For everyone heading into NaNo in a couple weeks, and anyone looking to develop real, breathing characters, here are some excellent points to consider.
I think emotion is probably the hardest thing we face as writers. We all know emotion done well when we read it. That moment of gut-wrenching, swooning, heart-pounding emotion–otherwise known as the feels.
But how do we create that? How do we effectively translate emotion to the page, and make our reader truly feel? There is a delicate balance between emotion and melodrama, or emotion falling flat altogether.
This is partly because emotion is such a complex, abstract thing. Human beings have such an amazing capacity for emotion–both high and low, and everywhere in between. How is a writer supposed to capture something like that into words?
I think the first key to making emotion effective is remembering that characters are people. I have said this before, but I will say it again. When you remember that characters are human beings, emotion becomes a lot easier. This makes it easier to avoid both flat emotion and melodrama.
For instance, you might overplay emotion for dramatic effect. But when you examine the person who is experiencing that emotion and their situation, you might rethink that. Instead of bursting into tears or collapsing from shock, they might experience denial, or show their emotion in more subtle ways, such as a wavering voice or a clenched hand.
How would that person really feel in that moment?
On the other hand, you might downplay or even forget emotion in lieu of plot and action, or throw it in as an afterthought, and the emotion falls flat completely.
I think that is the second key, matching every instance of action with proper reaction–and emotion. I think emotion is the true heart of action and climax, but in order for it to truly be effective, there also needs to be the effect of that.
This is something I have to be conscious of. Sometimes, it can seem like there is emotion in the action, and that that is enough, but it is still not in order to be effective. For example, in Nightfire, when Kera sees her mother ripped, she becomes very emotional and lashes out. But after that, she doesn’t have a personal reaction. She goes right into searching for her sister. Yes, there are scenes later where she considers her mom and feels sad and everything, but she never really grieves, and never initially deals with it.
So, I added a scene after the attack where she is laying with her mother while the others are asleep, and she tries to process and come to terms with this new reality she has been thrust into. Though her mother is still alive, her mind is not there, and whoever she was is gone. So Kera has to grieve for that. And this is also the first time she realizes the ramifications of not having her mother–things as small as not hearing her sing all the time, or as big as her not being there to help look for Hana, when Kera needs her most.
I realized how much more powerful her mother’s loss is when the emotion goes further and deeper than the initial reaction and scattered sad scenes. There had to be that first reaction. The girl holding her mother against her and pleading with her to wake up, to come back, though she knows she can’t. A girl who has been surviving her whole life but for the first time faces the world on her own, and is scared and uncertain. That is what makes the loss powerful, not her initial scream and shock.
So, which side do you lean towards–melodrama, or flat–or have you achieved a balance? How do you best capture emotion in your story? How do you make readers feel?
If you’re a writer, the climax of the story is the easy part. Right?
Just add some blood and guts, raise the body count, and throw in an explosion or two.
This is all good and exciting, which a climax should be, but it’s not always right. A climax is not just the moment of high action, big bang in the story. It’s the moment when everything in your core conflict and plotline, comes together, in a dramatic way.
Take, for instance, my original manuscript. I originally wrote the climax as the moment (spoiler) where the emperor sends his army in to crush the rebellion and enslave everyone. Which was all epic and dramatic, with bombs dropped, people screaming, bodies everywhere, and all your good usual climax stuff.
But the core conflict in this story wasn’t Falcon trying to stop the emperor and save her city from doom. The core conflict was her trying to keep her family together.
So, I kept the bombs dropping and bodies everywhere, but in order to make it a climax for her story, I had to make it the worst and most dramatic event for her personal conflict. I tore her family apart, and not all of them survive.
Do you see what I’m getting at?
It took me a long time to truly understand even these most basic elements of story. Not because I didn’t know what they were, but because I used them wrong. I thought exposition=explain, climax=boom, resolution=happily ever after (or not).
But in a talk with my CP based on agent feedback on her story, I realized that I had all of these wrong. You have to look at your own story, and pare everything else away until all you’re left with is the core conflict. Even just that took me a while. I was too caught up in grand schemes of good vs. evil and tyrannical emperors and war and politics. Yes, all of that happens, and it’s a huge part of the story, but the heart of the story is Falcon and her family, trying to survive and stay together in this hell.
Without that, the climax isn’t effective. It might be exciting, but it doesn’t work for this story.
What about your story? Is your climax right for the conflict, or is it just explosions and high body count with no meaning?
Hey all! Short post this week, since as you know I am in the middle of the moving. Thanks so much for stopping by, here is this Friday’s Worthy of the Week, a weekly breakdown of things worth sharing. If you like what you see, feel free to join in! Just post your link in the comments, and I’ll stop by 🙂 Check out the others here.
For awesome character inspiration and photos like these, check out this character board.
Check out this powerful slam poem and video, with a message about expectations and body image that I think every girl and woman should hear.
Words of Wisdom
I think this is the one and only reason people should write. I write because there are stories inside of me, that have to come out. I write because I don’t know any other way to be.
Hey all! Thanks so much for stopping by, here is this Friday’s Worthy of the Week, a weekly breakdown of things worth sharing. If you like what you see, feel free to join in! Just post your link in the comments, and I’ll stop by 🙂 Check out the others here.
These four are from a series by Russian photographer Katerina Plotnikova. I think each one has so much whimsy and story in it, and had to share.
Despite the positive body image movements, I think it is still something we struggle with as a nation, and all around the world. Thankfully, leaders in our culture (celebrities, popular brands, etc.) have started to join in this push against impossible perfection. Two awesome music videos I found this week, Try by Colbie Caillat, and You & I by John Legend, are fantastic (and emotional) illustrations of that. Definitely worth checking out.
Words of Wisdom
As writers, we are naturally in tune with our imagination. But I think these words go further than creativity or imagination–don’t forget to be curious, to be amazed by the world around you, or even the craft you love. Don’t get so caught up in writing as a business that you forget why you loved it in the first place.
My very first blog post had this title, but it’s been a long day, my creativity is spent, and that’s exactly what I’m feeling right now.
I’ve heard so much about NaNoWriMo, for years now, even before I jumped into this whole thing. I just never thought it would be possible for me. First of all, being in school full-time, I would never have time in November. Plus, before a couple months ago, I’d never tried a monthly word goal. So, 60,000 words in a month?? Impossible.
Now I am signed up for CampNaNoWriMo, with one day left before it starts.
Cue panic mode? Check.
At the time I didn’t know that you could aim for anything less than the 60k, but you can. So, I am aiming for the much more manageable 20,000. After all, this will only be my second monthly word goal ever, and I do have an actual life too. 🙂
I’ve only been signed up for a few days, but am already finding all kinds of lovely people. Once again, the writing community is amazing! I’m all snuggly in a cabin with a few awesome bloggers, and have taken a break the past few days to rest my creative juices.
To get ready, I’ve outlined the next 20 chapters or so on notecards, as a general guide for where to go. This is new for me, since I really don’t plan before I write, outside of major concepts and arcs. But, I know that with no direction, and pressure to write everyday, I would find myself coming up blank too often. Here’s the first half of my notecards ready:
The organization and planning help to lessen the panic, but also make me feel a little stuck and forced. I’m not used to so much planning! Campers, how are you getting ready? Are you meticulously planning every detail out ahead of time, or are you ready to fly by the seat of your pants? If you’re not a camper, then you really should look into it. It’s not as scary as it seems, I promise.
With one day left, I’m feeling nervous, but I’m looking forward to this. I’ll tag all posts under both To Build A Story and CampNano, and I will keep you updated on my progress and my journey as I go through this 🙂