Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Show Me the Way

Musical Influence:  "House of Cards" Hurt (Blackmarket EP, 2006)


There have been many times in my life when emotion has taken over. When I no longer have control over what my mouth is saying and everything that I’d held inside for so long came front and centered. There is nothing like those moments, vulnerable and exposed to the one who’s either caused you pain or you’ve loved like no one before them. It’s in those moments that we realize who we are inside.


For some of us emotion is not easily said aloud but easier shown in small gestures that are often overlooked. It’s easy to say the words, “I love you” if you don’t really mean it. Words are often regaled as the emotion behind the person but without these gestures behind the meaning, it truly isn’t worth the last turnip on the turnip truck.


I’ve often thought about those gestures behind my characters. What makes them act the way they do? What makes you engage the character? Visualization of the scene, gestures that seem real and not overbearing. You really have to analyze every day life and those around you in order to get an understanding of this. To me this is one of the most important jobs of a writer. I want you to feel like you are in that scene. Like you can feel the motivation behind my character’s actions. If you can’t physically feel that emotion draped between the words, sentences, paragraphs, then I’m obviously not conveying it the right way.



I can think of a few writers that do this and do this well. I adore dark heroes. The darker the better. But that’s what makes their redemption so much sweeter in the end. The dark heroes know how to do the gestures behind their actions. For them, it’s the only way they can truly express their feelings without feeling overpowered by the moment.



It’s the small gestures that, to the reader, tell you everything you need to know about the relationship between two characters. There is no telling of these emotions, there is no need. As a reader, you sense that connection between the hero and heroine. Without that connection, I wouldn’t be a reader of their fiction. Plain and simple. I don’t need to be told of the emotion. Seriously, any schmuck can say the words “I love you” and grin like an idiot and that still doesn’t mean, to me, that they actually care or genuinely love. They are saying the words. There can be all the basis in the world behind them, and they still might not mean anything without the gesture of love behind it.



What do I mean by gesture, you might ask? To me, the gesture of love and emotion is showing me you mean it. By not just saying it, you truly feel it. Nothing will separate us. Not obsessive or overbearing; but that one true deep emotion that happens once in a million years. Pamela Clare just has this wonderful way of writing the emotional gestures behind the action. My favorite example of Pamela Clare’s gestures is *spoiler for Hard Evidence* when Julian steps into the line of fire and takes several bullets in the back for Tessa. Yes, he’s a FBI agent, but it’s the moments afterwards. The way Julian reacts. The tenderness between them when Tessa cries for him that truly shows you the gestures behind the motivation and emotion. It’s complex. It’s raw. And it’s truly awe-inspiring.



Julian is a different breed of dark hero. A man who truly doesn’t know his worth because he was never taught. There was no trust in his heart. No love in his life. My heart pitter-patters at the thought of Julian, dark sunglasses, 5 o’clock shadow, lean hips swaggering towards me. You can just tell that Julian is all action, no talk.



Not to mention Janet Evanovich’s character Ranger (R. Carlos Manoso). All of the words that come out of Ranger’s mouth contradict his actions. The way he unabashedly tells the truth no matter how painful it is to hear it. He tells it straight. He makes no apologies. He’s hard and unforgiving. And it takes a special sort of love to understand him. If you hear the words come out of Ranger’s mouth you can take it to heart. He thinks about what he says before he speaks. Every word is weighed carefully. Don’t say things you don’t mean. But there is a sneakiness about Ranger as well. Qualifiers. Contradictions. Keeping at arm’s length.



Looks that tell a different story. Actions that show exactly what he feels.



Take for an example: In Twelve Sharp *spoilers for Twelve Sharp* the book is about Ranger’s daughter with whom he has little contact with. When asked about it, he speaks of her clinically, without emotion, detached. But his actions tell a different story. He exudes his every resource to find her. Spends countless hours awake, searching, hunting, tracking down leads. He enlists Stephanie to help him. And when he sees his little girl’s smiling face on the TV and a picture of him, listed as armed and dangerous, you see his mask slip and the emotion becomes very raw and painful. And even then, Stephanie knows that his daughter is just not another expense in his budget, but a real emotion he keep close to his heart and never shows to anyone.



So, in your opinion, who is the master of these sorts of gestures? What sort of characters suck you in and never let you go? Has there ever been a scene that just stuck out for you and stayed with you long after you sat the book down?

23 comments:

Maureen said...

Specific? Oh, wow. I don't know if I can name things. I see things on TV... The slight eye twitch that betrays hurt... The minute fall of a smile...

One thing I've noticed in books is how a hero or heroine reveals emotions by interactions with animals. A stray cat they feed, or curling up with a dog...those things speak without words and are almost without witness. The reader only sees because the writer with deliberation included it.

Sin said...

The slight eye twitch that betrays hurt... The minute fall of a smile..

I love these sorts of tells too.

Sin said...

I feel like people can open up to pets because they don't fear rejection from them. With adults, not only do we have tells, but we can speak to one another. We can deceive one another. And animals rarely deceive. You usually know where you stand with them.

MsHellion said...

I agree--pets and vulnerable people are a perfect match in a book because the pets KNOW. And best of all, they accept you and don't judge you for what has left the character feeling like shit, which is why the character is usually more willing to own up to feelings, et al.

THE BEST MAN (Higgins) I read over the weekend--the man is emotionally constipated. He'll say the wrong thing. He glares a lot. Several times I wanted to thump the book on the table to bash some sense into the guy. But then he'd kiss her or bake cookies at 3 am or do something that made you think, "Yeah, he's a goner."

Terri Osburn said...

Searching my brain for a specific author landed me in the past. LaVyrle Spencer was the absolute best at this. I couldn't possibly recall a specific line or scene, but I know that woman could pack more emotion onto a page than any other writer. And she did it with subtlety and a less-is-more approach.

Dorothy Garlock is another. Her books will absolutely rip your heart out, but again, subtle. Simple. She writes about very ordinary people in what seem like ordinary times, mostly mid-20th century but she has a slew of historicals as well, but what's happening in the story is monumental to the characters. Making it monumental and gut-wrenching for the reader.

Sin said...

I really do heart emotionally constipated heroes in stories. There is just something that warms my heart about a man who grunts answers and refuses to fall no matter what the heroine does to make him love her.

Oh, reluctant love, how I heart thee.

Sin said...

Simple and subtle is so beautiful. Understated.

P. Kirby said...

Well, I do have fondness for difficult fictional* men, snarky, obnoxious jerks who say whatever the hell is on their mind and are nevertheless funny. They have to be funny, otherwise they are just alpha-a-holes. (*I married the not-difficult, heart-on-his sleeve guy. I'm not stoopid.) Even Ranger, who is laconic to a fault, is dryly funny.

Reluctant love is cool, but however the romance progresses, I actually prefer the attraction to be expressed through gestures and not by the author telling me how hot character A is for character B.

I confess, that as much as I love romance, a lot of romance novels are just too "tell-y" when it comes to emotion. I've really rather be shown, again through the characters' actions and gestures, how they feel. Maybe I like filling in the blanks and not being told exactly what the person is feeling at every point in the story. This goes for characters of either gender. The idea that ONLY men are emotionally constipated is a HUGE myth.

Terri Osburn said...

I'm with you on this, Pat. Which is why I've purchased the Emotion Thesaurus. Cause I needs help in this area. My editor will tell you that everyone runs their hand through their hair. Every. One. Apparently I have lots of frustrated characters in my books.

But I've also been editing for so long, I'm not even sure I can recognize showing from telling anymore. My brain cells have shut down or something.

Maureen said...

The Emotional Thesaurus is awesome!

P. Kirby said...

Yah know, Terri, I'm thinking your novel is going to be all manner of awesome. Looking forward to it!

Sin asked for examples, and my tendency is go back to favorite books I've mentioned a billion times. But...I think the book I'm reading now, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchett (YA), is so far rocking the gestures and actions thing. Just read a scene where the alpha male type from the local military school just did something that oh-so subtly and simultaneously, clearly demonstrates his affections for the protagonist. Just loved it. And there are passages in this book that are so good they make me hurt. I'm at about 45-percent; hopefully the story won't fall apart later.

MsHellion said...

The idea that ONLY men are emotionally constipated is a HUGE myth.

Um, yeah, can personally vouch for this.

Terri Osburn said...

Aw, Pat. *kicks pebble across the deck* You're gonna make me blush. *beams* I hope you like it!

Now I need to look up that YA book for kiddo. She's totally sucked into the Mortal Instruments. You read those? She tried reading The Host and couldn't take it so she gave up.

P. Kirby said...

I've read the first Mortal Instruments book and I don't really get the love lavished on the books. It was kind of fun, quite readable, and usually fast paced. It was also so, so, so, predictable. I know Clare has had some, ahem, controversy in the fan fiction community for alleged plagiarism, and maybe that's because her "homages" to other fiction are so gratingly obvious. I don't expect stories to be entirely original, but the plot elements in the novel often felt like a direct rip-off. Also, the heroine was terribly passive. At the same time, I'm mildly curious about what happens next.

Jellicoe Road isn't paranormal--more like very light magical realism. It's a little confusing in the beginning, but so far, downright profound, once it gets going.

Terri Osburn said...

Kiddo tried City of Bones and didn't like it enough to stay with it. Then she saw the trailer for the movie, which she has no watch 8,742,365 times. I believe she's now on book 4.

I'm guessing its target demographic might not see the predictability.

JulieJustJulie said...

"I confess, that as much as I love romance, a lot of romance novels are just too "tell-y" when it comes to emotion. I've really rather be shown, again through the characters' actions and gestures, how they feel."

Me too. I think that it "feels" more realistic. And it is, again IMO, One of the things that makes a good writer a great storyteller. My writerdude is very good at writing scenes in which his characters show their true/internalized feelings by interacting with inanimate objects or their surroundings. that being said, he tends to shy away from utilizing tools like body language etc. To much dialogue not enough 'show me' interaction. It takes away from the natural flow of the story, because lets face it is natural for people react physically, even when they are trying to hide that reaction and their true feelings.
So.
He has been working on his show me don't tell me storytelling technique.
But now i'm beginning to wonder if ... well judge for yourself. Taken from his significant other's FB page...
" Today I woke up to a message that said "I'd like to write I miss you on a rock and throw it at your head so you know how much I hurt when I miss you." My boyfriend is quite the romantic."

JulieJustJulie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JulieJustJulie said...

So much for show me don't tell me.
Men ... Sigh.
Don't they know that there are times when they should ignore a woman's opinion? I need to send him to Q's for Enlightenment

Sin said...

I had to look up this emotional thesaurus. I must have this next time I order from amazon. Interesting.

Marnee Bailey said...

I've been trying to think of scenes that stayed with me. In Perfect, by Judith McNaught, there's a scene where the heroine turns the hero over to the police, thinking he killed someone. He's come to her to propose and then he realizes that she's betrayed him. It's really heartbreaking.

Sin said...

I find that I have a hard time conveying emotion. Mostly because I'm emotionally constipated myself. So by the time I've sat down and done some soul searching in the character, I'm already emotionally out of that scene I'm writing. For me, writing emotion can be soul sucking especially showing it. I want to it read the way it makes me feel to write emotion. That lung crushing, fist wrapped around my heart so tight it struggles to beat. And rarely do I succeed the first time.

I think writing emotion comes in layers. Much like peeling onion layers, you write emotion layer by layer- each time you read through the scene you add a little more to it instead of taking away.

Sin said...

Marn, that sounds like an awesome book. Intrigue and betrayal. Two of my favorite things :)

Terri Osburn said...

That is the second time today I've seen the book Perfect mentioned. Judith McNaught almost single-handedly got me through HS alive. Those books will always hold a special place in my heart. And that one is one of the best.