Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Studying Writing The Christian Romance By Gail Gaymer Martin: Using Emotions and Senses

Today we'll take a look at how an author can utilize emotions and senses to bring their story to life. If you as a reader are drawn to laugh, cry, cringe, etc. then you are truly drawn into the story, relating to the characters' situations, caring about the characters, and that's what makes the story compelling. Infusing emotions and the senses into your work is a key way to get that connection.

Emotions are subjective, they are the intense mental reaction to a stimulus of the senses. How one person reacts to a given situation may be very different from how another does based on their background, experiences, personality, etc. So it is very important to know your characters intimately to be able to represent their emotions accurately and believably. This again is another reason why the author should have detailed back story developed for each of their main characters. Knowing what drives your character, what triggers moments of joy, grief, boredom, etc. is imperative in portraying believable characters.

Males and females are wired differently in many ways, and one of the most visible differences is in how we reveal emotion. Stereotypically, females are more expressive, cry easily without embarrassment, whereas men would rather walk away, derail the emotional situation, forget about it, than cry and express their grief. Men show their feelings by doing things for those they love, whereas women are more vocal in sharing their feelings aloud. The list goes on and on about how different the male species is from the female. It brings to mind the old phrase "opposites attract" and that really does seem fitting here, and is a tool we authors can use to great advantage in upping the all important conflict needed to make our stories fly.

But rather than get caught up in the stereotypes, my personal suggestion is to really study the differences between those of opposite genders in your life. I know women who greatly fear showing certain emotions in public and will go to great lengths to avoid topics that might cause her to reveal such private emotions, and I also know of men who seem to have confidence enough to let a tear or two fall in front of a whole congregation when the situation seems fitting. So, the point is, know your characters, if you've done your homework, have reasons for why they are who they are, then their reactions to stimulus will follow naturally. And once you know one character intimately, develop his/her counterpart with an eye for some conflict to erupt between them based on their personality differences, too.

Getting back to the basics of emotion, though. Just like characters, Gail Gaymer Martin suggests that emotions need to be three-dimensional to be believable, as well. They are filled with nuances and usually a blend of feelings. At my church we have a time for sharing our cares and concerns as well as a time for sharing joys. Often people have to choose which one they want to tell their story under because there are elements of the story that fit in both categories. It's the same with emotions. You can be elated because you won an award, but at the same time you may feel sad for your friend who didn't. When you're angry, disappointment and frustration may be driving your actions as well. By allowing your hero or heroine to blend feelings you create a true-to-life character that the reader can relate to.

Emotions are best shown. Remember the golden rule "Show, don't tell". Characters' emotions can be brought to life, even felt by the reader, if revealed by dramatization through actions and reaction and the mood of the scene. They become a powerful tool for an author to draw the reader in if they are not merely described, but shown in a variety of ways.

Using word pictures, word choices (such as harder sounding words to inflect a sense of demanding or terseness, softer sounding words for a sense of intimacy and quiet), familiar images that anyone can relate to, and poetic devices such as similes (A comparison using "like" or "as"), metaphors (A comparison between unlike things without using "like" or "as"), imagery (Using words to appeal to the five senses), onomatopoeia (Words that imitate sounds in real life), and alliterations (repetition of the same initial sound) are all ways to infuse emotions without just stating them. As you read your current night-stand novel, watch for how the author used these devices to portray a given emotion. What sounds kept popping up in the text to make you feel anxious or relaxed? What pictures were painted to make you feel giddy or glum? Make note of them and keep them handy for rewrite time.

By evoking as many of the five senses as you can into your writing you will bring life into your story for sure. People live through their senses, they experience life through the senses they process. If you are denied one sense, it is said that your others become stronger to compensate. So the senses are definitely important to experiencing life. As an author we want our readers to not just read our work using the sense of sight, but we want them to experience our story and thus we need to evoke all the senses in our work.

The most common sense used is sight. Naming objects, shapes, painting a picture of a scene is all part of sight. But sight can easily lead you to evoke the touch sense. What does the object feel like? If you can express texture, then you are revealing how something feels and that helps a reader to feel the item themselves. Sound is another common sense revealed in writing, but don't just tell us what the sound is, try and reveal it through a string of words with well chosen consonants that fit the tone of the sound, or use onomatopoeic words (words that imitate the sounds like snap, crackle, and pop--remember those adorable Rice Krispy characters--maybe I'm dating myself).

Smell and taste are the last two senses that are often the least common found in writing, but when you have a dinner scene, these two senses are readily available to share with the reader. Or, if your character nears a pig farm on clean out day in one of your scenes, there's a pungent odour that will curdle in his mouth for sure. (I live not too far from one and believe me, our clothesline is never used on the days the piggies homes are being disinfected.) Anyway, the point is, watch for scenes that certain senses can enhance and make it real for the reader.

And it is not surprising, of course, to realize that by evoking one or more of the senses, you can show many emotions. He nestled his face into her silken tendrils, savoring the rich lilac scent that always carried him home.

Tomorrow we'll take a look at Point of View in the Christian Romance as discussed in Gail Gaymer Martin's writing resource book, Writing the Christian Romance.

Okay, I was brave and displayed an example of how senses can be used to show emotion. In my example, tranquility/contentment was what I hoped came out through that line. Now, what about you? Will you share an example of how you reveal a character's emotion through showing. It doesn't have to be in one sentence, sometimes it takes a series of them, a painting of a picture, if you will, to convey emotion or mood. Looking forward to reading some good ones for us all to learn from.



1 comment:

Georgiana Daniels said...

I almost always forget taste. That one is easy to overlook if I'm not careful.