Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Okay, Green Knight, if you want to talk about emotion.... Do we have to? I'm scared of emotion! It might destroy me!

Just kidding. We can talk about emotion. I mean, I'm a romance writer. Emotion is my raisin detra. :)

The problem was--
I posted a paragraph, last time, which had a first-person narrator. The purpose of the paragraph (which wasn't a good paragraph, I must say) was to provide single clauses that I wanted to show in combination and transition. Usually, when we provide examples, to keep from copying the writer's paragraph that inspired this thought, we make something up pointed to whatever we want to explore. In this case, the paragraph was meant to show how sentence combination and transition can make the passage more meaningful. Here 'tis, all halfway fixed up:
As Helena sailed into the ballroom, she looked around the crowd. She came to me and bestowed (notice we lose one of those many "she" words, good) an air kiss on me. I started to say something seductive and witty, but she (just? had already? was already moving?) moved on to another party-goer. When she kissed him the same way, I felt rejected and cheated. (Or I might say, Then she kissed him the same way, and I felt rejected and cheated. Not sure.)

However, it never did, even combined and transitioned, achieve meaningfulness, as Green Knight pointed out! It wasn't a very good paragraph, and no one need worry that I was planning on putting that in a book. :)

But every moment is a learnable moment, so let's get into what GK was talking about, that the paragraph did more telling than showing in regards to the narrator's emotion. GK:
I would, for instance, _show_ him starting a phrase, and the telling phrase I felt rejected and cheated. also needs to be replaced IMHO - what, *exactly* is his reaction.

So let's discuss this. This passage is in first-person narration, so the character is narrating himself what's going on. I think what's going on inside him can also be narrated, and that different people have different level of skill at interpreting and naming their own emotions. So I have no problem with him saying he felt resentful and cheated. (In fact, I think "feeling cheated" is an emotion even the least adept can recognize. Entire political movements have been founded on that one. :)

But let's say this is NOT someone who is good at naming his emotions, or recognizing what he's feeling maybe. Let's say you're going to write this event (Helena coming into the room, kissing him, moving on to someone else) from his first-person POV.

What would you do? Some thoughts-- please join in, and GK, maybe an example of what you'd do?

1. I'm writing this to mean that, hmm, he feels that he's special to Helena, and the equal-opportunity smooch there shows he's not. But... does HE interpret it that way? You could have a line that shows he's clueless or blithe instead of "resentful and cheated"-- "She was the nicest person, giving up her own pleasure at being with me to welcome the others." That is, if he doesn't get it, how would you show that this happened, but he didn't understand what it meant?

2. GK, were you suggesting some action or expression that the reader could interpret even if the character just narrates it? Well, how could we do that? How can we have the narrator narrate his own action or expression or something that tells the reader he's feeling resentful and cheated without actually saying the emotion words? "I punched my fist into my other hand and muttered to myself?" Well, you can do better. But it would be an outside representation of the emotion you want?

3. I'm writing him to be pretty skilled at naming his own feelings. But what if he's not? What if he feels something but doesn't (or doesn't want to) know what it is? How would you show that in his POV? Maybe something like, "My stomach lurched. Must be the oyster appetizer I just ate." How would you show that he feels something but misinterprets it? And how would you show that the feeling is in response to Helena's diss, or would you want to? Is proximity enough-- Helena does this, and immediately his stomach lurches? Is the sequence there enough to show that the two are related, even (especially) if he doesn't realize it?

4. What if he's naming this as resentment, but that's not what it is? What if deep down he realizes that she's going to leave him, or that she knows that he's the murderer, or something secret? And he doesn't want to know that, or he doesn't want to narrate that (first-person narrators are generally aware of their audience, and might "play" to them, or play them for a fool, I guess). So how can you show him identifying and naming emotion A (fear, dread) as emotion B (resentment)-- how will that differ from his straightforward naming of resentment? He says, "I felt resentful and cheated." What would he say if he were consciously or unconsciously covering up another emotion?

Examples, and you don't actually have to stick to Helena's sad-sack fella, as I know it doesn't have the actual meaningfulness it might have if we really wanted to explore POV and emotion. :)



Livia Blackburne said...

Kristin Cashore does some nice creative showing of feelings in her internal dialogue. I just blogged about it last week.

Edittorrent said...


Anonymous said...

I know what Green Knight is trying to say. This is a turning point for my character, Lyall, and a scene I've tweaked for about two months:

Jaslin walked over to the dresser and picked up the hairbrush. "This was Saranna's; I wasn't allowed to use it." Her voice was flat, angry. "The only time I ever touched it was when my uncle used it to paddle me." She threw it into the hearth, dark now that it was daylight. With an effort, she rolled her shoulders and turned to him. "But you didn't know that, I didn't want you to know that. You were only trying to find some of my things." Now she met his eyes and smiled slightly. "Thank you."

Lyall couldn't bear the distance between them. He crossed the room in two steps, enveloping her in his big arms and just held her. His heart ached until she held him, too. "Will you stay?" he asked quietly, kissing the top of her head.

She didn't answer right away. After a moment, she hugged him a bit more, then let go and stepped back. "I'm staying with my mother in the Sidari houses by the marketplace." She kept backing away until she wasn't touching him any longer.

"There's plenty of room. She can stay here, too." He tried to fight the panic that rose in his chest.


Edittorrent said...

Is he mad or upset or guilty that she threw the hairbrush into the fire?

Anonymous said...

Good point - guilty. More tweaking to come, I see. :-)

Note: word verification is shygrani. My granny was not shy. lol

MrsMusic said...

A great post again, thanks for that! It's a question I (and probably not only I) constantly deal with, and I always find it difficult to tell whether I found just the right balance between the obvious and the subtle.

Well, the most straightforward solution in any case I guess is to insert a line of inner monologue; and this inner monologue can be anything from reflecting to secretly angry. Like: "What did she want with that guy? Last time we met him he didn't even look at her!" to "Typical for her, she couldn't stay focused for a minute." What exactly the thought is will tell us a lot about the mindset of the character, and it spares him the necessity of being able to name them himself.

A more subtle way would be not to comment the action directly, but let it pass uncommented, but refer to it a bit later. For example, a few minutes later Helena returns, and his inner monologue is something "Ah, there she was again. Fed off with the other guy?", or, tamer "What made her change her mind?" Same as above, the exact phrase tells a lot; but even more, the fact that he doesn't comment immediately but only later makes him appear much more distanced and not quite in touch with his feelings.

This can be emphasized by describing his immediate re-action, not only his thoughts (or instead of his thoughts). "I went out to see if I could get another drink" is totally different from "I followed her, greeting people here and there, but at the same time making sure I could see her across the room all the time."

I don't think that the emotional reaction has to be described immediately, but the time until it is described is an indicator of how honest the character is with his own feelings, or how adept to realize them.

But I also think that emotion in a scence often is not done by one single sentence. It is best when it builds up through the whole scene without being to open, when several thoughts, comments and reaction, which on the first glance could mean anything, build up to something strong and meaningful. For example, when what people say constantly contradicts to their behaviour - you don't have to name the emotions then, they arise from the discrepancy the reader observes.

Sarah Ahiers said...

I prefer actions as opposed to inner monlogue. I typicaly write in thrid person, but for this i'd probably use something along the lines of:
"When she kissed him the same way I felt my skin flush. I turned away so she wouldn't notice. Or maybe I just didn't want to watch her anymore."

Something along those lines

Dave Shaw said...

In my opinion, first person and the deeper forms of third person complicate matters significantly, because you need to deal not only with what the character's feeling, but also with how the character would present his feelings, both based on his personality and also how he feels about his feelings. (Now that's circular, huh? LOL) If he feels embarrassed or guilty about his feelings, he's going to present them differently than if he's proud of them or if he's attempting to be dispassionate about relating them. There's also the consideration of how in touch with his feelings the character is, and how direct he is about conveying his thoughts and emotions.

I'm struggling with this a bit in my current WIP, as it's in first person. Josey's perception of herself is rather different than what other people see in her, and it's challenging to portray that convincingly and consistently. As she's telling the story, she's trying to be truthful and direct, but she's still a human being (well, a make-believe one, anyway) with a tendency to portray herself in the best light, even when she's describing her flaws.

Am I making sense, or am I just babbling?

Edittorrent said...

Yeah, presentation-- how would THIS character do it? Some might think something, others might act-- there's no one way.

It all goes back to character, doesn't it? :)

Eva Gale said...

"with a tendency to portray herself in the best light, even when she's describing her flaws."

That is why I love first. Go you.

Edittorrent said...

Eva, like:
"I hated my thick, glossy hair! And those high cheekbones! And of course I had to inherit my mother's bone structure, you know my mother, the former supermodel? I just couldn't stand it, or my curvy, leggy body. I just couldn't stand the way I looked, like every man's fantasy woman!" :)

Eva Gale said...

Ha! I actually encountered someone just like that a few days ago! I think you might have met her, too!

Dave Shaw said...

Gee, Alicia, that sounds like a mantasy written from the woman's point of view. Let me guess, the hero, who is, of course, God's gift to women, cures her of her self-perception problem and they live happily ever after, right? ;-)

Edittorrent said...

Dave, I think someone like that probably wants a man who says, as he crushes her against his manly chest, "I wish I didn't love you! I wish you were so beautiful! I wish I could break free of your spell... but I can't!"

Only a manly man wouldn't use so many exclamation points!

Riley Murphy said...

Drat! I go away for a couple of days, and look what I miss. Crap!
My example:

She came to me and bestowed an air kiss on me. I started to say something seductive and witty, but she had already moved on to another party-goer. When she kissed him the same way, I -

“Harry, darling, you look utterly crestfallen. Don’t tell me, someone has broken your heart for a change?”

I swallowed the lump in my throat, looked away, and gave myself a mental shake. Once I was composed enough, I turned around to acknowledge this unwelcome interruption. “Certainly not, Durinda, as you know, I’m too jaded for that event. I must say though, you’re looking exceedingly well for a woman of such advance years. Truly, it’s a wonder.”

“Advanced years? I’m four years younger than you!”

I saw her crestfallen look, just before she flounced off, and I had to wonder why I’d lashed out like that? She wasn’t the one who dared to treat me like I was ordinary. Damn.

I'd do it this way because he's acknowledged that he has a lump in his throat - but what is it? Indignation? Outrage? Hurt? Then you get crestfallen look to go along with it, from an outsider POV - then you get that he's angry enough - cares enough - to be mean to someone who doesn't deserve it.

Does something like that work? I’m really sorry I missed this one, Alicia. What a great topic.

Dave Shaw said...

I like it, Murphy, but I have to ask - is this from channeling Murray? ;-)

Riley Murphy said...

Of course! Even though poor Murray succumbed to the riggers of sucking that olive through a non-twisty straw (where's Mr. Heimlich with his maneuver when you need him?) - causing his most untimely and unfortunate demise - it's like he's still with me. In fact, there are times that I slip into my burka - just to remember the good old days. *sigh* How very perceptive of you, Dave. :D