Emotional Distance

Ladies and gentleman, I am in a quandary. Whenever I reread my writing, I find that the emotional content is at one of two extremes: too melodramatic or too distant. More often than not, it’s the latter because I find it much easier to avoid the former. I think of this distance as “safe” writing because, even if the characters are undergoing a harrowing experience, the emotional impact on them doesn’t feel real enough, doesn’t hurt enough.

The problem is compounded because I think I might naturally be a distant person. I find it hard to tell the difference between too safe and just right. I’m constantly worried that my characters might not be reacting realistically to everything I throw at them, that they might be shrugging it off too easily. How did I work out that maybe I’m seeing my characters more heartlessly than readers will? Reader reviews of the stuff I post on the internet, WritersCafe in particular. A little while ago a I wrote a story called My Piano, My Hiding Place. I didn’t feel especially connected to the main character at the time, yet I got this review:

Such calamity and desperation. Parents who fight like that cause terrible damage to their children. (I know–went through it myself long ago) One must find ways to cope, so I can see where a piano could aid in that effort. For some, it might be drawing or painting, or writing. You write very well, Ann.

Now when I got back and read that story, I can see what he meant. I wrote that months ago. It has taken me all that time to see it in a better light. I am rarely happy with my work anymore, even as I’m writing it.

So that’s an example of me thinking the writing was too safe, though in the end my opinion changed. I guess part of my insecurity stems from the fact that I rarely, if ever, share experiences with my characters. I have a happy family life with two parents, a younger brother and a pair of funny dogs. We’re not struggling financially and the only ill-treatment I receive these days is from kids who are anti-authority to the point that even bus captains are seen as the enemy. None of that would be particularly interesting in a story. Not to me, anyway.

I’m sure my emotional distance problem could be combated by sharing my writing more often. That would be fine if I felt Coldfire, my current problem piece, was anywhere near ready to be seen by human eyes other than my own. I have posted the first few chapters on WritersCafe and DeviantArt, but I’m wary of posting any more as it’s all downhill from there. Perhaps things will change in the future.

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