Happy Turkey Day Eve!
No time to talk turkey today - I know most of you need to get back to the last lap of NaNoWriMo. I am just going to jump right in with one of my favorite quotes about fiction writing from On Writing Horror, a book put together by The Horror Writers Association. Don’t click away if Horror isn’t your genre! I’ve found many gems within the pages of this book that could be used with ALL genres.
Horror fiction deals in aberrations—aberrations of nature and circumstance, of fate and destiny, of the cosmic and the exquisitely human. Of these facets, the most memorable and compelling are the humans who populate the writer’s fictional world. Through their eyes, the reader is able to behold existence from a unique and unexpected perspective. The reader is able to live another human’s endeavor in order to understand, avoid, or defeat an un-imaginable reality, a loathsome monster, or a mind-bending situation. “ More Simply Human, Tracy Knight.
In my opinion this approach could be and should be said about most all fiction. Loathsome monsters come in the form of murder, divorce, time travel, or even a crush on a hard-to-get girl. Every. Genre. Is. Fair. Game.
Building truly human characters is one of my thangs because as most of you know, I am an actor first. When I flip on my editor brain, teacher brain, or writer brain – my actor brain is already on. I am forever and always analyzing: character arc, character depth, character emotion, relationship threads, and dramatic impact of small to large action, dramatic movement of dialogue, and the dramatic experience of plot events.
What will help you bring true human characters to the surface?
None other than the fruits of your journey across, yup – you guessed it, the Emotional Barrier. We want your readers to snack on that fruit the whole way through. Not the usual beginning, middle, and end emotional meals. Novels aren’t built off of the monotonous Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, an apple-for-every-meal plan. Where is the adventure in that? A few pages of that and your readers will disconnect.
Yes, our readers expect a connection when they read. Of course, being entertained and informed are factors. But the main reason readers open books is to…. Well gosh, I just realized I was about to repeat exactly what I said a few months ago in the first two parts of my Emotional Barrier blog.
Good grief! My apologies, but if you want to click over to read those first, be my guest.
To further tempt you to read Part One of this post. Emotional Barrier in Fiction: Why is it so important for you to learn how to cross it? (Part One).
Here is a rundown:
A description of what exactly the Emotional Barrier is.
Hammering in that the Emotional Barrier is VERY IMPORTANT.
An insightful revelation made by comedian Louis C.K. that will stay with you for the rest of your writing days.
And an emotional to do list.
I’m sure after Part One, you don’t need a tempter to move on to Part Two, Emotional Barrier in Fiction: After You Cross It, What’s Next? (Part Two) but just in case… *wink*
Part Two rundown
Description of Emotional Landscape and why it is so garsh darn important.
Why I won’t let you jump into the big-amazing-badass emotional scenes first thing.
Explanation of a strong emotional base.
Magical power of emotive words, imagery, and metaphor.
In depth examples and analysis of three different styles of strong emotional base. Examples taken from Best Selling novels by Jay Asher, Lisa Unger, and Marcus Sakey.
Reading both parts will assist you in understanding what I am talking about today. I’m sure you will have lots of time to read them while your relatives are watching football. Don’t be surprised if after reading all three parts of this blog, you are motivated to then skip the pumpkin and pecan pie and dive into the first chapter of your WIP. *don’t worry, you can have some the next morning for breakfast!
Ok, back to the meat fruit of Emotional Barrier (Part Three)
Oooh does this mean you are going to show us how to write the super-big-awesome-glimmering-heart beating-bedazzling-gritty emotional scenes??!!
I wish! This is a blog, not a class.
The pure volume of information, not to mention mental and physical exercises, and practice practice practice it takes to write those high emotion scenes, that takes good teacher/editor and hard work in an emotion scene writing course.
*cough cough*… December - Method to Madness: Using Acting Techniques to Invigorate Your Writing and Make Each Moment Oscar Worthy … *cough*
But keep reading and you will learn enough to tide you over, I promise.
As you read in Part Two, I talked about Emotional Landscapes and how essential it is to have an Emotional Base to jump off of, today, we are going to explore what to do after you have laid the foundation for your Emotional Landscape. The middle scenes need emotion too. You can’t start off with a good base and then let the reader freefall till you want to show us the big emotional scene. And you can’t turn the reader to one Emotional Channel and leave them stranded. Creating human qualities in your characters means using a multitude of Emotional Channels.
What is an Emotional Channel? Like a tone?
Yes, but I think it is so much more than that! Tone is just a piece of it. It has to do with how each character is behaving in a moment, either with another person, or just with themselves while reacting to stimuli. The character’s personality and motivations are directly linked to how or why they are reacting the way they are reacting. There are a load more layers to this concept, but I’ll only be revealing them to my students in next year’s scene writing class, TBA. Sorry! I can’t give it all away!
And just like we show show show when we write fiction, that is what I am going to do here. Show and tell time! Let’s look at an example of how Jay Asher masters two Emotional Channels in one moment. Yup, two with one stone.
If you don’t know already, Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why is told by duel POVs, overlapping one and other. Here is the book description as stated on Amazon.com so you have a clearer understanding of why the example below looks and works the way it does.
Amazon.com description: “Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker - his classmate and crush - who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah's voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out why. Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah's pain, and learns the truth about himself-a truth he never wanted to face. Thirteen Reasons Why is the gripping, addictive international bestseller that has changed lives the world over. It's an unrelenting modern classic.”
Seriously, don’t you just wish YOU had written it?!
What an amazing concept. Okay, I will stop gushing now. Moving on.
I’ll show you the original excerpt first, then jump in to analyze. Hannah’s voice on the tapes he is listening to is in italics. Clay is plain text.
If you’re listening to this, one of two things has just happened. A: You’re Justin, and after hearing your little tale you want to hear who’s next. Or B: You’re someone else and you’re waiting to see if it’s you. Well . . .
A line of hot sweat rises along my hairline. Alex Standall, it’s your turn. A single bead of sweat slides down my temple and I wipe it away.
I’m sure you have no idea why you’re on here, Alex. You probably think you did a good thing, right? You voted me Best Ass in the Freshman Class. How could anyone be angry at that? Listen. I sit on the curb with my shoes in the gutter. Near my heel, a few blades of grass poke up through the cement. Though the sun has barely started dipping beneath the rooftops and trees, streetlamps are lit on both sides of the road.
First, Alex, if you think I’m being silly—if you think I’m some stupid little girl who gets her panties in a bunch over the tiniest things, taking everything way too seriously, no one’s making you listen. Sure, I am pressuring you with that second set of tapes, but who cares if people around town know what you think of my ass, right? In the houses on this block, and in my house several blocks away, families are finishing up their dinners. Or they’re loading dishwashers. Or starting their homework. For those families, tonight, everything is normal. I can name a whole list of people who would care. I can name a list of people who would care very much if these tapes got out. So let’s begin, shall we? Curling forward, I hug my legs and lay my forehead on my knees.
Maybe some people think you were right in choosing me. I don’t think so. But let me put it this way, I don’t think my ass—as you call it—was the deciding factor. I think the deciding factor . . . was revenge. I tear the blades of grass out of the gutter and stand up to leave. As I start walking, I rub the blades between my fingers till they fall away.
One might say books like Thirteen Reasons Why wouldn't exist without constant emotion throughout every scene and character moments. Inner conflict is very present within both protagonists’ views and this ever present conflict is why the pages turn and turn and turn and turn until the reader reaches the end in one sitting. This is something we should all strive to achieve!
In this excerpt we are looking at a careful interweaving of Hannah’s stabbing painful tone and accusations mixed with Clay’s understated reactions. You can tell it’s almost too much for him to handle as he listens to her words because, as he is listening, his eyes and brain expands focus on the normalcy of the world around him.
What if the author had both Hannah’s voice and Clay’s reactions shared the same painful stabbing characteristics? It would be too much, wouldn’t it? Yes. So, instead, author Jay Asher showed us a different type of emotion in Clay. He is still visibly upset at what he is listening to, but instead of matching her tone, his defense mechanisms are masking his direct reactions and projecting them to stuff like pulling at grass, noticing street lamps, and thinking about the exact opposite of what horror he has blasting in his ears.
Asher gives us a hint that more of her words are breaking in than he’d like when he writes about the sweat dripping down and Clay’s curl forward to hug his legs. But notice Clay isn’t rocking back and forth, or furiously wiping at the sweat. They are simple actions. Steady. Almost a numbness to combat the energy we are feeling from Hannah’s story.
It even works if you read each section separately. Hannah’s first, and then Clay’s.
Kudos to you, Jay! Once again, I am able to use more of your beautiful writing as pristine examples.
And to you blog readers, remember, this isn’t a turning point, it isn’t a climax, and it isn’t a black moment. This is just something that happens in the middle. The author is always working to show us a deeper character and a more human character. Here he bounces between channels to show something more than just some in-your-face straightforward emotion. He succeeds at steering us away from spoon-fed-emotion, and I love it!
Let’s see what would happen if it was written without Asher’s delicate duel Emotional Channels.
Here I worked to move Clay into a Channel similar to Hannah’s. I will BOLD what I changed:
If you’re listening to this, one of two things has just happened. A: You’re Justin, and after hearing your little tale you want to hear who’s next. Or B: You’re someone else and you’re waiting to see if it’s you. Well . . . Immediately I start sweating. Hot sweat. Guilty sweat. Alex Standall, it’s your turn. Furiously I start wiping at the never ending moisture. I’m sure you have no idea why you’re on here, Alex. You probably think you did a good thing, right? You voted me Best Ass in the Freshman Class. How could anyone be angry at that? Listen. I can barely breathe, it’s all too much. My knees buckle and I end up on the curb, feet in the mud. The suns’ decent behind the rooftops drops the temp a million degrees. Shivers start. Not sure I can listen much longer.
First, Alex, if you think I’m being silly—if you think I’m some stupid little girl who gets her panties in a bunch over the tiniest things, taking everything way too seriously, no one’s making you listen. Sure, I am pressuring you with that second set of tapes, but who cares if people around town know what you think of my ass, right? In every house around me families are fleeing the dinner table. I can almost hear the arguments over who didn’t eat their broccoli, who was supposed to do the dishes, how much homework they didn’t want to do. The anger and annoyance almost shaking the sidewalk and breaking its way into my skin. Maybe this much pain was normal.
I can name a whole list of people who would care. I can name a list of people who would care very much if these tapes got out. So let’s begin, shall we? Lunging forward I clung to my legs, grasping at my muddy jeans. My forehead grinding into my knees.
Maybe some people think you were right in choosing me. I don’t think so. But let me put it this way, I don’t think my ass—as you call it—was the deciding factor. I think the deciding factor . . . was revenge. Bile rose and clumped in my throat. I couldn’t start moving fast enough. Not sure where, but I knew I couldn’t sit still any longer. I tripped into the street, my muscles were already burning. I walked away. Fast.
How do you feel now? The same? Is your heart beating a little faster? Was it emotionally more taxing to read from similar Emotional Channels?
I think so too. And that is probably why Asher wrote it the way he did. Smart author.
Are there any other smart authors out there using Emotional Channels to further deepen the human qualities in their characters? Please share with us in the comments! I hunger for fresh and smart emotive writing!!
I want to thank all the writers at WITS for letting me jump on every month (sometimes twice a month.) And a special thank you to Orly for dealing with my brain, sans caffeine, this week.
WITS readers, showing you new approaches to writing in a mini-blog-lesson is always gratifying. Thank you for reading. Toss me a Hiya in the comments.
Hmmm it’s a Holiday weekend, so I’m not sure if any of you will have time for a mini-challenge assignment this time around. But I will give you one anyway!
Wanna see if you’ve got the hang of it? Do you already have or want to write a 10 sentence excerpt showing opposing or similar Emotional Channels? I know the example I showed wasn’t typical, so think about the two character emotional scenes you have, or the one character moments where they are reacting to outside stimuli. And as per usual, I’ll get on and be your teacher for the day!
I’ll also be drawing a name from the comments. **You don’t have to participate in the mini-challenge assignment to be included in the drawing, but the ones who do participate will get their name in twice! The winner gets a free slot in one of my upcoming courses: January- Action and Fighting in Fiction: Writing Authentic Choreography With Precision and Bite or in just a few days --- December - Method to Madness: Using Acting Techniques to Invigorate Your Writing and Make Each Moment Oscar Worthy
Tiffany Lawson Inman – follow @NakedEditor claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. There, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development.
She teaches Action, Choreography, Emotional Impact, Violence, and Dialogue for Lawson Writer’s Academy, presents hands-on-action workshops, and will be offering webinars in 2014. As a freelance editor, she provides deep story analysis, content editing, line by line, and dramatic fiction editing services. Stay tuned to WITS to see Tiffany’s upcoming guest blogs, classes, contests, and lecture packets.