Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Elements of Emotion

I found a great article from a new blog I'm now following, courtesy of The Passive Voice yesterday. Being somewhat of a Psychology affectionado myself, how could I not be enticed by a "Brain Scientist's Take on Writing?"  The piece I read yesterday is a prime example of what this means.  Livia Blackburne dissects the pieces of a tear-jerker death scene.  It provides an interesting look for readers and writers alike.

I've not really attempted what I would call a "true" death scene yet.  I've had characters die, sure.  Even important ones, but generally I've not had our MC holding their hand as the plug is pulled (or something in that vein).  Still, the goal of any good writer should be to tie emotion to your characters, and death is a powerful tool for that.  At some point, we're all likely to experience loss, so it's something we can all relate to.

Livia provides some great suggestions on how to write an effective emotional scene.  I'm approaching the end of my current project, and the climatic scene is always something I dream about for months in advance.  Of all the scenes in a novel, the climax is the one you absolutely have to get right.  In the case of my current WIP, there will be several deaths.  I'm not entirely sure I'm going for a tear-jerker here, but I definitely want it to be emotional.

Quite frankly, I'm more of a fan of deaths at the end that have the reader cheering.  Maybe I feel that there is enough sadness (though I won't deny the cathartic nature of a good cry).  Even so, I think I tend to prefer the happy side.  Like when I saw the last Harry Potter movie and Beatrix Lestrange finally got kedavra'ed (or whatever skin sucking spell Mrs. Weasley used).  It doesn't always take death to make someone cry either.  My dark secret?  I cry every time I watch Field of Dreams.  Playing catch with your dad's ghost (or whatever)... I'm a sucker for that particular exchange.  I guess there's death there, but it's hardly a "death scene." 

Even in those different examples, a lot of Livia's suggestions hold up... just slightly skewed.  For instance, her first point of "Emphasize the good qualities of the dying character."  You can flip that for a Lestrangian death: emphasize that nasty bits.  I think she taunts Mrs. Weasley about her kids right before she bites it.  What a nasty witch.  (I said witch... with a "w".)

Or with #8: "Show how much the other characters miss the deceased."  Flip it for a villain.  Have people cheer the death.  I don't know about you, but I get chills when the last army of men cheer the death of Sauron.

In the case of Field of Dreams, the MC's unresolved feelings for his father have been made plain throughout the story.  We already know that he misses him.  The scene is the payoff.

The point is that these are all ways of pulling the thread of human emotion.  At our very base, a lot of similar things make us tick.  If, as a writer, you want to recreate emotion in your stories (and you definitely do!), you need to understand these elements.  As a reader, it may be nice to know too... at the very least so you can have Kleenex ready. 


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