Emotional resonance

Over on her blog, Jennifer Lynn Barnes is talking about emotional authenticity in her writing, and I think it’s a really interesting subject, something I’ve been thinking about a lot and might have touched on before.

I’ve never written a scene that made me cry. This is probably because I almost never cry. Which is weird. I used to cry all the time as a kid, and got this reputation in my family as being “very sensitive.” I’m still very sensitive, I think, I just handle it in a different way, which may or may not be better (I don’t think it’s better). Furthermore, when I do cry, it’s not because something has made me sad. I never cry when things make me sad. I cry when I’m angry, when I feel powerless, or humiliated, or disappointed. So I don’t cry a lot when I write.

I do remember, quite recently, though, having a very strong reaction to something I was writing. I was writing a part of MB where the protagonists come across another character for the first time. They don’t know this person, and they don’t particularly trust them or have any sympathy for them. Eventually, this person decides to tell them their story, and it’s quite heartbreaking. I never intended it to be so, because when I originally conceived of this character I didn’t want them to be very sympathetic. And the story the manuscript tells is not the story I’d originally conceived of, in that it goes far more in depth and it’s a little bit more devastating.

And after writing it, I was devastated. I had to leave my apartment and go out on my stoop and just breathe for a while. I kept telling myself, “Don’t be crazy, this person isn’t real,” but of course to a writer sometimes the people you invent are realer than the people you know.

But something else was bothering me. Where did that story come from? Of course, you can’t really pinpoint where an actual idea comes from, but I firmly believe that everything a writer puts down on the page comes from some real place, however abstractly. What had happened to my character has never happened to me–not even close–or anyone else that I know, so what suddenly inspired me to write something so grim in a book that ostensibly, according to me, is supposed to be lighter than AUT? The closest I can figure is that it has its roots in my fear of becoming desperate, the loss of control and sense of vulnerability that implies.

But I don’t want to simplify all of this, either. Writing, and indeed all artistic endeavor, is in some ways a mysterious process that cannot be very well understood, even by the people who do it. So assuming a narrator is just a straightforward representation of the author in his or her entirety is not good, even if it is true in some cases, because that would be underestimating the author and also distracting from a greater appreciation for and understanding of the subtleties of the text and characters and story.

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