azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 11:29am on 08/12/2007 under
I've been thinking about the portrayal of emotions in fic, and why it disturbs me when I'm told explicitly what a character is feeling. I used to think that it was because, in real life, people are only rarely aware of how emtoions are affecting them - if I'm bad-tempered and snappy, I almost always assume it's because people are being so damned irritating and it's only when my kids say "EAT SOMETHING!" that I realise the bad temper comes from me, and is not a natural and rational reaction to external circumstances. Similarly, if someone accuses you of something you already feel guilty about (::koff:: lack of housework ::koff::), you're likely to react far more aggressively than if you genuinely feel they aren't aware of your innocence in this matter. So it always seem rather unrealistic to me when a character's feeling are directly caused by external events, in a sort of one-to-one relationship, and even more unrealistic when the characters are aware of the connection. Moreoever, I don't think people often think about their emotions - I don't believe people often look at someone and think "God, I love this person so much" or "I hate this person", they think about the things that unleash that feeling in them - the delightful way they wrinkle their nose, or the infuriating way they sniff before every sentence. And, more likely still, they think about how they want to react to that stimulus, rather than the stimulus itself (which in turn will tell the reader everything they need to know about the emotion driving that response).

But I think the problem goes deeper than a lack of truthfulness about human nature, and it struck me the other day that this is another of those parallels between writing and acting, as discussed on [livejournal.com profile] metafandom a couple of months back. Because one of Stanislavsky's basic tenets is that you don't produce truthful acting by concentrating on emotional states. Quite the contrary, deliberately trying to induce a particular emotion by thinking about it will inevitably produce a clichéd performance. What you do instead is focus on the external events that produced the feeling and try to imagine them as fully as possible. Do that thoroughly enough, and the feeling will come all by itself. For the director, this means telling an actor that in this scene they're "angry" or "grief-stricken" or "in love" isn't helpful. Instead, you try to help them imagine the situation as clearly as possible so that it evokes anger/grief/love in them, and you do that by focusing on external details. This is true of method acting as well - in order to recreate a sense memory, you don't think about how you felt at the time, you imagine who you were with, what they were wearing, what time of day it was, whether you were sitting or standing or walking, what your hands were doing - all the little concrete details that bring that moment vividly to life. And that will automatically bring the emotion with it, whereas if you just think about the emotion, you'll end up with a cliché. And similarly in fiction, rather than having feelings described (which is actually rather boring, because where's the challenge for me as the reader if what the character feels is explicitly laid out in black and white?), I most enjoy stories where we're told what triggers the emotion, and then left to work out for ourselves what that emotion might be.

This isn't a hard and fast rule, of course. There aren't any of those, and anyway, there are times and places where a simple "X exploded with anger" better suits the pacing than a lengthy listing of all the things that made X angry (although if we don't already know why X is angry, simply being told they're angry won't do much for us).

For hurt/comfort fics (with or without the comfort), I think this applies to descriptions of pain, as well. I don't think any description of pain can ever bring the reader close to imagining what it felt like. We can't even remember what our own pain felt like, after a decent interval has passed - we remember that that toothache hurt like hell, but not the actual feeling. But you help trigger the memories by recalling the external effects the pain had - how every time you bit down on something, you gave a yelp; how you started to avoid anything more solid than yogurt; how you couldn't concentrate on what anyone was saying; how in the end, for the first time in your life, you were actually looking forward to going to the dentist.
azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 06:09pm on 03/12/2007 under
Gacked from [livejournal.com profile] shimere277 and hopefully springing up all over the place at LJs near you. Not so much rules, really, as things to bear in mind/aspire to/totally fail at.

1. It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it.
2. Everything should do more than one job.
3. The end should be present in the beginning and the beginning in the end.
4. Sometimes less is more and sometimes more is necessary. It's knowing which applies in any given case that's tricky. And similarly...
5. Sometimes you have to kill your darlings, and sometimes you have to kill everything else. Even if it means rewriting the whole damn story.
6. There is no rule 6. There aren't really any rules at all.
7. The less self-insight a character has, the easier they are to write.
8. Everything works much better if you take it seriously, even if what you are taking seriously is that the main character has been turned into a sixty foot tall ball of string.
9. Rhythm and pace are as important as the semantics of individual words.
10. Pack as much of the "work" as possible into the dialogue.

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