I’m currently participating in an online workshop offered by Jeanne’s RWA Chapter (Central Ohio Fiction Writers). It’s called Inside Out: Crafting Your Character’s Internal Conflict, taught by Linnea Sinclair. So far, so very good—the class is challenging me to dig deep into my characters’ innermost selves. It’s also making me think about how best to use the discoveries I’m making to tell the kind of stories I want to tell.
This week Jeanne, who is also taking the class, raised a question about her WIP. One of the other students offered a suggestion that brilliantly fits the heroine’s situation and is so gut-wrenchingly powerful it would hurt my heart to read it. I know this kind of storyline makes a book unforgettable. I believe it would earn reviews and might potentially win awards. I think it could make lifelong fans of readers who seek out this kind of emotional torture and the catharsis that follows when the heroine triumphs and everything turns out okay after all.
That’s not me. I find that the emotional distress of the tense build-up makes me feel miserable long after the relief of the satisfying resolution has dissipated.
I’m still scarred by the ending of Gone With The Wind, and I last read that when I was a teen 😉 .
Or take Loretta Chase (love, love, love Loretta Chase). I happily read and re-read Lord of Scoundrels, The Last Hellion, and all her Carsington family books, over and over. Those books pack a powerful emotional punch, but the story momentum always heads in a positive direction, and humor balances the serious undertones, so I never feel distressed. I can relax and enjoy the ride. Conversely, her first Dressmaker book (Silk is for Seduction) knotted my heart in my chest. The writing is brilliant. The black moment is one of the best sex scenes I’ve ever read, and it made me uglycry. I’ve never forgotten it, but I never read the book a second time, and I never want to.
Oddly enough, I don’t have the same problem with ballet, or opera, or other performing arts. My favorite ballet is Kenneth MacMillan’s superb Mayerling, which starts with a funeral, ends with a double suicide, and features all kinds of depravity in between. I also love his Manon (prostitution, transportation, rape, disease and death) and even The Judas Tree (betrayal, guilt, sexual violence). MacMillan is a genius, and I don’t mind how dark he goes. I think it’s because there is another human layer, a barrier (the dancers) between the story and me. I can be transported, I can empathize with the characters, but the story doesn’t go directly to my brain as a book does, so my subconscious doesn’t believe that the terrible events are happening to me.
Much food for thought there.
So this weekend, while I’m working on applying the Internal Conflict class to my WIP, I’m thinking hard about writers I like. I’m trying to work out how they create the emotional zing that makes a book unputdownable, while still leaving me feeling joyous and energized rather than exhausted and wrung out. That’s what I’d love to strengthen in my own stories. I don’t believe I have it in me to become a rip-your-heart-out writer.
Which do you prefer? Uglycry stories that knot your heartstrings? Fun, upbeat, energetic books with strong emotional hooks? Or maybe just delicious, frothy cupcake tales for a sweet treat?