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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

But How Do You FEEL About That?

The word people use most often to describe my fiction writing is “cinematic.” The first few times I heard it, I asked for clarification; I mean, wouldn’t you? It’s not the kind of thing people say to everyone.

People told me my stuff was big, as in big-screen HD with a surround sound system. It was passionate and colorful and exciting.

“I feel like I’m watching a movie,” one of my crit-mates said a few months ago, and I nodded and smiled. I’d heard it before. But then she added something that no one else had been able to convey concisely: Books and movies are not the same things. What makes one work isn’t necessarily what works for the other.

In a book, “we’re in [the heroine’s] head,” she told me. So “let us know what concerns her. That’s what makes books different than movies. [The] depth.” Seeing inside the character’s head, experiencing her emotions with her.

I quickly identified why I wasn’t emphasizing or sometimes even acknowledging my heroine’s enormous inner struggle over falling in love with a man who was also a sworn enemy. Somewhere along the way I’d taken to heart that classic writer’s advice: show, don’t tell. Problem was, sometimes telling is important, too. In my fear that I’d end up with a manuscript full of melodramatic telling, I’d excised the soul of the novel, the thing that made it a novel rather than a screenplay or something else: my characters' inner conflicts and emotions.

We can spend some time in another post talking about why telling too much about characters’ emotions can create the dreaded purple prose. For right now, though, I want you to ask yourself something you’ve probably never thought to worry about – are you putting enough emotion into your stories? Are you sharing your characters’ internal turmoil? You know they’re experiencing it – but do your readers?

Don’t get me wrong. I still hope people call my writing cinematic. But now they can say that because it’s passionate and colorful and exciting and, most importantly, because it has the special emotional insights that only a novel can offer.


Jane Lebak said...

Thanks for this. I had issues with this too for a while.

BTW, that graphic -- is it from an Imagi project I would know and love? ;-)

Scott said...

Great post. I share my characters' internal turmoils, perhaps a bit too much at times. I think there's a fine balance that every writer must find between too much and too little.

Personally, as a reader, I want to get inside the minds of the characters I'm reading about. I want to know why they wore the purple shoes with the orange dress. What was she (or he, for that matter) thinking? What was the motivation? A pat "Oh, I just wanted to be different today" really wouldn't cut it for me, as a reader. : )


Anne Gallagher said...

Excellent post. And the answer to your question is "I don't know". I think I've got enough showing in my heroine so that readers will see her inner struggle. I know I cry when I get to the end of the book. I'll have to think some more on this.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wonderful post. As a reader, I want to be wrapped up in the story so much so that I am in the book (in my own mind). As a writer, I want to be just as wrapped up in the characters and the story. I want to live what I write as I write it.

Suzette Saxton said...

Excellent article. You had me spellbound from the first word to the last.

Mrs. Major said...

That's really interesting. I struggle w/ telling to much and have even practiced writing screenplays to help me learn to show more. I better beware of doing the opposite too much as well. Thanks!

Angie said...

I think that's one of the things I really love about both writing and reading is getting very intimately inside the head of someone else.

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

There's a lot to be said for honest crit partners, huh? Glad I've got one too. *wink*

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Yep, Phil -- you recognized right!

Glad you all are finding this as helpful as I did! Thank goodness for fantastic crit-mates! ;)

Pamela Hammonds said...

This was a timely post for me. While writing my current WIP in first person, I find myself pulling back a bit because I don't want my character to come across weak/wimpy/needy/insecure when that's exactly what she's feeling right now. And don't we all at some point in our lives? Revealing this will make her transformation in the end all that more meaningful. Thanks for the nudge.

Jeff King said...

Great reminder... thx for sharing.

Andrew Rosenberg said...

I think what they mean is that you write in "Cinematic Point-of-View" meaning that your story reads like a movie where we get no insight on your character's thoughts and motivations.
It's kind of like first person--except the first person is the movie goer. I could write a book based on everything I saw in Avatar, describing everything down to the minutest detail, and I'm sure it would be a captivating book.
The thing is, as novelists, we have an opportunity (but NOT an obligation) to take that POV deeper. Instead of placing the camera up and behind our characters, we can place it right inside their heads, and experience what they experience, feel what they feel. It gives us an opportunity to connect with the reader on another level.
For example, in a screenplay, you might add direction like
"she picked up the pencil and looked at it"
In a novel you could write
"She picked up the pencil her mother used to use and studied the worn edges and the chewed eraser, wondering if this was the last thing she had ever touched."
Maybe a little melodramatic, but you get the idea. :)

Munk said...