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Living Loz
You can't just state your emotions, that makes me feel angry! 
17th-Sep-2012 05:01 pm
Loz Cola
Ugh, guys, I'm finding it very hard to get into characters' headspaces lately. Not in terms of understanding why they do what they do, but conveying that to an audience? It always feels so forced and clunky. I've struggled with this aspect of writing forever, but ever since The Closet and Dr Caligari I've found it even worse; almost impossible. How do you do it? How've you seen other writers do it? How do you make things clear enough that people aren't all "your characters have no emotion" but aren't just writing things like "He hadn't listened and that made Gus sad" (which isn't an actual example, but terrifyingly close to it, bleugh.)
Comments 
17th-Sep-2012 11:44 am (UTC)
Hmm. The easiest way, I think, is to convey it physically? Like, if someone hasn't listened (the other Psyche guy is called Shawn, isn't he?), that'll come across by him obviously ignoring whatever Gus told him, presumably earlier in the fic. So then maybe Gus goes for a long walk on his own (sooooo tempted to add 'in the rain' there, but no, overkill. :D), or takes his frustration out in the gym, or gets drunk or...whatever. I'm not familiar with the characters, so I can't give specifics.

It could only be gestures, of course. Like, Gus realises Shawn hasn't listened, and can't meet his eye, or his shoulders drop, or he sighs hopelessly. I mean, I'm throwing out cliches here, but you know all this anyway so I'm just jogging your memory. One I tend to overuse is when someone is outwardly stoic, I draw attention to their lack of reaction. They go still, or falter for just a second before carrying on with what they were doing. Just enough so it registers that whatever they've just heard isn't OK with them.

Anyway. Hope this helps! I will stop before I ramble on forever. :)
17th-Sep-2012 11:56 am (UTC)
See, that's what I used to do. I've always been a more 'show rather than tell' writer, but then, sometimes I feel like I haven't shown enough? I used to get "your fics don't evoke much emotion" comments sometimes, way back when, so that's been something I've been consciously working on. But now I think I am too conscious of it.

I think my main problem with that fic in particular was that I had Gus so far in denial and yet I was trying to tell the story from him, and... that aspect just didn't really work. There were so many clunky thought processes, ugh. I really think I tried to explain too much about what was going through Gus' head? And to be honest, the answer was 'not much at all'. I pushed through anyway, because everything else in the story was what I wanted. But it's made me second-guess myself on everything. I kind of don't trust myself with anything other than dialogue at the moment.

And now I am writing another character who is in denial (Derek in Teen Wolf), and how do you write from the perspective of characters in denial, how do you dooo iiiiiiit? How do you write from someone who's oblivious in all these ridiculous ways? How is it obvious they're changing their opinion? How do you write?

Edited at 2012-09-17 11:58 am (UTC)
17th-Sep-2012 12:18 pm (UTC)

For characters in denial I like to illuminate it by showing how they're lying to themselves with how their actions contradict it.

Like the old 10cc song, I'm not in love:



17th-Sep-2012 12:22 pm (UTC)
This is one of my favourite songs. :D Meep?

This is good advice, thank you.

(Mostly, I find myself thinking "you used to do this, Loz. All the time. Maybe you should've just stuck with what you knew?") Because it's likely a style thing. More distant show rather than tell is my metier, and whatever the hell it is I attempted with the Psych fic is not.
17th-Sep-2012 12:30 pm (UTC)

It's a great song. One of my American friends says it's a really English song due to the understatement of it. *g*

I know very little about Teen Wolf but Derek is a werewolf, right? Fandom osmosis, it's a thing. Well, for instance, I could see him protecting Stiles(? or is it Scott?) in a way where your reader would understand why but Derek would be justifying it in his head in a different way.

I think it never hurts to stretch and try a few new things but yeah, your style is your style. It's like I'm not drawn to highly emo characters and don't think I ever would be because it's just not how I process the world.


17th-Sep-2012 12:38 pm (UTC)
Derek is indeed a werewolf. And, yes, Stiles. Hahaha. I love that you know this just because of fannish osmosis. It's like how I know ridiculous amounts about Supernatural even though I've only seen three episodes and am not a fan.

See, the whole protecting thing is totally canon. And is what I did in my successful long Teen Wolf fic (which, for the most part, I did not second guess myself over at all.) But with this fic, it's kind of... monsterless. But I can apply the tenet in other ways, for sure.
17th-Sep-2012 12:58 pm (UTC)

Yes, I know ridiculous amounts about SPN too... and The Sentinel... and Starsky & Hutch... this could turn in to a very long list. *g*

17th-Sep-2012 12:20 pm (UTC)
Ha! Well, first thing - everyone who writes goes through, 'I suck at X at the moment!' and second-guesses everything they do, so don't even worry about that. It'll pass.

But if you want to help it along, I do recommend writing something else. Just something short, a scene that springs into your mind - something vivid, because then it's easier to punch out. And then you read it back and go, 'actually, I'm good! I can do this!' and it helps to unblock you/build confidence in the other fic.

Two - read something. Find a book by a great author who is writing about a character in denial. I AM NOT SAYING COPY THEM. But if they write well about something you're trying to achieve, then it can't fail to inspire you. I always think reading, above anything else, is what makes writers write. Could be a personal thing, but any time I feel stuck I pick up a book. Invariably, I find myself wanting to try and create feelings the way the person I'm reading has.

Three - specifically re: characters in denial. Well, what springs to mind is reactions to what other people tell them. Like, X says, 'so-and-so fancies you,' and your character goes, 'GURL, YOU CRAZY'. That's an obvious solution. Then there's having the person misinterpreting everything, while the narrative hints that they might be getting it wrong. Like, X sees Y laughing with a girl and assumes they're hooking up, when in reality we know that Y just loves fat momma jokes, and the girl is particularly adept at telling them. That sort of thing tends to depend on not having a single-character POV though, or an omniscient narrative style. (I have no idea if any of that just made sense.)

Personally, if I'm writing someone in denial I tend to pare down their thoughts, and actions. I have them see other people enjoying life in technicolour, while I grayscale their internal narrative. Does that make sense? Or it's possible to reverse it, though I don't think I've ever done that myself. Have someone live their life in brash colour and a whirlwind of activity, and see the other person in the story living quietly. If the main character muses about what's up with the other person, there's all sorts of possibilities for coming to the wrong conclusions about things. 'So-and-so is sad because their dog was eaten by a whale, obviously. Nothing to do with that row we had over custard last week.' And then presumably all becomes clear in the denouement, when sad!character bashes Mr. Oblivious upside the head, and spells out what he's been missing.

So, uh...yeah. Thing. Just some ideas!

ETA: I should have added the obvious. Stop thinking so much! Visualise the scene. If you know your characters, and the setting, and where their heads are at in that moment in time, just write down what they say, and think. The point will make itself. No need to force it. :)

Edited at 2012-09-17 12:41 pm (UTC)
17th-Sep-2012 12:52 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I wonder if there are any good books centre around that kind of denial and obliviousness? My problem is that I'm always more of a viewer than a reader and always want to apply tv and film techniques to my own fic. (I tend to mostly read murder mysteries/thrillers and comedy by professional writers --- not sure how helpful they would be.)

The story I'm working on at the moment bounces POV (but not in an omniscient way), so that is a distinct possibility. So are you saying you tend to shy away from writing down what they're thinking? Because that is my natural inclination. Or, at least, I want him thinking about everything other than what's really going on.

Thank you ♥ I really just need to get stuck into writing, after this week is over. And maybe just not worry so much. It's a fusion with Sabrina after all, I don't know why I'm taking it so seriously. Because I made the mistake of rereading The Closet and Dr Caligari and was all 'WRONG, LOZ. UGH, THIS IS JUVENILE. GUS IS NOT THIS STUPID. WHY DID YOU DO IT THIS WAY? LEARN HOW TO CHARACTERISE'.
17th-Sep-2012 01:10 pm (UTC)
Well, murder mysteries might help, as the protagonists tend to wander around in the dark most of the time, right? They figure things out gradually as they go, which seems to be sort of what you're after in this case. With regard viewing this sort of situation - idk, because a specific example doesn't spring to mind. But I will say that visual physicality is always useful to make note of, because then you can just describe it in fic, and you end up with great imagery for nothing. Find a scene where someone's being oblivious, watch what their body does, and bingo - that's how you convey it to readers without spelling it out.

In a story that bounces POV, I think you should be golden. Because you can have one character doing things, and the other openly misinterpreting them, with little to no need to spell the disparity out for the audience. And you've always been good at that anyway, so I wouldn't worry.

I wouldn't say I tend to shy away from what characters are thinking. The opposite actually, as I tend to ramble on when I should be engaging audience interest with dialogue. I just mean that...well, mood, I guess. I pare them down and draw them back by giving necessary description of a scene, for example, but by doing it in a way that makes them distant from their surroundings, or other people near them. So (hopefully, at least), people can tell their state of mind/emotions by their interaction with the world, without me ever having to say, 'he felt sad' or 'he felt he didn't belong here' or whatever. if other people are having a great time at a party, I'll put sad!protagonist in the corner, watching. That sort of thing. There always has to be a certain amount of this is what X is thinking, because atmosphere can't do it all, and the readers need specifics to keep them focused - but where you physically place characters says a lot about what frame of mind they're in, and the way they describe what they're seeing (to themselves, and therefore the reader) can say everything about whether they're interpreting a situation wrongly, or not.

And I would posit that you're taking it seriously because you want it to be good! I wish I had your dedication when it comes to fanfic. I don't worry enough. And asking questions like this of yourself just says that you want to be better, which is only ever a great thing. You're very talented, so just keep writing! :)
17th-Sep-2012 12:25 pm (UTC)
Also, bollocks to 'your fics don't evoke much emotion'. For one thing, not every fic has to be about making someone tear their heart out/laugh 'til they're sick, etc. Plot-driven stories are, by nature, generally not as evocative.The reader finds the emotion they want in them.

But the stories you've written that are designed to evoke emotion, have rarely missed the mark for me. And hell, a lot of emotion depends on the emotional state of the reader on any given day anyway. So don't take comments like that to heart so much that they stifle your natural style. Listen to them, certainly, but if stressing on them is blocking you up for future stuff then do try not to.
17th-Sep-2012 12:40 pm (UTC)
Well, see, this was said about three to four years ago, so. :D It's possible I actually fixed that problem ages ago, but now I'm trying to overcorrect? That's actually probably what's going on.
19th-Sep-2012 08:44 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure that's what's going on.
17th-Sep-2012 12:14 pm (UTC)

I like to show the contradiction between what they're thinking and what they're saying. Adults very rarely say what's on their mind but rather what they think they should be saying... of course you're currently writing about teenagers so... forget I said anything. *g*

17th-Sep-2012 12:19 pm (UTC)
Derek's an adult! An emotionally stunted, in some ways extraordinarily immature adult. But out of his teens, at least.

Hmm. Contradiction. Yeah, that's really what I need. A whole mess of it.
17th-Sep-2012 12:32 pm (UTC)

Yeah, but it sounds like he's only technically out of his teens so back to confusion and probable blurting of contradictory emotions.

17th-Sep-2012 12:41 pm (UTC)
Oh, Derek.

And, yeah.
17th-Sep-2012 01:37 pm (UTC)
Hmm. I tend to combine a lot of gestures (I'm kind of a squirmy and fidgety person, and tend to write characters that way - I love writing smokers because of what they're doing with their hands), and a lot of internal monologue. And in terms of internal monologue, people almost never think "I'm sad because he's not listening." Instead they start grumbling or worrying or getting self-deprecating or resentful something else that makes it clear that they're bothered.
19th-Sep-2012 09:01 am (UTC)
It's the internal monologue part I am really struggling with. Always have done, but these days it seems to be especially difficult.
19th-Sep-2012 11:21 am (UTC)
Really? I hadn't realized it was a struggle for you.

Do you talk to yourself in your head? Have you tried doing an in-character version of that? Like "I'm Sam Tyler, and I'm thinking..." and going from there? Doing stuff like that for practice (and not necessarily writing it down) might help?
19th-Sep-2012 11:40 am (UTC)
I talk to myself in my head all the time. It's usually disjointed and full of, like, fantasy scenes of me being an awesome singer/writer/hugely popular fan. I'm still 12.

But, importantly, I also do tend to label my emotions. "Oh, Loz, you're feeling sad because [x]."

Meh. :D
19th-Sep-2012 11:53 am (UTC)
Okay, that first bit sounds fairly typical, and the second bit is definitely not how I think, but could work for some characters. You're not the only person I've heard from who does that. (For me, emotions seem to hit primarily as physical sensations, and labeling just makes things feel worse - good stuff feels less fun, and bad stuff feels more depressing - so the emotional part of my internal monologue is much more about how it effects how I feel physically, my impressions of what's going on around me, and what I expect or anticipate.)

I think you're not as bad as you think you are, and the "Ugh, I'm awful!" reaction can actually interfere with attempts to improve, because it makes it harder to see when you are doing it right.

Are there any writers you like who handle this kind of thing effectively?
19th-Sep-2012 02:20 pm (UTC)
Good question, but they do it so seamlessly I can't usually pick apart their techniques, and as said, when I feel like I try to do it, it feels contrived and out of balance. Not always, admittedly, but sometimes.
19th-Sep-2012 08:52 pm (UTC)
I hate it when I can't figure out the technique! A while ago, someone told me my male narrator didn't read as convincingly male, and recommended James Tiptree Jr. as a writer who was good at producing a convincing male voice, and so I went and read a bunch of Tiptree and ended up more confused, because everything of hers left me going "People seriously didn't guess this stuff was written by a woman?"

It's hard to fix this kind of writing problem Usually, what works best for me in trying to get a character's interior monologue is to alternately watch/read the original and let the character yammer away in my head until it feels right.

Maybe this is one of those things where you let yourself get so self-conscious about this particular point you've psyched yourself out?
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