Friday, February 06, 2009

Fifth Mistake, Recap and Exercise

We've covered the four initial mistakes:

1) Setting up the Emotional Punch
2) Over the Top Purplw Prose
3) Isolated Emotion
4) Writing Outside the Plot

Today we'll cover the fifth, and final mistake in our series on developing deep emotion in your writing:

Fifth Mistakes–Undermining the Finale

Be sure that you reserve the most emotionally difficult obstacle for the grand finale. Think back to the fireworks display–how much of the audience would stay for the whole show if the fireworks were lit in reverse order, beginning with the big bang and ending with a lone firework lighting up the sky?

Carefully crafted early emotional punches should end with a promise of the ultimate struggle yet to come. Delivering large, expansive emotionally explosive scenes early in the story leaves little room to develop suspense and tension and undermines the purpose of the plot, which usually means bringing the protagonist to a point of personal triumph as well as victory over the external plot elements.
Early scenes should never bring the character too close to the fulfillment of their personal quest or you run the risk of repeating and diluting emotion later on, or essentially end the character growth before the story is over.

Delivering Emotional Punch Essentials
We’ve discussed the many pitfalls of crafting emotional depth, but there are many exciting ways to convey the protagonists emotional journey.
Setting and Scenery:

One of the best ways is through setting and scenery. Have you ever traveled down a road that inspired homesickness? Have you ever been shopping and seen an item that reminded you of someone you loved? There are times in our lives that we’re unexpectedly overwhelmed with emotion. Analyzing what triggers this emotion in us is a terrific way to apply your own experiences to those of your characters.

The orchids in the earlier example are just one way to introduce an item which will emotionally impact the character. The options are limitless, but should always remain character specific.

Imagine our jaded inner-city police officer watching children cross the street on their way to school, and how he’s suddenly overwhelmed by the memory of the six-year-old child he mistakenly left with her abusive father, and who’s body was discovered two days later, beaten to death. This would be an excellent way to introduce a kidnapping plot.

Or perhaps it’s not a kidnapping plot, perhaps it’s a plot about police corruption and as he’s driving, he spots a cop from his division walking out of a strip club, brazenly counting pay-off money. The words the author chooses to use, words directly related to the character, will show the reader if the jaded officer is truly as jaded as he believes himself to be. In either case, the setting and scenery are instigators for the emotional punch–without them, the officer would feel isolated emotion demanding the need for a lengthy telling paragraph in order to explain these feelings.

Dreams and Memories:
A word of caution here–this is a very difficult technique to pull off. We all remember the waving images, accompanied by harp music that sent soap opera actors into a dream sequence or back in time. Avoid this type of dream and memory cliché at all costs or your work will be flagged as written by an amateur.
Often the dream or memory is haunting, either a nightmare or tragic recollection, or a blissful time before a single event that scarred the protagonist for life. By themselves, these memories and dream sequences appear as cheating, a quick way for the writer to entertain the reader by telling them what happened in the past.

Yes, I used the word telling here because so often, this technique is used instead of a fully developed plot thread. To show these dreams and memories correctly, the portion of the story they share should be shown throughout the previous sections of the work. Remember too, these should directly effect the goal of the scene and the purpose of the character’s journey.

Internal Thoughts and Monologue:
This is the most popular method of delivering emotional depth. Sharing with the reader directly what is happening inside the character is almost instinctual with a writer. Doing this correctly, however, takes some practice and some self-analyzing. Have you ever been in a situation where you were forced to lie, even if just to keep the peace or avoid hurting someone? Do your inner thoughts reflect an entire history of why you do this? Probably not. They likely reflect the truth you’re not willing to share.

Juxtaposing the inner needs, worries, and yes–frailties of a character with the outer actions, either courageous or seemingly cowardly, speaks volumes about the inner struggle of your protagonist and can often make them empathetic, despite how terrible their actions could appear. For instance, what makes Hannibal Lechter such an amazing character? He’s a psycho cannibal who feeds on human pain. But yet–he’s fascinating because he’s also very educated and puts Miss Manners to shame with his stringent abidance to etiquette. It’s this juxtaposition that makes him an emotionally compelling character.

Choose a highly charged emotion–rage, hilarity, grief, joy–and craft a few paragraphs that don’t once use any word that describes these emotions. Use inner thoughts, inner monologue, physical actions, and dialogue to convey compelling emotion a reader can empathize with.

Feel free to share your exercise in the comments. Also, if you like, you can pass these blogs on to anyone you think may find them helpful. I only ask that you include a link back to where you found them and my name as well ;)
Thanks so much everyone, for reading and supporting me! :)


1 comment:

Chris V. said...

Good points. Sometimes it's fun getting flowery - and then you know you have to cut it. ha!
stop by my blog tomorrow for a tag.