Friday, December 2, 2011
Going the Distance (the emotional distance, that is)
Posted by Todd Newton
Sometimes that means seeking them out, but not often. No one wants to be angry, or helpless, or afraid, on purpose. So, short of creating some dangerous or depressing scenarios in our real lives, there are a few options we can take advantage of to feel out these integral concepts.
1) Pay attention. This one should be obvious.
In Sonje Jones' latest (brilliant) post, she reveals a few of her past decisions and how they led to bad relationships. What did this teach her as a writer? Of course, I can only guess, but it means she has experience getting in the head of a character who doesn't always do the safe or "right" thing, particularly when it comes to their own happiness. Her characters (and their relationships) will have more dimension as a result.
Paying attention goes hand-in-hand with "writing what you know." If you've lived your entire life fascinated by the way organized religion repels you, as I have, you can use those emotions in your writing. Characters feel rejection, sadness, and frustration just like real people do. Exactly the same way, in fact, because the source material is our own emotion.
2) Pick up a book. Another obvious one.
Not much is easier than stealing, especially from dead people. Read Hemingway. Read Austen. Read Song of Solomon, for all I care, but read. It's not that others have done it "better," it's that they've done it already. If you need to know what goes through the head of someone having an extramarital affair, or robbing a bank, or fighting a dragon, the quickest (and safest) path is going to be research.
Gather and learn from what you can, because it's only going to help you in the long run. In a lot of cases, it's even better to find authors/books you don't like (in the sense that they didn't "do it well" enough for you) so that you can do it differently. For a writer, reading is far more than a recreational activity.
3) Practice. Not so obvious, and potentially difficult for a lot of us.
Writing isn't gold as it comes from the pen or your fingertips. We write, then we edit to improve what we've written, but if all we ever write is one thing we're limiting the scope of what we might be able to use in the future. I don't write a lot of "love scenes" -- Scions of the Shade has one, and it's certainly not your run of the mill sex -- but I've dabbled in writing erotica as well as general fiction to explore how I phrase things and what I focus on in a scene. I'm never going to publish erotic fiction, but that doesn't mean I can't use it to practice.
Flex your muscles. Write off the beaten path a bit. Imagine writing characters of different races, sexes, sexual orientations, ages, and how those things might affect their story. Write something you may never show anyone, journal about your own feelings and how they've changed over time. If you know how to phrase what cut you, you'll be better prepared to write how something cuts your characters.
Then, once you have all that emotion bagged up and ready to unleash, use it. Pour it into your writing. Throw it on with a roller rather than a brush, and trim the fat when you edit. Insight into a character can carry a story the way few other things can, while a detached and cardboard character will ruin a story in no time. Give your story some feeling.
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