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AVOID FLAT EMOTIONLESS PROSE

October 8, 2014

There are many advantages to being an avid reader. Case in point is the story I just finished. It’s a novel by a British author that’s part of a ghost hunting series. It’s full of that dry Brit humor, which I actually get, after living in Europe for a decade and being exposed to Benny Hill and Mr. Bean. Having that ancestry helps also. However, that stuff can’t carry a book. There has to be more.

EXCLAMATION MARKS DON’T MAKE EMOTION

My mentor, Carol Davis Luce, once told me to kill the exclamation marks. In my writing, especially with personal messages, I tend to use lots of exclamation marks. In fact, whenever I write a personal message, I always have to edit and clean up the exclamation marks. I used to do that in my fiction prose. As she says, they scream melodrama and also, after a while, they lose their impact. In other words, if you’re trying to convey emotion, after a while they become ineffective. In addition as one would say in the movies, they show overacting.

In this particular story, the author uses them in almost every dialogue scene, and there’s a LOT of dialogue. While I love dialogue, these exclamation marks have become like periods to me. They have no meaning at all. Because of that, I don’t see any emotion either.

OMNISCIENT DOESN’T HELP

Though some may disagree, when the viewpoint is third-person omniscient, that leads to a head-hopping free-for-all. With that, the author jumps from one head to the next, and never gives each character a chance to flesh out their feelings in a coherent way. Just as you’re starting to get into the character’s feelings about something, another character says or does something that interrupts the flow. You switch to that other character’s head for a bit then shifts either back to the original character or to someone else. That doesn’t lend to much emotional impact.

FLAT REACTIONS – NO ANGST

Okay, I’m the last person to want a character experience something and then have to suffer through page after page of angst and turmoil over it. However, what I do want and expect is a paragraph or two, or even a sentence or two of significant emotional reaction to give life to a character. This is especially important when these events are severe, or key to the story (or character).

Joe wins the grand prize at the fair for the largest pumpkin after struggling his whole life and never being able to grow a single plant. His dying father’s last words were “I’m proud of you.”

Joe feels good and moves on.

That’s it? That’s all you got? Are you kidding me?

You could write a book about that reaction (ha ha), a sentence, a paragraph or a chapter, something with emotion and significance, not just “Joe feels good and moves on.”

I’ve seen members of our writer’s group come up with the virtually the same thing. Our members have pointed it out time and time again, yet some people just don’t get it.

IF THERE’S NO EMOTIONAL IMPACT – IT SHOULDN’T BE THERE

That’s kind of a loaded statement because there is a time and place for unemotional – flat emotionless reactions. However, they need to be highlighted in the prose. The point is that they should be the exception, not the norm.

The story can’t be that way or it leaves the reader flat and wondering why they’re even bothering. You don’t want to do that.

As for the story I just read, well… What kept me there was that I wanted to see what happened. The plot, not the characters was what I held out for. I wanted to see how it ended. The characters were just there. I’m more plot-driven anyway, so I can probably tolerate something like this more than the literary crowd. However, in the end, there was only a little emotional impact that leaked through this omniscient story. The dry Brit humor was okay but… The ending partially redeemed the rest of it… partially.

EVERYTHING ISN’T EASY – DOESN’T FALL INTO PLACE

When too much of your story is easy, the bad times just seen too trivial. I’ve seen stories in our writer’s group and in print where there’s a character that rises from dire circumstances but then everything just goes perfectly. Say what? That’s just not the way the real world works. When you do that, the dire circumstances lose their impact. It’s not realistic.

That’s another way of being flat and emotionless. A leads to B with no real complications because life becomes too perfect – too simple. There can’t be drama in A and smooth sailing in B or people will lose interest, especially if B is two-thirds of the story!

It’s up to you to add life to your creation.

Happy writing!

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