Thursday, 11 March 2010

Emotional Resonance

I might wear my heart on my sleeve, but provoking a genuine emotional response to my writing is something I'm still working on. Maybe that's why I feel a need to write for boys, because emotions are something that can remain implicit - only surfacing at key moments to highlight the plot.

But where do these emotional moments come from? Is it a matter of feeling the thing strongly ourselves and transmitting that to the reader? Can you learn to fake this stuff by building your plot in a certain way; making tears fall onto the page like the syrupy music in a flawed-but-heroic-mother-gets-her-kids-back movie of the week?

James Cameron comes in for a lot of flak for his somewhat simplistic storytelling, but to my mind the guy has a supreme mastery of the emotional theme. By taking a few strong character themes that resonate with the audience, he is able to build them into a thrilling and immersive whole. Millions of people have gone to see Avatar a second time - not because of the action sequences but because those action sequences mean something to them.

The central character - Jake - is a case in point. A man desperately lost in his own skin, Jake is looking for a home and a body. Cameron beautifully handles the reveal that Jake is in a wheelchair, then doesn't labour the point too much - showing Jake's resentment but surrounding the viewer in a whirl of exposition (quite literally if you're watching in 3D). When Jake finally steps into his Avatar body, the scene where he runs around the recreation ground is a glorious emotional release for both you and him. It might not be all that clever, but he sure is big (about seven feet, actually).

I was struck by a similar effect recently while reading The Graveyard Book. In just a few words, Neil Gaiman somehow manages to bypass your brain and get you right in the heart - evoking the pain of a couple who have died without having children or the simple joy of finding a friend. With the point made, he moves on and it is up to the reader to take what they want from the experience.

It has always been a goal of mine to write a scene that makes the reader cry. I don't know if I've got there yet, but I do know that I wrote a scene a few weeks ago that made me cry! That felt like a pretty good first step.



  1. Magic when it happens but I fear, we never know in our own writing, if it need others to tell you!

  2. I think if you can get an emotional response to your own writing then the battle is more than half way won. Sounds like you cracked it Nick!

  3. Yes, it's a subtle thing - evoking, not describing. Like poetry.

  4. You're right, I think you've got to feel it yourself before you can make other readers feel it. Ee, I love a good weep when I'm writing. Haven't seen Avatar yet but am determined to see it this weekend.