Monday, September 1, 2008

Killer Nashville, Emotions

As I spend a good chunk of Labor Day rewriting my novel, I've been contemplating what I learned during Killer Nashville. Probably the most important tidbit of advice that stuck during the conference was a comment that a panelist made regarding emotion. The question was asked, "How does a writer make the scene fresh when the same things happen over and over?"

I thought about the mono-myth that my college English professors had so diligently discussed when I was studying for my B.A. in English Lit. For a moment, I flashed back to the diagrams of hero, guide, building action, climax, descending action. I must agree, there are only really a handful of stories.

That's when her answer at the conference really clicked. I'm paraphrasing, but the answer went something like this: As long as the scene has the character's emotions, the action will seem new.

Never had I really put stories in that context before. The drafts of my novel had previously focused more on what happens and how the action happens. I focused a lot on the whys of my story. As I rewrite, I'm having to reconnect to my characters. What emotions motivate them throughout the scenes? What charges their reactions to information? Why does the reader care about the character?

All of this, I'm sure, sounds incredibly simple. I should have been thinking in these terms from the beginning. The learning curve of writing is a bit like a rainbow. I know the other end exists, the pot of gold awaiting me. But, try as I might, the other end is always out of sight. There is always something profound to learn about the craft.

on jobs I have had

Spanish teacher, overhearing
about her first date and pregnancy

in the library, I find my
co-worker hiding in a
sofa box from the move to the new building

as store clerk, I never did
understand why people cuss and scream
over a nickle’s difference in price

listening to stories of cancer, murder
being eaten alive
by acid at the
life insurance company

substitute health
teacher, scolding
the boy who announced
which classmate
wasn’t circumcised

student teacher as
I attempt to decipher the main point of an
English essay.

intern at the alternative school
helping a student research the Civil War
who couldn’t read

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