Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Take time and describe

Most everyone has seen this http://www.facebook.com/notes/science-fiction-and-fantasy-writers-of-america/guest-post-long-sentences/10150608717634874 an article by Theodora Goss that Cat posted. But I wanted to comment I sometimes find myself struggling to get into words the finer less tangible emotions. In my short story "Fight or Flight" (STILL have not re-titled it and subbed to BCS), the main character Fiala kills a large predator that is trying to eat her. The whole story she has been following the orders and whims of others and by the end of the story she re-unites with the one character who has faith in her. Fiala feels 'saved', rescued in a way she has never felt before and she's crying even though the other character has had nothing to do with helping her kill the creature. And trying to get that nuance of emotion has been giving me fits.

I can FEEL the feeling I want to convey but without stopping the action and going into a long paragraph explaining the feeling I don't know how to do it. And then there is the problem of how much explaining of emotion, how much description of the characters interior lives do you add.

On one hand so much "advice" now-a-days is to describe only the characters actions. The outward manifestations of their emotions, but at the same time "frowned" and "smiled" are verboten. Description in general is often counselled against unless you can convey something with total economy and in the shortest space possible. All to avoid slowing down the Action.

In total contrast to what 'everyone' else is reading, lately I've been working my way through "Jude the Obscure" by Thomas Hardy and I have (in just the past few days) been struck by how deeply Jude's feeling and impressions are explored in the book. Paragraph after paragraph talks about his feelings toward and opinions of Christminster, his state of isolation, and the growing love for his cousin. And because of this description- not in spite of it- the reader knows Jude. Knows his goals intimately, and can feel the coming doom of his relationship with his cousin. And there is nothing to do but watch the inevitability of his life going down the drain. Part of the tension in the novel is that the reader knows from the beginning Jude will never achieve his dreams. Not his dream of scholarship and not his dream of love. But we are helpless to warn him. So we watch as he continually and helplessly shoots himself in the foot.

But now the style of prose is a rapid fire race to get to the next thing. Get to the next action sequence, the next sex scene, the next explosion. It's trying to get a Michael Bay movie onto the page. Everyone pleads short attention spans. No one wants to linger on lovingly crafted sentences of description and emotion. It's regression to caveman basics: kill-screw-flee-fight and repeat. Everything may be faster but its also infinitely shallower.

On the other hand in my WIP, the one I described the first class about the doctor who gets a fungal infection from stealing the god of leaf-cutter ants I can extract barely any emotion from the character. Eventually I'd like to run that one past the Spec Fic critique group to see if anyone can help it out. But that won't be until I have a few more iterations.

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