Monday, March 19, 2018


So, reviews count on in as much as people read them and can be influenced by them. They are, much as with fiction, only as good as the writer in question. A bad review that says nothing doesn't help much, unless there is an overwhelming level of enthusiasm.

That said, I have no time for a proper review of reviews this week Deadlines!

So here's a slightly older article on the importance of emotions in fiction.

Have a great week!

So, let’s see: You’ve listened to me rant on about reviews, characters, pacing, setting, dialogue, body language, the time it takes a story to come out from idea to publication and the lack of legitimate rules to follow. What’s next?
How about emotion? Not just the emotions of the characters, but also the emotions of the readers and the writers as well. Let’s be honest here, there isn’t a damned thing you can do about the state of mind of a reader who picks up your work, at least not on the surface.
When it comes to getting an emotional response from a reader, however, you better be able to get something or your story is screwed beyond all hopes of repair. Everything that I’ve rambled on about here, and that the other writers at Storyteller’s Unplugged have discussed, comes from experience. Right or wrong doesn’t even come into it. There is no right or wrong when it comes to writing. There’s just observation and experience. And the same simple fact is true when it comes to the process of putting the words down on paper and convincing people to read them.
But believe me, from my own experience, if you can’t get a person to empathize with the characters in your story, that person is not going to become a fan of your stuff.
Emotions are what make us who we are, and what differentiates us from the buildings nearby—well, okay, ONE of the things that separates us from the buildings.
What the hell does any of this have to do with writing? Well, if your characters are going to properly portray the illusion of life, they will need to actually display emotional depth. More importantly, they will have to react differently to situations. If every member of a military outfit could do as well as Uncle Sam wanted them to, the average war movie would be a great advertisement for joining the Armed Forces, but the movie itself would suck eggs. What fun is a good shoot ‘em up if an occasional soldier doesn’t freak out when he gets a Dear John letter from Betty Sue back in Montana? If Lou over there doesn’t spaz a few times when the bombs are falling, how can Sergeant Joe interact with him and remind him to be a man? Not the best examples, maybe, but I suspect you’re getting my point.
Only a handful of writers can make a story interesting when there isn’t emotional depth, and frankly, most of those particular scribes passed away back at the end of the Pulp Era. (Conan doesn’t cry, he just kicks ass, but he’s still fun.)
I’m not saying that every character needs to become a drama queen (or king, let’s not be sexist), I’m saying that even the ones who don’t like to let their emotions show still need to have them. Even if the sole emotion the bag guys feels is a constant state of pissed off, the writer has to reveal that in one way or another, or the person reading the story will get bored. 
There’s a balance in this as in all things. Like most of the subjects I’ve discussed, emotions can be overdone very easily. Mention the words “Vampire novel” to a lot of people and they roll their eyes, sick to death of the “angsty” vampires.  I tend to think that in most cases, monsters should be allowed to be monsters, but that’s just me. It doesn’t take too big a push to slide from sensitive he-man action hero to whiny little snot nosed brat.
Having said that, however, I will again repeat myself (because to me it bears repeating) and point out that a hero with out emotional flaws is most likely going to come across as have, at best, two dimensions.
Wait, did I say flaws? Yes I did. Nobody is perfect. Not only should the people you’re trying to create have emotions, they should probably have a few flaws. I don’t mean like kryptonite to Superman, I mean like occasionally getting upset about traffic. It’s just damned hard for most people to root for a good guy who never makes mistakes and never has issues to deal with. What the hell, I’ll keep with the superhero thing for a minute. Bruce Wayne is financially successful, good looking, and could just about pick and choose from the eligible ladies in Gotham City. Instead, he dresses up like a bat and goes around beating the criminal element into submission. Not only is this his driving ambition in life, it is also his number one flaw. The man is obsessed. His parents were murdered I front of him and he took it personally. The end result is Batman. Believe me, any good shrink would put his butt on some serious medications and ship him off to a special school for anger management. But it’s that obsession that makes him interesting.
Victor Frankenstein spent a little too much time dealing with death on a daily basis and became obsessed with life and the artificial creation of it. Something inside his head went ping and the next thing you know, he’s working on building a better human being. His flaw is what makes him extraordinary.
Every hero, every villain, every bit character in a novel should have emotions and flaws. Without them, they have as much depth as the four hundred extras in a Bruce Lee movie.
So what sort of emotional flaws can be used to your advantage? All of them.  Hatred is a powerful motivator. So are greed, love, paranoia, lust, longing, happiness, envy, depression…You get the idea. All of them are important in adding depth to a character. All of them are just plain important. That doesn’t mean you have to examine them to the point where they interfere with the flow of the story, but they should at least be mentioned in passing.
On a more localized level, I’ll point to a few books where the emotions of the characters made all of the difference in the world. Cujo by Stephen King would have just been a book about a dog with rabies if he hadn’t breathed emotional life into the characters. The son had a serious issue with the monster in his closet. The mother and father were dealing with a marriage that was falling to pieces and marital infidelity. The father was also dealing with a little problem at work that was bordering on costing him his entire career. Then, while you’re trying to handle the issues of a family that’s already splitting at the seams, along comes a 185 pound rabid dog to add to the stress. Without King’s exceedingly skillful hand painting in the added dimensions of the characters, the book would have been boring. Dear Lord, without the agony of the family falling apart, who would have cared about the little boy dying by inches in the summer heat while Cujo kept mother and child trapped a broken down car?  How much of the story would have been different if James Stewart didn’t have a fear of heights in Hitchcock’s Vertigo?
Once, long and ago, I co-wrote a novel with another fledgling writer. It was a learning experience and one of the first things I learned was that he and I would likely never write together again. The main reason for that was simply because, despite his truly beautiful prose, he couldn’t quite grasp a few of the intricacies of the human psyche. In one scene that he wrote a secondary character was raped. First, I didn’t see it as important to the story, but I could let that slide. But in the next scene, said character was just as happy and cheerful as could be and actually passing witty banter about the incident. Now, I don’t have any personal experience along those lines, but I’m betting those unfortunate enough to go through such trauma wouldn’t be wisecracking about it fifteen minutes later. My co-author’s response when I brought this up was “Well, I don’t figure it’s the first time it’s ever happened to her.” What? So the second time it’s just par for the course? I don’t think so. There were arguments and rewrites galore. Forget as a writer; as a reader, I simply couldn’t buy that scenario. For me the scene would have completely ruined the experience as a reader and I would have probably put the book down and never bothered with it again.
Just for kicks, here’s an exercise for fledgling writers: think of a scenario with mild trauma—a mugging, witnessing a crime, a fender bender—and then try to decide how five different people will react to it. If you want to take it to the next logical level, you can write down all five scenes and then wait a week or so and read them. See what similarities there are and what differences. What should shine through, if you’re doing your part as well as you’d like to, is how radically the scene is changed by the emotions and reactions of the characters. IF they all read the same except for the name and physical description, it’s time to seriously reassess your techniques.
In the horror field especially, we deal with traumas and phobias. If the characters react unemotionally (With exceptions, granted) or improperly, we’re not going to keep readers coming back for more.
In the fields of horror/science fiction/fantasy or just plain speculative fiction, writers are asking people to often take monumental leaps away from the norm. That’s all good and well, and a decent number of people are willing to take the trip with the writers, but only if the writers can help them along by making the characters at least a little believable. A little human. That first step is a doozy, and without the help of a little emotional empathy, it’s a step that can completely alienate the reader and anyone the reader discusses the book with.

1 comment: