Friday, December 28, 2012

Rambling - Non-Orbital Entertainment Dragons

Easily one of my favorite cinematic moments.
Powerful, memorable, and few words to muck it up.

Emotion, from the perspective of a writer, is an interesting thing; at once inescapably critical to most kinds of fiction and simultaneously impossible to actually describe.

The kind of fiction I’m talking about, of course, is narrative fiction involving specific characters and intended to make the reader feel certain ways and possibly think about certain things.  More vague, broad, or meta-based fiction might not involve emotion, or might only hint at small amounts of emotion; it might simply describe a fictional world, or the ever-famous mid-millennium book which describes fictional flora and fauna.  Yet nearly any book which tells a story about characters must inevitably involve emotion at some level, most often at its core.  We can’t be fully invested in a story if we don’t care about the characters in its telling, and we can’t really care about them if we don’t understand what they’re going through.  Without emotion, more specifically without the reader’s emotions in empathy for the book’s characters, a fictional narrative is stripped of any power it might have had.

Yet at the same time, emotion is impossible to actually describe.  I can describe what a character looks like to the last exacting detail.  I can describe their environment far and near.  I can detail every political, economic, and cultural movement of their world.  I can even describe every last second of a character’s background if necessary.  None of that, however, has any way of ever describing the emotions that a character, or any other character in their world, goes through.

An emotion is not actually a thing which can be described.  When I feel anguish I know exactly what it is and I can identify it, but I can never describe it to someone else.  I can, of course, say “the anguish was crushing, I barely ate for days,” but that doesn’t describe my anguish.  It only describes my reaction to my anguish.  There is no set of stimuli that I can point to and say “that is anguish,” there is no physical representation of anguish with which other people can identify, and therefore nothing for me to describe.  It’s the same principle as color, really; I have no way of knowing whether or not the color purple I see is the same color that you see.  Just like I can never describe purple without saying “it had a dark purple hue that shimmered bright violet in the right light,” or just “it was purple,” I can never describe an emotion.

So what is a writer to do?  For starters, a character’s reactions are literally everything.  If emotion is the core of a good piece of fictional narrative, yet we can’t describe the emotions themselves, then each character’s reactions to their own emotions are the most important tool in any writer’s skillset.  To overdo it makes the emotion unbelievable or perhaps gives the impression of the wrong emotion.  To underdo it leaves only bland emptiness, and lack of emotion is what kills a story.  Yet if I do things correctly, if my characters react just right, then I don’t have to be able to describe an emotion itself.  If everything is right then a reader will understand the anguish being felt by a character or, in a perfect world, feel an echo of that anguish in response.  When my words work correctly, I don’t have to describe joy, hate, love, fear, anguish, curiosity, depression, or any other emotion that a character goes through; their reactions should tell my reader everything.


Copyright 2012 by J.L. V'Tar
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