Friday, May 6, 2011

A Writer's Face

I titled this post 'A Writer's Face', but I really mean is the expression on a writer's face while they're writing.  I sometimes wonder what my hubby sees when I'm really in the zone.  I don't move out of my chair, but I silently act out dialogue.  I grimace when my character is in pain and I cry with him when his heart is broken.  (Too bad I can't imitate his artful way of creating perfect, sparkling teardrops--my face gets splotchy and my nose runs.)

If you're a writer, then you're probably saying 'so what?' by this point.  It's a daily occurrence.

If you're not a writer, then you're also probably saying 'so what?' by this point. The author's process shouldn't affect your reading experience.

To writers:  This post is just a note to remind you of something:  don't blame emotion for your writer's block.  A lot of writers use this as an excuse to procrastinate:  "I'm just not feeling it."  That's baloney because you're not the one who has to be in the right mood.  Your character does and you must symbiotically sympathize with them.  "I'm not feeling it" is an often-ignored signal that something isn't working in your storyboard.  Maybe the motivation isn't clear.  Maybe the description is flimsy.  Maybe you've forced something to move unnaturally.

"I'm just not feeling it."  An author's job includes the artificial creation of emotions.  Yes, I'll admit--If you're not feeling it when you write it, a reader won't feel it when they read it.  But go beyond that and you have--If the character isn't feeling it when they live it, then an author can't feel it when they write it.  Whenever you hit this snag, there's three things you can do to help overcome it:

1.  Go back and read.  Sometimes it's a simple matter of distance.  You, as a writer, took a day off to think about things, but your character is still stuck in the same situation. Rereading what's been written can help put you back in the immediacy of the moment.

2.  Boost the cause.  When you can't feel what your character is supposed to feel, the reason can often be a weak motivation.  Would an assassin cry over the same things as a teenage girl?  Of course not, but sometimes writers tend to leave a character's tolerance out of the equation.  Inciting incidents (the cause for an emotion) must overwhelm the character's inner strength.  If not, even with emotions like loneliness will feel meaningless and shallow.

3.  Account for free will.  In the beginning, an author has complete control.   Once your character's personality is defined enough, you have to give up control and let the character tell the story.  But sometimes, an author tries to retain that control and continues to say "I command you to do this" instead of asking 'How would my MC react if I did this?'  The same goes for emotion.  It can't be "Feel this".  It must be "How would he feel if I did this?"  If the answer you find puts you in front of a brick wall, then it must not have been the right answer.  Don't be stubborn.  Go to the point where YOU, the author, made the decision that something should have happened or been felt and let the CHARACTER make the choice for you.

To non-writers:  It's true...  An author's writing process shouldn't affect your reading experience.  At the same time, a reader's life experience CAN.  For example, in the opening pages of a book, a grown man calls another man a 'poopy head'.  One reader might expect the character to laugh.  Another reader might expect the character to feel upset over being treated like a child. But it's never about what you expect because you're not the character.  A reader is only a passenger.

I've noticed an increasing amount of readers who are incapable of suspending their disbelief.  Writers often blame themselves for this, thinking they weren't clear on motivations or they screwed up the character profile.  That's not always the case.  Sometimes, the reader stubbornly expects every character to act like they would.  ESPECIALLY when a reader is more experienced than a character. 

For example, a girl falls in love for the first time, then gets refused during a confession.  She laughs it off.  For a reader who has gone through hard breakups, her reaction might seem unnatural.  She should feel disappointed or hurt or something--but that's the reader talking, not the character.  For that character, her reaction is a look into her psyche and personality.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that readers should give authors a little more credit.  While there are authors who don't treat their characters like living people, the bulk of us DO see through our character's eyes.  We feel what they feel and go beyond 'filling their shoes'.  We become them.

So, the next time you think "That's stupid" or "Who would do that?".... give the story a chance.  It should make sense once you have the whole picture.

1 comment:

Angie Sandro said...

Hey, welcome back. Nice post.