Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Meat and Potatoes

I know I've touched on this topic before but sometimes it hits me and I feel like talking about it again. I'm talking about the core emotions involved in a book. The deep center of a story which defies a pure definition; the heart and soul of a novel.

Some books are easy. Probably not for the writers but for the readers. I'm sure in high school and college you had to dissect a book, dig in for the deeper meaning. Books like "To Kill a Mockingbird" were pretty obvious along with most Shakespearean plays. Some aren't so easy. Who knew "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" was about more than a kid on a raft? I still remember hissing "the horror, the horror" for more reasons than one after reading "The Heart of Darkness" in high school.

At the time I really had no other understanding why my teachers were forcing this crap down my throat. I didn't have a whole lot of interest in writing at the time. I think my career goal at that time was to become Mrs. Adam Ant or President of the United States. But when I started writing I finally figured out why all this is important.

The meat and potatoes of a story is the emotions evoked. Our personal stories are based on the emotional issues we feel. But our own lives are not played out in the extreme. In our fiction, we have the freedom to get as extreme as we want. In reality, we might be sad because the San Diego Chargers won't be going to the Superbowl. When we write, we need to kick that emotion up a notch. In our novel, we might translate that emotion into something else. Maybe our heroine is despondent because her husband went to Vegas and bet the farm on the Chargers and now the bank is going to foreclose and they are out of a home. Now if we wrote literary fiction, we could keep this heroine down. But if you are writing commercial fiction, you gotta bring her back up. For us, our sadness will be eased because we know next season will be back before you know it and the Chargers will have a chance again. That's not going to work for our heroine, it's going to take more. Maybe she discovers her secret half-brother plays for the Chargers and he pays off the bank loan. Her home is safe again AND she had found a sibling she never knew existed. The happiness she experience is twofold.

We as writers need to take those everyday emotions and make them worse or better. It is the heart of our story. It really doesn't matter what genre you are writing in, whether it features a Regency miss or a vampire-hunting amazon, the foundation is the same. Too often I can see authors who forget that the heart and soul is what is important. They start thinking it is their characters and plots that are bringing in the readers. And that may work for a book or two, but eventually a reader will drift away if they aren't getting the satisfaction of hard emotions.

After a long hiatus from writing, I started back again. I wrote 7 pages of a story and realized I had no idea what emotions were driving the novel. It was more of a mish-mash of normal emotions. Seven pages is too long to go without evoking the emotions I want. Instead of starting with the story, I need to start with the core emotions I want to explore and go from there building my characters and my plot. And if you are one that does a lot of pre-writing, maybe make a character chart for the emotions you want to explore and the issues you want to delve into. In the end, it makes for a more satisfying read and an easier write.

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Blogger Melissa Marsh said...

This is a great post, Rene. I'm glad I read it now because I'm going to take another look at what I've written on my novel already and make sure I have the emotions that I need.

And did I tell you how glad I am you're writing again? ;-)

11:54 AM  
Blogger M said...

When I write all of my stories stop cold eventually. I think a part of the reason is because I can't stand strong emotions or tension.

It is a personal issue. Anyway, I do believe that if a writer cannot process his or her own emotions, it will affect the writing.

3:37 PM  
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