Sunday, June 22, 2008
Book Review: Creating Character Emotions
This was one of two books I consulted while trying to fix a science fiction short story. The two biggest gripes my writer/editor friend had were with my plot and characterization (in other words, I had a lot of work to do). I actually consulted Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood first. A common failing of mine is to focus so much on The Big Ideas of a story that I lose track of the fact that these ideas need to be expressed by realistic, if imaginary people. Another problem I had was providing a convincing explanation for my lead character's emotions.
I'm not quite certain if this book helped me a great deal. What happened about one-third of my way into reading it--it's only about 160 pages long--is that I saw enough of what the author was trying to convey to "get it," do some free associating on my own story, and provide some motivation for my protagonist. I then moved over to Plot & Structure to fix my plot holes. The combination of these two books undoubtedly raised a C effort up to a B. Other things will need to be done before I consider the story an A, or at least an A-.
Each chapter of this book address a different emotion (anger, love (parent-child and romantic), revenge, tenderness, etc.). The chapter begins by offering a brief introduction into how the author feels about or treats the emotion; Hood then offers some bad or clichéd ways to depict an emotion in prose, some good examples, and then some exercises for the writer to try independently. I might go back to those exercises eventually, though right now I'm interested in finding a few other books along this line as well, including books on dialogue, description and setting, and of course a book or two on some of the rudiments of science fiction writing, which has its own special challenges.
I guess I'm more of a plot and structure guy, because I got a lot more out of that book than this one. But then, as I explained to a manager a few years ago, "I don't understand people," so I don't necessarily "write them well." One thing Hood did make clear in Creating Character Emotions is that you need to be quite honest and clear about your own feelings to write about others' well. I guess that's a telling thing right there. If you keep your emotions bottled up or starved for the most part, then writing about emotionally vibrant characters isn't necessarily going to be your thing. (There's a damn good reason why I don't write romance novels, ya know.)
Anyhow, if you've got the time, this book is worth a look, though it's more experimental than Plot & Structure. You've really got to play around with the language and your own experiences to create the sorts of original emotional experiences that resonate with character-driven readers.