February 13, 2008
Mary Shelley frowns as Al, the Gonquin’s owner, with a dramatic conspiratorial wink, places a blood-red rose in front of her and says, “From a secret admirer.”
Eyebrows around the main table rise as if pulled by a puppet string. Bram says, “From Dr. Frankenstein, no doubt.”
Mary blushes, “Given the color–and the proximately to St. Valentine’s day–it more likely comes from your Count Dracula.”
Papa, hands layered over his heart, says, “To quote the bard, ‘As soon go kindle fire with snow, as seek to quench the fire of love with words.’”
Edgar with a swatting hand tries to wave away the sweet comments. “These symbols of love, these words, its emotion, emotion to the core. The issue we as writers must deal with is how to convey not just the feeling of love but the essence of all relevant emotion through our work. Hate, fear, anger, disgust, sadness, happiness. Putting our pen to these and making them flow to the reader is the challenge we face. Without convincingly infusing these into our characters and stories we write nothing but hollow tracts filled with reason and no heart. ”
Not for the first time, Edgar has stilled the quick tongues around the table. If there is an immediate reaction to his words it is one of logic, not emotion, as thoughts seem to ricochet inside skulls. Bram is the first to respond. “Though I hate to admit it, you raise an interesting issue. My first reaction is you cannot convey an idea without impregnating it with emotion. Ideas standing alone are straw men easily picked apart by determined crows.”
Papa raps his briar on the oak table then points the stem at Bram and says, “Unfortunately, dear friend, you are wrong. Ideas are best presented without emotion. Though Darwin wrote with passion, he did not argue from a visceral platform. He laid his hypothesis, his evidence, and the conclusions he drew from them on the table, unadorned with emotion.”
“But,” Mary, catching Papa between words, interrupts, “there is a difference in fiction. As we spin our stories what we do is give life to ideas, we take them from Dr. Frankenstein’s scientific table and show how they affect the lives of people. To that extent, Bram is entirely correct.”
Edgar says, “To me the issue is not whether we embed emotion into our work, but how to do it without being melodramatic, without insulting the reader. For example, in my story, The Pit And The Pendulum, the key emotion is fear. Using the atmosphere of the setting: the melting candles, blackened cell, lurking hazards, the scythe, and the unknown at the bottom of the pit, my goal was to elicit horror and its handmaiden, the emotion, fear. You feel the fear my narrator feels even though he does not admit to it. My sense, then, is that it is the atmosphere you create that can best evoke emotion.”
“Ah,” says Mary. “To ‘evoke emotion,’ what does that mean? Is our challenge to create a feeling in the reader or to effectively describe the emotions experienced by our characters? The difference, I think, is subtle, yet important.”
“I’m not so sure,” Papa says. “If the task is to have readers understand the emotion felt by the character, what better way than to duplicate that feeling in the reader. It’s the old ‘show versus tell’ admonition. And Edgar, while I would agree that atmosphere is an effective tool, I think there are other means by which to convey emotion. Analogy, metaphor, and word choice to name a few. Think of old Lancaster in Elmer Gantry, ‘And what is love? Love is the mornin’ and the evenin’ star. It shines on the cradle of the Babe. Hear ye, sinners. Love is the inspiration of poets and philosophers. Love is the voice of music.’ No finer description of love than that.”
Bram says, “As always, dear friend, you are right. It always comes down to understanding on the part of the reader. And, I would add foreshadowing to your list, little hints that alert the reader to what is ahead. Anticipation—whether it be of affection, anxiety, contempt, frustration, or shame—is, I think, is the foundation upon which feeling is built. Emotion does not pounce on one like a puma, instead, it sneaks up like twilight before the night. For me it has been an effective device to elicit emotion.
Edgar, smug, treating us to a self satisfied look, says, “I think we have agreement. And as my erstwhile pupil, Stephen King, says ‘The most important things are the hardest to say, because words diminish them.’ No doubt, emotions in writing are both important and hard to capture.”
The rose still rests in Mary’s hand. Who sent it seems less important, now, as we think of its implication. Is it an attempt to create an atmosphere? An analogy? A metaphor? A foreshadowing? If so, to what purpose? It makes us all anxious.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008