I’m kind of awkward, sometimes talk too much, sometimes don’t talk at all, often wish I hadn’t spoken when I do, and also talk and write in run on sentences!
I’m a writer.
I’m also kind of emotional, ask anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you, I’m not afraid to scream with excitement, cry when I’m hurt, or even with joy. I’m not afraid to feel, orshare my feelings, sometimes I’m too open with how I feel…however, when it’s something big…something I haven’t experienced before…something for which there’s no training, I freeze. I don’t react. I hold back, waiting for instructions, waiting for someone to tell me what the right thing is to do. Because, I wouldn’t want to do the wrong thing.
So, when my editor told me I needed more emotional description, I was surprised, everyone knows how I feel, and surely everyone could see how my characters felt. Right?
But I worked on it, I fixed it…I thought. Then, this weekend, at the California Writer’s Conference, during a critique with author, Barbara Ankrum, I had to do some self-reflection after I was told that she could see how my other characters felt, but not how the main character was feeling…and as we all know, our characters, especially main characters, while fictional, have elements of the author in them. So why am I not getting her feelings across?
Why, when Violet, who always does the right thing, is confronted with the unimaginable, am I unable to show how she’s feeling? Why can’t I get her emotions on the page. And then I realized what it was. Violet behaved exactly as I did, she froze, she didn’t know how she was allowed to react, she didn’t know how she was supposed to feel. And confrontation is ugly, dirty, and might mess up her hair.
Now some of that might surprise those who know me because, well, I’m not an ‘every hair in place’ kind of girl. I’d like to be, but even in the 80’s with my hair shellacked with Final Net, I didn’t have every hair in place, but inside I feel like I’m supposed to. Inside I know that every hair should be in place, the bed should be made, and no dishes should be left in the sink.
And then I realized something that I hadn’t realized before. I’d actually been in some of the situations that Violet was in…not exactly, of course, again this is fiction, but similar, and in writing Violet, as in real life, I shut down. I froze, I couldn’t share exactly what she felt, I held back, she held back waiting for instructions.
Again, Violet isn’t me. She’s an oil heiress and former Rose Queen in 1928, a fictional character, real only on the pages of my manuscript. But it’s my job, to bring her to life, to help readers to feel what Violet feels, and see things through her eyes.
So I’m back to work. I don’t have to change Violet, her reactions are real, I have to help the reader to understand how she feels. Now, thanks to Barbara, I have instructions, I believe I know what to do, but ultimately, you’ll have to decide.
Which authors make you experience the characters feelings? Who brings their heroines/heroes to life for you? I’d love to know!
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