I’m currently reading Wired For Story by Lisa Cron. I’m also paying attention to what’s going on outside my cozy little office. And in the wacky world of life imitating art imitating life, there are some things we definitely need to understand.
Because this blog is about writing and publishing, we will stick to talking about writing and publishing. But… I bet people could apply some of this to real life if they try (I’ve just got that feeling).
Whether you’re a “plot person”, a “character person” or some other variation, when you’re writing fiction there are two things that need to be presented in a story, emotions and facts.
One reason we read (and write) fiction is to experiment with emotions in a safe place. This is a theory that I came to years ago, studied as an undergrad and graduate student (Psychology with an English minor…), and I still find valid today.
Because a purpose of fiction is exploring emotion, we need emotion in our fiction, but we can’t have emotions without facts. Our minds need something concrete that we can lock onto. And we all feel emotions differently.
As a graduate student, one of my professors challenged my class to define the word table. It took a whole room full of very intelligent people more than half an hour to come up with a reasonable definition of the word table, even though a table is something we’d all experienced. Even though a table is a physical object that we can see and touch. Even though we were sitting around one as we discussed its definition.
If it’s that hard to define a physical item or class of items that’s right in front of you, how do we define something like anger, or pleasure, or depression, that can (sort of) be observed in behavior but not examined directly?
We need facts in our stories so our minds have something tangible to anchor too. But, it’s really hard to write a story that’s just facts and not emotions. We are social creatures. We have feelings and emotions and most of us are wired to seek the feelings, emotions, and emotional states of others. If stories without emotions were a thing, then the instruction booklet that came with my new USB camera would be on the best sellers list…
We need facts in our stories. They give us something solid to hold on to while we’re exploring the events, ideas, and emotions that we’re interested in; while we explore the things that catch our attention and draw us into the story. We also need emotions in our stories (like I said they draw us into, and keep us reading, a story). We need to find a balance between the two. We need to learn how to work with both.
Now, how we deal with facts and emotions depends on several factors. Different genres have different rules. Different time periods have different facts (and ‘facts’) and different cultures deal with them in different ways.
Characters and cultures deal with emotions in different ways. In some cultures, it’s appropriate to describe depression with physical complaints, while in others it’s acceptable to just come out and say “I’m depressed.”
Our fiction becomes interesting when we communicate how the facts and emotions of our stories interact. That means we have to learn about and understand our own facts and emotions; learn about the facts, cultures, and characters in our stories; and then figure out how to communicate all of it to a reader who has her/his own facts and emotions to deal with.
It’s a process. It’s something we have to learn.
We can gain some insight and guidance by reading the works of others and studying our genres. But our emotions are our own. Our situations are our own. And, since we’re creating and writing about our characters (remember we’re talking fiction here) their emotions and facts belong to us too. We have to figure out how our characters deal with them, while understanding that the emotions and facts of our readers and other real people belong to our readers and other real people (meaning we don’t get to control those (it can be a pain in the !@#@!#!!@#!!! to even predict those sometimes…).
It ain’t easy, but it’s what we have to do to succeed. So, be brave dear reader, and develop your understanding and communication skills for facts and emotions. I’ll see you next post.