Saturday, October 30, 2010

Scenes Which Make Us Cry

Writers are emotional, empathetic creatures. If we weren’t sensitive, we’d hardly be able to write believably human characters, would we?

“Your characters are so real,” is one of the comments I hear most often about my books. I LOVE hearing this commentary from readers and reviewers. Other words describing my writing such as heartwarming, touching, stirring, poignant and page-turning are also used to describe my works.

But why?

I think it’s because I’m emotional, empathetic and sensitive like many of my fellow writers. I strive to create believable scenes which will connect with readers by making them laugh, cry or even get ticked off. I want readers to FEEL what the characters feel.

Once in a while I include a scene in a book which is so highly emotional it makes me laugh or cry every time I read it--even after doing edits over and over again. To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s an excerpt from “Laura’s Lost Love” which always makes me cry. See if you find it as emotional as I do.

Setup: 1912 Heart Junction, SD. Laura Windsor has been trying to get a little Puerto Rican girl from the orphan train permanently placed with her. Since she is a single woman the town council refuses to approve the placement. However, up to now the girl has stayed with Laura for several months because she’s a sickly child and no one has wanted to take her in. At this point in the story, the girl must be sent back to New York or placed with a farm couple who are known for treating their children more like servants than sons and daughters. (This is a historical romance so, naturally, Gavin, the man who is in charge of orphan placements also happens to be in love with Laura, and he’s torn between duty and love for her and little Angelina.)

Monday, January 6, 1913 was the most difficult day in Gavin’s life. He couldn’t keep his mind on his work. At four o’clock he would take Angelina to the Cravens.

Gavin found Laura’s shop closed when he arrived. He went around back to her apartment and knocked on the door.

Senor Gaveen,” Angelina said dejectedly when she opened the door. “I am not happy to see you today.”

He wanted to turn around and run or scoop Angelina into his arms and never let her go. He wanted to do anything but what he had to do. He forced himself to smile. Perhaps a smile, fake as it was, would help to ease Angelina’s long face. “You look very pretty today, Angelina.”

She shook her head. “No, I do not look pretty today. I am too sad to be pretty. My madrina has told me you will take me away from her to live with another family.”

He wished he were dead.

Gavin drew in a strengthening breath. “Yes, little one, I am afraid the law requires me to do as you’ve said. I don’t want to, but it is my duty.”

Laura appeared at the door. “Mr. Maitland, come in.” She leaned toward Angelina. “Darling, you know better than to leave the door open when it is cold outside.” She tugged Angelina back so she could open the door wide enough to let Gavin inside.

He entered the house and took off his hat. “Hello, Laura.”

She did not return his greeting. She went to the parlor and took hold of a bag. She brought it to Gavin and handed it to him. “These are Angelina’s things.”

Gavin took the bag and looked at Laura carefully. She’d been crying. Her eyes were red and swollen. “I’m sorry, Laura.”

“So you’ve said, Mr. Maitland.” Her voice had a choking sound to it.

“We’ll find a way around all of this, Laura. I’ll drive you to Aberdeen to see the lawyer tomorrow, if you’d like.”

“Yes,” she said. “The sooner the better.”

Madrina,” Angelina whimpered as she took Laura’s hand, “I don’t want to go.”

Laura fell to her knees and took the child into her arms. “Oh, my sweet darling.” She looked up at Gavin as she held her little girl. “I can’t bear this, Mr. Maitland.”

Neither could he, he decided, but he had no more choice in the matter than Laura or Angelina did. “I’m sorry.”

Laura closed her eyes and held her little girl tightly. “I love you, Angelina. Don’t ever forget that. I’ll see you everyday. I’ll come to school and eat with you. I’ll come after school and walk with you.”

Madrina,” Angelina cried, “Mama, I don’t want to go!”

“I know,” Laura said, pulling back. She wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I don’t want you to go, but the law requires you to go to be with the Cravens today.”

Angelina cried even harder and shook her head. “I don’t like the law, Mama.”

Laura embraced the girl again. “Neither do I, my darling. I’m going to change the nasty, cold, unfeeling law, Angelina, and I’m going to have you back.”

“Yes, Mama. I want to come back to you.”

Gavin watched helplessly, knowing he had no small part in the suffering of these two precious ones he loved.

Laura pulled away from Angelina. “You must be brave. Be a big girl for me. Be kind to Mr. and Mrs. Craven.” She took Angelina’s coat and put it on her. “Remember to say your prayers and to bathe your face and clean your teeth everyday.” She buttoned Angelina’s coat. “Say please and thank you.” She put Angelina’s hat on her. “Button up when you go outside. Keep warm. I don’t want you to get sick.” She stood up and looked down at her little girl. “Can you remember all of what I told you?”

“I’ll remember,” she said, wiping a tear from her cheek.

“That’s my good girl,” Laura said, smiling at her. “Now, you go outside and wait by Mr. Maitland’s rig. I have a few words to share with him before he takes you to the Cravens.”

Angelina reluctantly obeyed Laura and went outside.

Gavin waited for a verbal knifing, but he knew nothing Laura would say could possibly be as painful to endure as the woeful scene he had just witnessed.

Laura lifted her chin and folded her arms. “Did you hear?” Her voice cracked as she spoke. “She called me Mama. She’s always called me Madrina (godmother). Now, as she’s leaving me, she has called me Mama.”

He’d noticed. “We’ll make it official, Laura. You will be her mama legally. I vow I’ll find a way.”

“I might doubt your ability to make Angelina my daughter once and for all,” Laura said ruefully, “but I don’t doubt mine. Now that she has called me Mama, there is no turning back, no giving up, no relinquishing of the ties which will bind us together until we are separated by death. Angelina is my daughter, and I am her mother. I will fight to the death to protect our bond.”

* * *

Where’s my Kleenex?

Okay, you don’t know these people as well as readers who have read about their struggles from the beginning, so maybe you aren’t tearing up, but I did--again!

Even without having read their story up to this point it isn’t difficult to see this scene holds great emotion. The characters are raw with it; their hearts are clearly visible; their determination to fight back against the unfairness of this family separation is palpable.

In other words, this scene is real, identifiable to the reader. As a reader I love a strong emotional scene like this--a scene which makes me cry.

I would like to take the opportunity at this time to wish you happy reading--er, sad reading?

Whatever you’re reading this week, I hope you enjoy it.


Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author


Loretta C. Rogers said...

This is a lovely but poignant scene, Fran. I can see why your readers love your characters.

Elisabeth Rose said...

I must say I love writing the black moment scenes. Much easier than the 'getting there' ones. My favourite is the 'they finally get it together' scene though. :)

Thought provoking post, Fran.

Fran Shaff said...

Loretta, Elisabeth, Thanks for your wonderful comments. The "happily ever after" ending after the titanic struggle is why most of enjoy reading so much, isn't it?

Sandra Leesmith said...

Pass the kleenex please.

Great scene Fran,

Give us some hints on how you get these emotional highs?


Fran Shaff said...

Great question, Sandra. Writing an emotional high is done by writing from the heart. It takes a great deal of empathy and sensitivity and the ability to identify with the struggles of characters as though they were real people.

Jane Myers Perrine said...

Lovely scene. PLEASE don't think my blog is a reaction to this great scene. I actually hadn't read it before I posted mine.