 13, 2009
I think there is a mistaken assumption about writing emotional impact into our writing. What it is and what it’s not.
I can write about fear because I know what fear feels like. It doesn't mean I have to feel my heart racing, have clammy hands, and hyperventilate as I'm writing the scene. I know what anger feels like too, and what makes me angry, but because I am choosing to put my characters in an emotional situation of anger or fear doesn’t mean I’m feeling those emotions as I write. You see what I mean?
As a writer, I'm ultimately the narrator carrying the story from point A to point Z. To do that, I have to be able to keep my wits about me. I have to keep my goals clearly in mind, which means I can’t get bogged down in emotion as I’m writing. Look at it this way, a writer is dealing with a set of people going through various situations, having problems, facing heartbreak, making love, laughing, anger and fear—the gamut of emotions. As narrator of this group’s story I have to be able to relay everything clearly. I have to stay removed from the situation to be focused. Otherwise I’ll go off in a tangent or lose the thread of where my story and characters are going.
I’m rather clinical as I write certain scenes. In that sense I’m the observer as well as narrator. I equate it to being a therapist. Therapists hear the most heartbreaking details of people’s lives. While they have to have compassion and understanding for their patient, they also have to remain detached to effectively do their job.
Knowing what an emotion feels like gives us a base from which to write emotion for our characters. Our characters have to be real not only to our readers but to us. They have to act and react realistically. As we write, we put our characters (or they put themselves), into certain settings/situations. Much of the inner conflict for our characters is about them facing their fears. So we produce external conflicts in our story so they have to face those internal demons.
For example, if we’re writing romance or a suspense and we have a character that has grown up in an abusive home that got so bad she and her mother have to run for their lives. They’re always looking over their shoulders, always changing their names, always in fear because they’re hunted. Never taking a stand and able to fight back. Now we have her background and some idea of her inner conflict. As an adult she stays clear of anything that resembles the trauma of her childhood. What is the worse external conflict we could put her in? To keep it simple, let’s place her in a situation where she has seen a murder, and the murderer knows she’s seen him. Now he’s after her. Just like that she is again on the run, living in fear. But now she is an adult, not a helpless child. She has to take her stand at some point. Add to it a hero whose job it is to keep her safe, keep her from harm. He’s tough and strong and very good at his job. But let’s say as a child he came face to face with the inability to keep those he loves safe because he was too young and inexperienced. Now his job choice makes sense, as does his inner pride/need in being very good at his job. But internally his greatest fear in not keeping someone he cares about safe from harm. Hero and heroine come together, and emotional attachment forms. Now we have both characters facing their inner conflict/fears while dealing the external conflict/fear. Now we have in place a plot specifically designed to trigger emotional responses from the hero and heroine. And the reader.
Writing what you feel is the ability to write or invoke an emotional response in your reader. You don’t have to be feeling whatever the emotion you’re writing as you write it. You do need to know what a particular emotion feels like to set it up and then amplify it via your character’s reaction to the stimuli. If you know the feeling then it follows you should be able to imbue that emotion in your writing by the story set up, character reactions and hence trigger the reader’s reaction.
That’s writing what you feel and what you know. That’s creating emotional impact for your reader.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Today I am honored to have as a guest blogger Seymour Garte, PhD. Dr. Garte is Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences of the Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, and a member of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute in Pittsburgh PA. He is also the author of Where We Stand: A Surprising Look at the Real State of the Planet.
Last year I had a book published called Where We Stand: A Surprising Look at the Real State of Our Planet (this information is important to fully appreciate the story below). One of the book publicity chores of a non-fiction writer, especially if the book covers themes of topical interest (as mine does), is to appear, usually by phone, on talk radio shows. Lots of them.
I did this for about three months, and most of my experiences were great. BUT… every now and then, you get something like this:
HOST: "Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the show. Bob here with a special guest for this segment. He is Dr. Seymour Garte, a Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health from the School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, and his new book “The Growing Menace of Turtles”, is a great read. Good afternoon Professor."
HOST: "I find the book fascinating, Professor. Tell us, exactly how did you discover that the growing population of turtles in this country is becoming a threat as you put it “to our lives, our livelihoods and our way of life?”
ME (long pause while I try desperately to think of the least stupid way I can put this.) “Well actually Bob” (not his real name) “the name of my book is ‘Where We Stand’, and it isn’t about turtles at all.”
HOST: (with absolutely no hesitation) “We’ll be right back folks, after this commercial break, don’t go away, because we will be taking your calls to Professor Garte”
HOST (OFFAIR) “Gee Professor, I’m sorry, somebody screwed up. What did you say was the name of your book, oh wait, here it is, yeah we got a sheet, but no actual book. OK look we still have a minute of commercial break, tell me, what’s your book about?
After spending the full minute explaining what all 300 pages of my book is about, we go back on the air, and the interview (about 20 minutes talking about environmental and public health trends) goes fine. Considering that I end up both asking and answering all the questions. Bob does contribute a bit, with a pithy “Ah” or a perceptive “really?”. Nodding of the head doesn’t count in radio.
Another commercial, and then its time to take calls.
HOST: “All right folks, Dr. Garte is here to take your calls and answer any questions you might have about his very interesting book. Well the phones are ringing. Go ahead Janet, you are on with Bob and Dr. Garte”
JANET: “Thank you Bob, love your show. Dr. Garte, what can we do about this turtle invasion? I’m worried for my children."
ME (very long pause, while waiting for Bob to jump in and straighten things out. Finally…)
HOST: “Thanks Janet, good question. Dr, Garte, your reply to Janet’s question about these turtles please?”
ME (another couple of seconds during which feverish brain activity comes up with the brilliant idea of just getting this woman off the line). “Keep them inside ma'am. Especially when a turtle attack is imminent.”
HOST: “Jack you’re on the air.”
JACK: “Dr Garte, I represent the organization ‘Friends of Turtles,’ and I think…
ME (without thinking) “Is this a joke?”
HOST: “Jack, hang on a moment, we need to go to another commercial break. Hold your thought, and well be right back.”
HOST (OFFLINE) “Listen Professor, we really don’t like our guests insulting the callers. Tends to lower the ratings. Why did you say that?”
ME: “Bob, my book has nothing to do with turtles”.
HOST: “We are back on in 5..4.. (ONAIR) “We’re back with Professor Garte from the University of Pittsburgh. We've lost Jack, but we have Stephanie on the line. Go ahead Stephanie, you’re on the air.”
STEPHANIE: “Oh Dr. Garte, I found what you said very interesting. Do you really think that many things in our environment have been improving?”
ME (After saying Thank you God and Stephanie) “Yes I do, for example….”
STEPHANIE: “Because right across the street from my house, they keep spraying the trees, and knocking them down.”
ME “Did you say knocking them down?”
STEPHANIE: “Yes, and the next day they are back up again. It’s the EPA. I can tell from their helmets. Course it says EPA in Russian, you know with those weird letters, but I know who they really are. Course my husband Ted? He says I’m crazy. Hah hah.”
ME: “heh heh.”
HOST: “Thank you Stephanie for that comment. OK folks, our time is up. Thanks for being here Dr. Garte, and remember everybody, Dr. Garte’s book, “The Growing Menace of Turtles” is available at your local bookstore and online.
Dr. Seymour Garte's book, Where We Stand: A Surprising Look at the Real State of Our Planet has received excellent reviews from Green Trust, Publisher's Weekly, World Affairs Monthly, and a host of other publications. It's available at Book Stores such as Barnes and Noble, Borders, and at Amazon.com
Sunday, February 8, 2009
My guest today is Romance author, Susan Gable. Susan is the author of five published novels and has won numerous awards for her writing, including the National Readers’ Choice award. Given that track record, she has it made. Doesn’t she? Certainly she wouldn’t have bad days or doubts…