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Monday, July 16, 2012

Emotions in Writing

Two research projects intersected into a wonderful revelation for me. While I was studying one of Nora Roberts's free short stories downloaded from her official website--to search for why her writing so mesmerizes me--I also made a list of some of my fave movies to look for the similarities--to see what I both sought and found in those books and films--as that is most likely my writing niche.

But I was looking at genre and situation and plot and other such elements trying to find that unifying cord that screamed, "Denise, this is your (one) true place, theme, genre."

I know. Seems I should already be aware of this as I understand me best, right? Not so much here with this specific insight. Plus, I wanted the clarity. All the goal-setting tips say so and, as an author, it helps to have a guiding principle. Both for writing in general and for each special project. I read somewhere that a problem with a story is either tied to the author or the tale (or maybe a little of each). Having a target in mind should clear the way from both angles.

Yes, I write romantic suspense novels with some wry humor thrown in for good measure--although one of my CPs just the other week described my writing as more mainstream and not strictly romance. Good! After all, Nora Roberts is my mentor, my hero, my benchmark. She changed the landscape of the romance genre, expanding it, incorporating elements from the other categories.

Plus she elevates her imaginings from the superficiality of sight-based-only romances to dig deeper, sharing beautiful insights into humanity and psychological glimpses into her characters' minds. It is not about who is merely beautiful and rich; Nora adds layers fully fleshing out her characters to become alive and yet real with foibles and insecurities and fears as well as goals and dreams.

I believe she's covered all basic genre themes while under the romance umbrella writing as Nora Roberts, or under the futuristic police procedurals writing as J.D. Robb. Luckily for me, her brand of horror is lightly handled and swept away fast (the child incest/molestation, the graphic murders), which allows me to keep reading her stuff over these speed bumps of utter disgust.

More than one of her stories has magic, paranormal elements, mystery, women's fiction, action, adventure, glitz, police procedure, murder, mainstream psychological insight, comedy/humor, love and some horror; appearing in contemporary, future, western and historical time frames; from domestic settings to foreign; on land or on sea or on another planet.  Did I miss anything?

Which brings me to this post about my revelation.

Certain emotions are tied to certain genres: such as fright with horror, HEA love with romance, wonder with fantasy, humor with comedy, etc. But with new crossover books and universal authors like Nora, we have blending going on, such as paranormal romantic suspense and chick lit and steampunk and new combos brewing even now.

Here's my latest light-bulb moment: We seek more than just one emotion in our movies, in our reading. The particular films and fiction we choose--and still like after viewing and reading--hit those spots we want to have stirred up. Those "bad" selections are simply markers of entertainment focusing on another set of feelings we do not wish to relive.

For me, it is horror in the strictest sense. I do not like to be surprised or scared. Yet, The Mummy (movie remake with Brendan Fraser) doesn't frighten me in the least, no matter being branded as a horror. But I refuse to see The Silence of the Lambs or Hitchcock's Psycho--even though I already know both punch lines.

Another particular taboo is sad movies that make me cry. And cry. And cry some more. I'm not a crybaby. Life can cause enough tears and sadness which we cannot control. Who needs more of our own election?

Still, one of my favorite movies is P.S. I Love You which is a real tearjerker. Somehow I can occasionally rewatch that flick. Maybe because the love overshadows the grief by a tad? Yet, there is another big-name author whose books have been made into movies and the sadness is to such an intense level that I cannot handle it.

Death is another element I avoid. Yet I love Murder, She Wrote and J.D. Robb's In Death series. Probably because we don't even know the dead guy.  I'm emotionally separated enough from the deceased stranger to care only about justice, a theme, instead of knowing the victim and harboring personal thoughts of revenge for the death of my best friend, my lover, my family.

It is okay if I learn more about the unknown person as long as it is in dribbles throughout the tale, well after the initial murder, as in the case of J.D. Robb's books.

But my same CP mentioned above said I should do more with the characters who die in my books. No. Not my main genre. Not my style. Not my forte. I am not so equipped. I'll leave it for others to handle artfully.

So the death of one of my major characters in a current WIP is a footnote basically.  I've led my readers through two hundred pages getting to know this person and they will be hit hard by the death, even though we all know it is coming.  But is in the background.

My psyche can only process it that way.

Therefore, if you are looking for gory deaths--with chapters full of details on how the villains tortured and mutilated their victims, the bad guys' anger increasing after they pushed their punishments too far, causing their playthings to die, bringing to an abrupt end all the other wonderful pain and misery the evil ones had planned to inflict--you won't find that in my books.

However, if you are like me and crave love and action and adventure and suspense and comedy and wonder and mysteries--whether regarding murder or learning something (think House, M.D. or Numb3rs or the Discovery Channel)--then that is what you should write as an author and read as a fan.

Incorporate all those elements you seek in your entertainment within your own creations.

It is not about one genre, even a crossover.

It is about emotions. In multiples.

Once I made that link, I'm now seeing it vividly as I again enjoy, yet like a first timer, my beloved TV shows, fave movies, endearing books.

My empirical data proves my own theory.

This new praxis frees me from the rather restrictive genre definitions or even various plotlines. Too narrow. My focus is on a higher level. A universal bond. Through emotions.

I can now easily dissect Nora Roberts aka J.D. Robb while remaining within her storytelling spell.  She evokes sympathy, empathy, love, jealousy, anger, while stirring up themes of justice, love conquers all, the good guys win at the end. Right in line with my own thinking.

It shouldn't amaze me, but it does.  Something this elegant, this . . . simple, yet grand--well, it boggles my brain. As discussed on this blog before, a mind once opened to a new distinction, a nouveau idea, has had its boundaries stretched, never to go back again.

Wow!  What a wonderful discovery . . . To my readers, this may seem like a "Well, duh!" moment.  And they usually are. What seems complex is simple. Our answers are hidden in plain sight.


Denise Barker, author + blogger +
Freelance Copy Editor, http://bit.ly/freelanceCE
Good Ole Boys, a love story at http://amzn.to/GoodOleBoys

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