Monday, 29 June 2009

What flies onto your screen?


Based on the true events of 21/06/09…

I’d been so looking forward to today. My husband deserved those tickets to Rick Wakeman at Hampton Court, despite his protestations that we couldn’t afford them. He’d been a lifelong fan and it was a special concert of music the star hadn’t played before. So, despite the price of £120, I bought them secretly in January of this year – as a combined Father’s Day, anniversary and birthday present. The concert was in May 2010.

On Father’s Day I hid them in a box of chocolates and told the children to pester him for one until he opened it up. Which they did. Okay, okay,’ he grinned, ‘let’s all have a Rocky Road with a cuppa.’

The kids and I sat on the sofa and looked at each other with excitement as he fished out the bag of goodies and then two “cards”. He turned them over, his eyes widened and then filled with tears - he couldn’t believe I’d bought them. With flushed faces, the kids hugged their knees and gazed from their mum to their dad. Oh god – I was going to cry. So I stood up to make that cuppa. As I got to the kitchen door I glanced back.

But now his brow was furrowed and he mumbled something about the date. ‘May 2010’ I grinned, thinking he was pulling some joke. He bit his lip and slowly shook his head. The kids’ smiles dropped. ‘May 2009’, he said.

I gasped and he nodded, his face full of concern. And like a child my face crumpled and my hands flew up to my eyes. I released a loud sob. His tears of joy morphed into my tears of distress. And then anger – ‘How could I have been so stupid?’ I asked the room, and buried my head into his chest. Don’t tell me it’s the thought that counts.

When finally I drew away, my youngest came up. He looked at me, a glint in his eye, and those tears of anger suddenly morphed into tears of mirth. How we all laughed and wiped our eyes. And then I sobbed again. And then I chuckled. In the space of ten minutes I’d experienced a whole gamut of emotions
.

And the point of this post? Emotions are the hardest thing I find to write. If my husband had slapped me around the face or torn up the tickets, if the kids had shouted out how foolish I was, or jumped up and down with hysteria, this episode would have been easier to describe. I find that action scenes, or those full of drama or violence, fly onto the screen. But when it comes to emotions, I stumble and falter. I find myself recurrently using phrases like ‘he bit his lip’, ‘her chin trembled,’ ‘their faces flushed’ - it all seems so unoriginal and crass.

So what flies onto your screen? Emotion? Sex? Violence? I suppose the only remedy for difficult bits is practise and reading lots.

36 comments:

Roderic Vincent said...

Based on this, you have little trouble writing emotion, Sam. It's brilliant. I was with you all the way, swinging between emotions. Truth to tell, I'm still a little pissed off with your husband for scaring you like that.

As to the more general point, it's all about showing precisely, isn't it? The precise reactions of the particular character in that particular situation - that's what makes it unique and brings it alive for the reader, rather than a stock description of a stock emotion. Peasy!!!

Roderic Vincent said...

Oh, and some of the writing that affects me most emotionally, is when the writer hardly mentions the emotions at all, just depicts the situation truthfully.

Loved your post today.

Samantha Tonge said...

Oh, how kind, thanks Rod - thing is though... It wasn't a joke. As someone who is meticulous when it comes to booking things, i just got it wrong, got it into my head that the concert was next year, and it wasn't. My husband's main concern was that i didn't feel too bad about it - not for himself.

Oh dear - so maybe i didn't write that so well, if you got the wrong end of the stick! We were laughing because it was such a ridiculous, unbelievable mistake to make. I mean, the number of times i've looked at those tickets since January, and read May 2010 when it wasn't...

I think you are right though, good emotional writing doesn't actually mention the emotions themselves. But i do find it hard. Other writers talk of their own writing making them cry, or of other authors' words doing the same - i have never been moved by my work like that and feel i struggle to move the reader.

Samantha Tonge said...

I guess i was trying to convey the tragi-comedy of the situation as well. How, when things are really bad, it is human nature to look for the funny side of the situation. How extremes of emotion are often closer than we think eg love/hate.

Geraldine Ryan said...

There's a real good short story, there, Sam! My husband would not have got to acceptance so quickly, I fear. There would have been quite a lot of effin' and blindin' before he reached a Zen like acceptance that he wouldn't be going on his day out!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Oh, Sam, that was soooo awful! You poor things - and I agree with Jem that there's a fabulous short story in there. Go write! At least then you might get your money back...

Sheila Cornelius said...

I agree with Geraldine about the basis here for a short story. In fact, this already reads like a short story, perhaps because you've taken trouble with the build-up of emotional intensity and the details about the chocolate-box hiding-place.

Yes, I'd have trouble with emotions. What 'flies onto the screen' for me is describing things outside myself which have caught my eye and my interest. Maybe that's why I'm more of a blogger than a fiction writer.

Sheila

Roderic Vincent said...

Oh, Sam! Sorry I got completely the wrong end of the chocolate box. Apologies to your husband for doubting him - he behaved heroically. Now I'm just sad about the mistake and that he doesn't get to go to the concert.

On the subject of never being moved by your own work. That's interesting. I blub incessantly, like a sissy girl, when reading mine. I suspect I'll be the only one that does. Do you cry easily at movies or other people's books?

Roderic Vincent said...

Just read it again to see why I misread it first time. Your meaning is pretty clear given that you laughed then sobbed again. It was the glint in the eye of the youngest that threw me off the track. I thought he/she had seen the ticket.

Geraldine Ryan said...

I blub all the time - at everything!

CarolineG said...

Oh Sam! That is EXACTLY the kind of thing I would do. EXACTLY. I agree with others that you have no difficulty in making emotional scenes come alive. My heart was in my mouth reading that. Maybe the key is really feel them, like a method actor getting into a part? Brilliant post.

Gillian McDade said...

Great story, Sam! I was on that roller-coaster ride the whole way. And Hampton Court is really lovely!

Samantha Tonge said...

Thanks for all the comments, everyone.
I have to say it took me a while to get over the whole episode. Upset for husband and disbelief at such a mistake - just goes to prove that sometimes our eyes deceive us...

You know, Geri, i thought it would make a short story, but i would have no idea how to put it together. I am utterly hopeless at short fiction. Maybe it would make a good opening scene for a novel:)

That's interesting Sheila - about finding it easier to write about things outside of yourself. My wip is in Ancient Egypt and i must say i've found it easier writing about a world alien to mine.

LOL, Rod! No, i think whilst i was blubbing my kids gradually began to see the funny side and it all ended up a bit farcical. And my eyes looking like lychees...
But not, i have NEVER cried at anyone else's writing, and i only very rarely cry at film/tv, and even then it never gets much past my eyes filling. Ooh, i'd like to read an extract of your work now, that makes me blub, and

Thanks for the sympathy, Susie and Caroline. It shook me up a bit, tbh - i wondered if that what it's like in your 70s/80s when you start forgetting thins/ messing things up. But i have to say writing about it did help, even though i still felt someone else could have written it more poignantly:)

Thanks guys!

Samantha Tonge said...

Rod, part of my post missing - meant to say i'd like to read an extract of your work that makes you blub, and see if it has the same effect on me...

Roderic Vincent said...

I'm sure I could make you weep - at the poor quality of the writing.

Samantha Tonge said...

:):)

CarolineG said...

Has a book or movie really never made you cry, Sam? You tough lady! I'm definitely never messing with you ;)

Samantha Tonge said...

:)

I have to admit reality tv makes me cry - i know, shoot me down now!

The irony is, if my poor husband is every moved by tv/movies - which he frequently is - i shout out 'It's only fiction' - yet i would be thrilled if my work moved people in such a way.

Geraldine Ryan said...

Sam, you're not watching the right films. But then I've told you that before, haven't I? :)

Derek Thompson said...

So now my plot-driven brain wants to know....what is on show in May 2010?
I suspect that the key to writing emotions is authenticity, drawing on our own pains or joys, and getting in touch with the rawness of it all.
I spent an afternoon 'arranging' a funeral scene for my WiP, picked the psalm and the song and went into mourning for the day!

Samantha Tonge said...

I know, i know, Geri - i don't read the right newspaper or books either:)

Derek, i don't know - the tickets had the date May 2009 on them, i'd just read 'May 2010' for six months. God knows how. Either a blonde moment or a senior moment:) You sound very much like a method writer then - hope you never have to write about childbirth:)

Derek Thompson said...

'Method' is very generous and implies that I have one! Actually a secondary character will give birth at some point - all clues gratefully received!
Yours, another blonde (such hair as there is).

Samantha Tonge said...

:):)!

Rosy T said...

Great post, Casey - and I agree you ought to turn it into a short story!

I wish I could cry when I'm writing the bits of my writing that are meant to make people blub. I mean, I do get emotionally involved, but at the same time there's always this awful self-consciuouness I can't shake off, with my cynical non-writer self looking at me and mocking horribly at the embarrassing slushiness of it.

Does anyone else have this experience?

emmadarwin said...

Oh, Sam, how awful (and splendidly written)! I've never quite done that, but I have had wrong dates branded on my brain, even though the right one's in my diary, and turned up at the wrong door or on the wrong day. I think it's more encouraging to call it a blonde moment, rather than a senior one, but either way it's baffling: how could one have been so daft? And yet one was...

I find I write emotion most successfully when I write it most plainly. If the external events (and our knowledge of the character) are enough to draw the reaction from the reader, then I stick to them. If they're not - if it's the character's internal reaction which is strongly emotional - then I try to find ways to describe the actual physical symptoms, using and developing outwards from my own emotional-physical memory, rather than the symbols (trembling lips, wide eyes) which we all know.

Rosy, yes, there's a part of you which has to be meta-aware of when you're writing freshly and when not, and so on, and yet you mustn't let your inner cynic get the upper hand. (It's a similar problem with writing sex, which on the whole you don't) Seen out of context from a certain distance it always looks cringe-worth. But your inner cynic may just be wrong: we've all had a lifetime of being told that it's cooler (because safer) to be cynical than it is to be heartfelt, and the English are the worst of the lot. Maybe it is cooler and safer, but it's also arid and life-denying.

I always remember Cole Lesley's description of Noel Coward's 'brave use of sentiment', in the brittle, cynical 20s and 30s, and even at the risk of misjudging it sometimes, I'm damned if I'll join in with the chilly mortals who are too frightened or too frigid to throw themselves into feeling in their writing

Samantha Tonge said...

Do you know whether readers have cried at the bits you want them to, Rosy? I think that must be wonderful.

I very very occasionally get a miniscule swell of emotion reading over parts of my work but as a writer am too attached to the mechanics of writing to get so thoroughly involved that i cry.

Having said that, i do become very fond of my characters.

Rosy T said...

A few people have admitted to crying, Sam, yes. Which always makes me want to rub my hands and have a good 'mwa-ha-ha'.

And you're so right, Emma - my inner cynic is rather domineering. And this is indeed why I never write about sex!

Samantha Tonge said...

Thank you, Emma! And a very interesting response.

I find it very difficult to avoid the well-known symbols - probably because they are prevalent in the kind of fiction i like to read, ie very accessible commercial fiction. So i suppose logically, following on from this, i shouldn't worry too much as this is what i write. But then when were writers ever logical...

Lydia said...

I'm with Emma - write from the heart and to hell with the inner cynic. When you do this successfully I think this is what moves the reader. If you can't feel it, you can't show it, but sometimes I think we can get scared to show it. Trying to be too sophisticated is the death of good writing (discuss?!!). Sorry about the ticket fiasco, Sam. It makes me feel much better that other people mess up this way too!

Samantha Tonge said...

Thanks Lydia!

Hmm, i'm not sure i could be sophisticated even if i tried!

Definitely less is more though.

emmadarwin said...

It's not always the obvious things which make readers cry, either, and in some ways that's even more thrilling: to have touched someone when that wasn't specially what you were trying to do, only to write well. I had an email from a reader about TMOL, who said that she cried at the scene when Lucy is drawing Stephen, but he can't see the paper, only hear her pencil making all the different strokes. This reader said that she's an artist, but is also hearing-impaired: she cried because she'd never realised that the tools of her trade make sounds...

Susannah Rickards said...

Sam, I've come to this late. I actually felt sick as I read this, and didn't immediately realise it was a true story. My first impluse was to post: Is this true? but then read other posts and gather it was. Where's only one thing you can do. It is already a perfect, PERFECT subject for a short story - no scenario could be better pitched. I'd sub it to every competition and paying magazine out there, until it hits a jackpot of £120 and buy tickets for his next show with the proceeds.

Oh, and send him the story (RW, I mean.) No harm in that, is there? You never know, the grumpy old man may have a sentimental interior and send you some complimentary tickets to his next gig.

Samantha Tonge said...

Ah, Emma, how very poignant.

Now that's a good idea, Susannah:) Yes, i felt sick to my stomach when i realized he wasn't joking. Winning some prize money would certainly make me feel better!

Anonymous said...

OMG, Sam! What an amazing story (and not in a good way - except for the writing)!

I cry very easily, often at the same things other people cry at, then also at a whole lot of other things, and not always in a 'sad' way, but often. Stick a bit of background music on, and I de-hydrate completey in less than half an hour.

poppy

Anonymous said...

'completely'

Samantha Tonge said...

Thanks, Poppy.

i tend to save my tears up and then there's a huge, massive fallout every now and again. I'm sure the way of you regular blubbers in much healthier:)