Friday, April 15, 2011

Out Damned Spot

I was cleaning my wood floor today and I knew there was a spot in one place because it had been bugging me for days. I made the overhead lights brighter, but I still couldn't find it. Finally, I shut off the lights all together and low and behold, there it was.

I got to thinking that sometimes -- just like on my floor -- shining a more subtle light on something is more meaningful. When it comes to writing character emotions, the same can hold true. Just like the scene from MacBeth when Lady MacBeth continually tries to wash away the sight and smell of blood from her hands rather than admit her guilt directly.

Donald Maass, literary agent and educator, suggests finding a strong emotion then replacing it with a secondary one. Or find a throw-away moment and infuse it with rich emotion. Great advice to draw your characters with a more precise brush

Alicia Rasley, editor for Red Sage and author of The Power of Point of View, talks about evoking emotion  subtly to pull the reader deeper into the character's head. In one of her workshops, she reads a passage about someone visiting a relative in the hospital and the visitor sees an Amish family sitting with their child, who is ill. A few days later, the visitor passes a procession of black Amish wagons and knows the child has passed away. The image holds more power and speaks of a more skillful writer than if the scene had depicted the parents weeping as the doctor pulls a sheet over the child's head.

Writing the secondary emotions or the peripheral observations that figure in to a story take more effort and more skill than being more direct. But the technique deepens both the characters and the story.


Terry Odell said...

I remember that workshop - and yes, being subtle is often so much more effective than bludgeoning the reader with forced emotions. And you're so right about it being much harder to write!

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Wynter Daniels said...

Great workshop, huh?

Too Sexy said...

Brilliant! I'm going to try to work this trick into my own stories!

Wynter Daniels said...

Good luck. Wish I could take credit for the strategy;-)

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