Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Emotional Drain

I’ve just finished a rough area of my novel where the characters have to deal with an intense emotional crisis. Now, it seems like these are the fun scenes to write – the scenes where everything comes to a head. But it’s been such slow going.

Putting people, even imaginary ones, through hell is just no fun. First, there’s the actual pain that must be caused. Second is the reaction to said pain. Third is the challenge of writing a pain-charged scene without coming across as preachy or sentimental. It’s tiring and trying.

The page count slows down because the ‘internal editor’ kicks in saying things like “So-and-so wouldn’t do that!” “How whiny are you trying to make this?” and “Sappy, sappy, sappy.”

I’m not quite done with the scene that I’m working on, but I’m over the hump. I know what needs to happen. Now there’s just saying good-bye and then it’s off the subplot and on to the main story arc. (Yes, that was just the subplot, but it drives a lot of what happens next in the main narrative.)

So, what do you do when you want to avoid sounding whiny, preachy, and now-the-reader-must-cry?

5 comments:

  1. So far, when I've had to write those scened I tend to pull away from the characters a bit and really focus on the sensory input of the scene. For me it makes sense to do it so the reader can get a little closer to what the character is reacting to vs. how they're reacting. It's an attempt to make things immediate and bypass the potential heavy-handedness.

    Besides, when I've lived through those rough times, I've noticed there's usually minimal talking anyway.

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  2. That's a rough one, and I feel for what you're going through.

    I tend to avoid overdoing it by downplaying the emotional aspect--to the point of taking out the emotion. Then I have to go back and ramp it up later. I think it may be easier to just write it over the top and then pare it down. Don't know. It always seems the easier way is the way you didn't do it.

    Good luck to you, my friend.

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  3. The more emotion invested in a scene (or intended), the more I think writers tend to overwrite. I like Ali's suggestions. For me, I tend to pull back and allow the scene to speak for itself. Tell as little as possible. Show what is happening and allow the reader to be swept up. The sappy/whiny/ preachy stuff comes from not trusting the reader and trying to force an emotion. If it's there, it's there. If not, no amount of telling me to cry is going to work.

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  4. But yeah. What Shane said. Say what's happening, don't try and say what people should think about it. People don't like being talked down to. And the degree with which they take offense at it seems in direct proportion to how much they NEED it. So anyhoo...

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  5. Gorsh! I would love to give you some helpful advice, but I'm still fighting with the rape scene in that one short story I started 3 years ago. I think Ali and Shane have given you good answers, but I just wanted to remind you not to pull too far away. If you do, the scene will have all the emotion of a medical school autopsy. Let the motions describe the emotion, but don't let them be the emotion. (Did that make sense? I don't know. Sounded a little fuzzy to me.)

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