I don’t normally start a post with a negative headline – who wants to read about misery? – but this subject has been on my mind recently…and in any case, I have the perfect excuse! It’s time for March’s Round Robin, and this month the question is:
Are you ever emotionally drained by writing certain scenes, and how real are your characters to you?
In answer to the first part of the question, when I’m writing a highly-charged scene I feel the opposite of emotionally drained. I feel energised. The words flow really well during such scenes. I love writing the moments of high drama, and I can often do them in one “take”, so to speak, with few rewrites. I finish writing such scenes feeling upbeat and happy about how the story is going.
Here’s a scene from my novel The Silk Romance, for example, which I loved writing:
‘They’d accept my money if you married me.’
As soon as he’d spoken, Jean-Luc knew he’d made a mistake. The words were all wrong. He heard Sophie’s knife-like intake of breath. Her face was frozen white.
‘What do you mean?’ The words fell from her lips like cubes of ice.
He rose to his feet, but his usual grace had left him, along with his ability to articulate. It was a lumbering, heavy movement.
‘Are you buying me, is that it?’ Sophie’s knuckles were white on the chair back. ‘Are you buying me like you bought all those other girls? A satisfactory arrangement? Is that what you think marriage is about?’
Jean-Luc felt a rush of blood thrumming through his head. He pressed one fist on the table to steady himself. In this maelstrom of emotion, something more was required of him, but through the roiling mist, he couldn’t discern what that was. He felt as he always did when a situation was slipping out of his control. He was a brave man. He had thundered past his opposition on a dark, wet race track, as close to their wheels as a whisper, and stayed cool. Now, at this moment, he was terrified.
This was one of the pivotal scenes in the book – a scene in which everything changes between the hero and heroine, and the die is cast. It was a pleasure to write. (Although now I’ve revisited it, of course I’ve seen lots I want to change!)
But not every scene in a novel can be so highly emotionally charged – otherwise it would be the poor reader who would be completely drained by the end of the book! There needs to be an ebb and flow and some pacing to the story, plus you need all those scenes where backstory is filled in, etc. How do you fill in the necessary backstory and still make the book a page-turner, and not a complete snooze-fest? How do you progress the plot and move the story along seamlessly, in a way that the reader can follow, and not have them wondering what on earth is going on? It’s the “everyday” scenes I find draining to write.
Here’s an example of a scene I’m working on at the moment. The hero and heroine have just met and are going to be thrown together in this scene. There is a bit of backstory in it. I don’t want either the hero or heroine to appear unsympathetic, despite the situation. As with every single scene, I want the reader to care what happens next, to care about the characters, and to want to read on. There is no high drama here – just a car that won’t start. I’ve written and rewritten this scene. I’m still not happy with it, but here it is as it presently stands, before I rewrite it for the umpteenth time:
A sudden image of her father popped into her mind – white-faced and furious after their last row. Fliss jabbed her key in the ignition and turned it, without the gentleness she usually showed for Agnetha’s old condition. The engine gave a whining screech, followed by an ominous whirr. The lights on the dashboard winked at her reproachfully.
Fliss turned the key again – using more care this time – but there was complete silence from the engine. In her rear view mirror Fliss could see Patrick had climbed back out of his Land Rover and was making his way towards her, a resigned expression on his face. She gave an inward groan and opened her door.
‘She’s just not used to the mountains,’ she told him defensively. ‘We were fine in Norfolk.’
The furrow deepened on Patrick’s brow. Fliss noted how he was studying the exhaust, where a wisp of black smoke was slowly sinking onto the ground. She took a deep breath and stepped out of the car.
This is the sort of scene that can leave me emotionally drained :) It hasn’t come easily to write and it still needs work. The novel I’m working on is set in the Lake District. The author Catherine Gaskin, who also set several books in the Lakes, called writing “a slog” – and I quite agree!
To answer the second part of the question – how real are your characters to you? – I would say they are almost always completely real in my mind. In the scene above – even though I’m struggling with it – I can see Fliss and Patrick in my head, exactly as if I were there with them. I just need to convey what I can see to the reader.
If my characters aren’t real to me – if I can’t tell what they are going to do next, or what they will say, or how they will act with their friends, etc – then the story just isn’t working for me and I have to put it aside until it all comes alive.
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This was another thought-provoking question from the Round Robin team. Thanks to author Rhobin Courtright for organising our topic.
I’m very curious to know how the other authors will answer this question. If you’d like to find out, please click on the links below.
I’d also like to know your view. If you’re a writer, do you sometimes find scenes draining to write? And if you’re a reader, are you sometimes emotionally drained yourself after reading dramatic scenes? If you have any comments at all, please let me know. I’d love to hear from you!
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Dr. Bob Rich htt http://wp.me/p3Xihq-Wo
Heather Haven http://heatherhavenstories.com/blog/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Kay Sisk http://www.kaysisk.com/blog
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com