Tuesday, November 2, 2010

LaVerne St. George wrote a wonderful blog in October about the importance of emotion in a novel. If there isn’t emotion in a novel, there’s no conflict, no motivation, no goal, and, finally, no plot, no book. I agree completely but would like to add a corollary with which I’m sure LaVerne would agree: there’s also such a thing as too much emotion.

I’ve read books which are much like sitting down on a plane and having the person next to you tell you all the bad things that have happened to her for the entire four hour flight while she sobs or swears. Too much! I don’t know you well enough! You’ve really depressed and embarrassed me and that’s not what writers want to do with their readers.

Let me illustrate this with our two cats. They are probably the cutest in the entire world although you may disagree.

Maggie is—I have to admit it—boring. She’s a very sweet little cat who sits like a lady and sometimes like a Sphinx and other times like a cookie jar. Other than running in fear from her brother, she shows very little emotion. I love to have her sitting on the sofa next to me, purring while I pet her, but reading her would put me to sleep.

Her brother Scooter is full of himself and full of emotion. When he’s startled, he leaps into the air, twirls and dashes away. When he wants something, he nags loudly until he gets it. He hunkers down when he sees his sister, his tail switching and body quivering in anticipation and delight. When his sister moves, the mighty hunter leaps. He plays with his ping pong balls in the bathtub with wild abandon and passion. If he feels lonely and needy, he wanders around the house yowling and pulling his toy rope around behind him, sadder than any creature should ever be.

Yes, Mr. Scooter, the wonder cat, is filled with energy and excitement. Frankly, he wears me out. If I were reading him, I’d give up after the first chapters, exhausted.

So that’s how emotion is in life and in love—but, for the purpose of this blog, in writing. Too little and it doesn’t sustain our interest. Too much and it just simply wears us out.


Elisabeth Rose said...

Absolutely true, Jane. I've started read books like that but couldn't get past a chapter or two. One in particular I remember was like hacking through a swampy emotional jungle. Way too draining.

Jane Myers Perrine said...

Glad I'm not alone in this, Lis. Sometimes I feel as if I have no soul because I can't take too much emotion in my books or movies.

Of course, I sobbed and sobbed with the first BRIAN'S SONG.

LaVerne St. George said...

What a balancing act we writers perform! What's too little emotion? What's too much? And of course, the results of our efforts depend heavily on our readers. I know there are some days that the heavy tug of intense emotion leaves me flat and I'll toss the book I'm reading. Next day? I'm right with the author, raging and rejoicing with the characters. I suppose we're trying to find the right balance to make the story sing--not slog through Elisabeth's jungle or sit there like a brick wall. Ah, the joys(?) of being a writer! Thanks, Jane.

Fran Shaff said...

I guess I think emotion should be prominent throughout a book, but it shouldn't be the same emotion. I like a mixture of humor, suspense, heartwarming moments, frustration, elation, failure, success, contentment, worry, challenge, hope, despair, wonder, shock...well, you get the idea. I neither want to cry all the time nor laugh all the time nor be scared, worried or laughing all the time. But, most of all, I never want to be bored when I'm reading.

Beate Boeker said...

Jane, I do feel the same sometimes, particularly if a mystery is becoming too detailed with stuff that later crops up again in a nightmare! I prefer not to delve too deep into the dark.

Jane Myers Perrine said...

Thanks for your great comments, LaVerne, Fran and Beate. LaVerne, what you said about the right balance--too true. And how hard to keep that balance when readers look for diffent things.

Fran, I really liked what you said about a balance of emotionSSSS (plural, in case you couldn't tell!) That certainly adds interest.

Beate--I agree with you about not delving too deeoply into the dark.

Oddly, I'm readng one of the most depressing books I've ever read. If something good happens to the heroine, it's taken away in the next chapter. Why do I keep reading? Because I love the voice of this author.