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IS YOUR STORY FLAT AND EMOTIONLESS?

March 26, 2014

Last week I talked about discovering new writers. Practicing what I preached, I’d done just that and in fact, that’s what inspired the article. The “new author” I discovered has over forty books on the shelf, a list I’ve seen growing for years. Decades, in fact. For some reason, I’ve never picked one up. One reason is that they used to be isolated to the mystery section and I don’t normally read mystery.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good mystery, but they’re an acquired taste for me and I prefer to have them mixed into a thriller, adventure or some other genre. In that case, I love them. The pure genre is okay once in a while.

Since I’ve drained the well dry in my usual genres, or at least haven’t found anything that strikes my fancy lately, and, since Barnes & Noble has mixed most of the genres I like into one massive Fiction & Literature category, I figured it was time to give this guy a try.

I GET IT ALL THE TIME

In my writer’s group, I read chapters of my latest fantasy, Gods Of The Blue Mountains every week. There are a few people, and especially one in particular, who says he doesn’t feel any emotion in my character. He says it almost every week. The majority of the group has no issue with my writing or the character’s emotions. I convey the feelings of my main character in bits and pieces. The issue is that the main character, especially right now, doesn’t have many emotions. Because of the way she grew up, she’s not exactly flat and emotionless, far from it. She just doesn’t care. Slowly I’m giving her more internal and external feelings. They aren’t fast enough for this one reader in-particular. He doesn’t understand the character.

A REASON ONLY GOES SO FAR

I have a reason for what I’m doing, and my character is far from flat and emotionless. She’s not a crying weeping, slobbering mess either. On the other hand, one can take things too far. The series I discovered is a perfect example. I’m into the fourth novel now. The author has completed several different series in his catalog and this one involves a male lawyer character.

While I’ve enjoyed every novel, overall, each is kind of pedestrian. Everything just kind of happens. They’re flat, with little emotion. The main character basically has almost everything handed to him on a silver platter. Even when things get hairy, his stress level hardly rocks the boat. I never feel any tension or real emotion from him at all. So far, every novel has been flat and emotionless. I hate to say it, but they’re pedestrian in style, and that seems to be the author’s formula. Whatever, it works. With forty plus novels under his belt, all published, he’s doing something right. The funny thing is that I review every novel I read and so far, with sixty to over one hundred reviews of each novel on Amazon, the average for each of these has been three stars except the one I just read which had several hundred reviews and averaged four stars. The other three made not even three and a half. Just three. The author sure has his lovers and haters! Funny that this latest is the one that inspired my article.

OVER OR UNDER?

Do you tend to over or under write the emotion of your characters. Do they cry or scream in angst at every scene, or do they not show any emotion at all?

I have to go back to the old, It’s better to have a balance for the best result, adage.

I wouldn’t go for one extreme or the other unless you have a specific reason. Keep in mind that you are the struggling writer, so presenting something radical is less likely to fly.

Don’t forget your audience either. If you’re writing a romance, you probably want to lean toward more emotion. If you’re writing a thriller, maybe less.

A balance is best.

YOU HAVE TO MAKE YOUR CHARACTERS FEEL ALIVE

The key is to make your characters feel like real people, or nobody can relate to them. In almost any genre that’s true. In fantasy, it’s a little different, but even then, the characters have to posses some form of humanity or nobody can relate or sympathize with them. Without emotion, nobody will care. On the other hand, in a thriller or action story, you don’t want a character that is weepy and falls apart or questions their every move at every scene. They need to get stuff done, or the story becomes one annoying and frustrating experience. Sure, the character may have doubts about everything they do, but they still do it instead of sitting around crying about it!

On the other hand, the character can’t just move through the plot going through the motions like a robot. What fun is that? Where’s the motivation? Why bother? You can have a character that does that, but you’d better have a good reason for it and explain it to the reader. There should also be a counterbalance with other characters showing emotion.

CHOICES

Use your judgment. It’s entirely up to you, but you have to strike a balance and have a reason for that balance.

Above all else, it has to be entertaining.

Happy writing.

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Peggy West permalink
    March 26, 2014 1:55 am

    I am writing a historical romance and that calls for writing in a way that reveals emotion. The trick is how to do that in a way that is realistic and in some way that a person would actually feel. (Not every historical romance writer goes for that, by the way.) The character, usually my heroine, has a visceral reaction but also acts differently after being swayed by her emotions. The next thing she wants is based on what just happened and emotions play a large part of what has happened.

    • March 27, 2014 2:41 am

      Peggy,

      That’s great. Your playing your character to the story. Nothing wrong with that as long as you don’t overdo it and it sounds like you have a balance. Beta readers and a good editor (a second set of eyes) will let you know how you are doing. I just got some positive feedback on my latest in that regard.

      Always love your comments!

      Fred

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