Friday, February 01, 2008

It's the Emotion, Stupid!

I’m working on a horror story at the moment, and I’m struggling. Oh, the plot is there. And the characters. I know what is happening and going to happen (within some general limits), and I know who those things are going to happen to. What I don’t have is the “feel” of the piece. In short, I’m not making myself uncomfortable yet. I’ve found from experience that I don’t necessarily have to scare myself when I’m writing a horror story, but my gut damn well better be involved. I better remember to tell myself, "it's the emotion, stupid!"

I think the main problem is that I haven’t mentally switched gears from nonfiction to fiction yet in this piece. I’ve been doing so much nonfiction lately, particularly scientific writing, that it’s hard for me to force my intellect into the back seat and put my feelings into the driver’s seat. I’ve often said that I believe nonfiction, especially objective work like that which scientists write, can be created from the intellect alone. Fiction, on the other hand, demands, requires, cannot exist without, emotion.

Part of the problem also lies in the fact that I’m in a very busy period at school and I have not had the time to let the story soak into me in an emotional way. But because of Mardi Gras I’m now set for a four day break after today. I’m going to reintroduce myself to my fears and anxieties and all my other feelings. I may use the basic outline of what I’ve already constructed, but the viscera are going to be torn out and strewn around. One way or another, I’m going to remember what it’s like to look into a dark hole and feel like something is down there waiting for me. Or maybe not…waiting. Maybe it’s coming closer. Coming for me. Coming right now.

Maybe it’s right behind me!


Steve Malley said...

What a neat post. We can have all the technique and structure in the world, but without that little frisson of core emotion, well, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that zing!

virtual nexus said...

I like it. I've wondered to what extent blogging drains that kind emotional creativity as well - someone pointed out today that its good to have breaks in a blogging schedule for that reason.

All the best with the writing. Does going to see a suitably frisson - producing film do any good?

RRN said...

Very interesting Sir.

I find it to be rather fascinating to think of others states of mind and/or being when writing anything at all. I wonder if anyone has ever written a book about writing a book ?

The idea that what we put into our minds often comes back out in our own percieved ways is really interesting to me....Much with music ....weriting seems to be the same way....despite if that is intended our not.

Sarai said...

Emotion is very important in writing no matter what genre it is. The emotion is what hooks the readers. You can tell a good book by how much you relate to the emotion ex. you feel scared when they feel scared. You look over your shoulder when they do, you laugh when they laugh ect.
Good luck with the story I'm sure you'll get back in the mood with time off from the daily life ;)

Anxiety Switch said...

I find it hard to believe you're lost for inspiration. Just imagine how trite your story would be if you'd finished it with genre conventions then take those conventions and rip them apart like you usually do.

So if you're wondering how to answer a problem with an angry knight who wants to marry the elusive princess - imagine how things would be if he got his way.

Miladysa said...

"objective work like that which scientists write, can be created from the intellect alone. Fiction, on the other hand, demands, requires, cannot exist without, emotion."

I have never thought about this before but it makes perfect sense to me.

Another enjoyable and thought provoking post. Thank you.

Ozzia Patek said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Travis Cody said...

Just watch where you step...the viscera can be slippery.

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...


I am completely with you. I have a writers group here and there are many different types of witings of course. But many are missing what I think is the greatest factor of all and that is Emotions. The words fit, the setting is correct, but it doesn't reach down inside you and grab ahold. If a book, poem, anything that I am reading other than technical writing is missing emotions I lose interest.

That must sound horrid but I need it to touch me. I do not have to have the same emotional connection as everyone else, but there must be one.

Thank you for noticing this.


Shauna Roberts said...

I have the same problem switching back and forth between science writing and fiction writing. Hope your four-day weekend is productive and lets you get back in the make-the-reader-tingle-with-fear mode.

SQT said...

I can so relate to this. I have a hard time putting emotion into any kind of writing and I think it's because of my journalistic background. I wish I had some advice, but really, I'm hoping you'll come up with a solution and tell me what it is!

writtenwyrdd said...

I think you have a good point there, about feeling the story as you write. I find it difficult to write the gruesome stuff because my decent self says, "Oh my, how can I say such awful things? What will people think of me?" At which point, I have to tell myself, "It's just the characters, stupid," and carry on.

Charles Gramlich said...

Steve Malley, exactly. I Like the "it don't mean a thing without that zhing." I see writers phoning it in sometimes. It just doesn't work.

Julie, I personally don't think so. At least not for me. Blogging about things that have emotional content for me seems to help me. Emotion generates more emotion. I do think that blogging can scratch some of the itch to write and one has to be careful there. But I don't think it drains the emotion.

RRN, John STeinbeck once wrote "Journal of a Novel," which was basically a book about the writing of East of Eden. It might be worth looking at.

Sarai, I've been able to work my way back into the "mood" before so I'm sure I'll be able to this time. Just depends on how long it takes.

Tormenteddisplay, thanks for stopping by. I'm not sure I'd call it inspiration. Maybe more "perspiration." Like when you start a job you haven't done in a while and it takes awhile to get into the rhythm.

Miladysa, thanks. I definitely see this difference between fiction and nonfiction.

Travis, lol. That's why I wear nonslip hiking boots whenever I work with viscera.

Tara, as long as there is some kind of feeling I can usually make it work.

Shauna, I was thinking you'd know just what I was talking about.

Sqt, I find that I have to break the mindset I'm in and start looking at things differently. Sometimes I listen to loud, heavy music, or have a few drinks to take off the "intellectual" edge, or take night walks in the woods. Whatever I can do that scrapes off the surface "control" and lets me reconnect with the inside animal.

Charles Gramlich said...

Writtenwyrd, good point. That's very much the same thing. I think I often like to write the gruesome parts because it frees me to express a bit of that inner beast.

SzélsőFa said...

I like how the ending recalls some moments of horror stories.
*fingers crossed*

RRN said...

Nice call Charles... I figured you would pull out some magic as you did. While I am horribly under-read I do think I may be a fan of Mr. I am , for sure , looking into that one. Thanks.

Also ...After I posted that comment , the Movie 'Wonder Boys' came to mind which is based on the book by Michael Chabon and falls into this ideal I think. Which...if you haven't seen or read such...I do highly recomend such...It is quite enjoyable.

Lana Gramlich said...

It must be waiting for you on the other side of a nap. ;)

Middle Ditch said...

I usually see a 'film' in my head and sit down to 'watch' it before that emotion arrives. Only then can I write it down.

Good luck

Travis Erwin said...

Here's hoping you get close enough to that danger lurking in the dark to write about but far enough to live and tell about it.

Josephine Damian said...

Charles, an urban fantasy writer from my writer's group recently dropped out of grad school (computers) in order to finish his novel (he did finish it).

I told him I was sticking it out in grad school (forensics) till the bitter end, and that I was about to start writing my MT AND I was planning on working on my novel at the same time.

He told me I was NUTS - that both would turn out like shit because I could not switch gears so easily - from scientific and dry to (hopefully) dramatic and emotional writing. I disagree, but it'll be interesting to see when I'm hip-deep in both that my plan to work on the school stuff on different days than the fiction (at the very least - though it'll be interesting to see if I can work on both on the same day without becoming schizo) will work out.

Charles Gramlich said...

Szelsofa, thanks.

RRN, I haven't seen "Wonder boys" but it certainly looks worth checking out.

Lana, as long as you are waiting on the otherside of the nap.

Middle Ditch, I tend to see it scene by scene, but mostly after I've given it some thought. I don't get it unfolding quite as clearly as I'd like.

Travis Erwin, definitely. Real fear is not pleasant.

Josephine, I don't find it terribly hard to switch gears. It just takes some time and effort. it's like switching between driving a stick shift car and an automatic. In regards to finishing grad school or finishing a novel, I'd personally take grad school everytime. One has to eat, and most writers aren't going to make enough to eat on off a first novel.

Barrie said...

I think the four-day break will make all the difference in the world. :)

Chris Eldin said...

It is an art, isn't it?
I admire this kind of writing. I think it's hard to write something that will truly make the reader hold his/her breath and keep reading, not knowing...

Michelle's Spell said...

I'm with you on the emotion -- that's why I resent any other writing I have to do and opted out of tech writing as a career. Teaching may be a little draining at times, but when I have had jobs where I wrote all day, the last thing I could force myself to do was come home and write some more. I still have to do a little writing at work, but not very much. I've never written a horror story, although I love to read them. Good luck with this new one and have fun during mardi gras week -- damn, I'm sorry we don't have a few days off! Snoopy tears!

Charles Gramlich said...

Barrie, I hope so. At least I'll get caught upon sleep.

Christine Eldin,it's definitely not easy to do. Horror writing is perhaps the "most" emotional writing there is.

Michelle, at first I rather resented nonfiction too, but but I've come to enjoy it in a different way than fiction. I still don't get the bang out of it I get from fiction, but I do get a feeling of satisfaction.

WH said...

Mardi Gras used to leave me too exhausted to do anything for about two days, not because I got plastered, but because I lived off St. Charles Avenue for many years, and I got tired of tossing strangers out of my house--people looking for a toilet. Happy MG!

ivan said...

There is quite a switch between expository writing and fiction.

I'd say just remember that you don't have to back-up and prove everything you posit, and steam your words,taking out unnecessary constructions.

Yep. Emotion.

Charles Gramlich said...

Billy, I can well imagine. I had good friends who lived in the Quarter who had to deal with all of that. I didn't envy them.

Ivan, I should switch back and forth more often. It makes the transitions easier.

Mimi Lenox said...

I'm scared!