Saturday, January 14, 2012

From Event to Emotion--How Do You Bridge the Gap in Your Writing?

E.M Forester said that human beings lead two lives, "the life in time and the life by values."  In Aspects of the Novel, he writes:

"A story is a narrative of events arranged in their time sequence — it simply tells us what happened and in what order. It is the time sequence which turns a random collection of episodes into a story. But chronological sequence is a very primitive feature and it can have only one merit: that of making the audience want to know what happens next. The only skill of a storyteller is their ability to wield the weapon of suspense, making the audience eager to discover the next event in the sequence. 
"This emphasis on chronological sequence is a difference from real life. Our real lives also unfold through time but have the added feature that some experiences have greater value and meaning than others. Value has no role in a story, which is concerned with the life in time rather than the life by values."

She waited for him for thirty minutes, but it felt like forever is a good example of this dual experience that we go through in real life, but makes for dull reading if placed in a book as it really happened (thirty minutes of not much).

But our books are enriched, our characters more vivid, if we can show both of these lives, the one driven by events and the one driven by the inner journey, or what writer Vivian Gornick calls the situation and the story behind it.  Obviously, readers crave meaning.  And they are best carried along by both the tension of the event and its emotional undercurrent. 

This week's exercise asks you to look at a peak moment in your book and analyze it based on this duality.  How much of each kind of time have you dedicated to this moment?  Most writers put 80-90 percent of their storytime into the "time value" that Forster speaks of, since this provides tension and momentum.  But a small percentage of every scene must also be revealed as "value time," revealing the meaning of that event.

Skilled writers do this through showing, versus telling.  What a character notices in her environment during a particularly tense moment, for instance, shows us the value of that event to her.  Smells, sounds, visual details, weather--all of these are used by writers to help show value and meaning.