Sunday, July 8, 2012

Writing an Emotional Scene

A while back ago when I was working on an emotional scene in my book, I was wondering what exactly it is that makes a reader cry.  Why can we cry during Dear John or A Walk to Remember?
It's not a matter of wording.  You can write as much as you want, you can add in the most tragic details (depending on what is happening), but the words aren't really what make us cry or have an emotional attachment to the scene.  It's the depth, it's what we'll remember while that scene is happening.
You can describe a train crash and a young teenage boy who died, but no matter how much detail you go into, your reader can never truly feel connected to that scene.  They didn't know the boy, they weren't on the train, and while it's sad... there's nothing else to it but being plain sad.
However, if you had talked about this little girl who knew the teenage boy and how she adored him, looked up to him as a role model, followed him everywhere he went... that would have an affect.  Do you know why?  Because you feel attached, you would have a reason to care.  Showing how totally horrified and torn about the little girl is over that boy's death would be more powerful than any amount of words you can write on paper.
Just the other day I was watching The Vampire Diaries --yeah, I know what you're thinking, but to me those kind of shows give me inspiration to work with; after all, they were originally books [and good ones at that!]--and in one of the first episodes of season 3 (I'm catching up), Stefan calls Elena.  She answers the phone and says something along the lines of, "Stefan?  If this is you, it's going to be okay.  I love you, Stefan. Hold onto that.  Never let go of that." Then they returned the camera focus to Stefan, and though he didn't say anything, it was his silence that was the most powerful part of that scene.  He started crying, and he isn't usually one to cry unless something's really wrong, and at that point I started crying too.

Stefan? Stefan if this is you, youll be okay. I love you, Stefan. Hold on to that. Never let that go.

From the AV Club review of the third season premiere, “The Birthday”:

Over the summer, I rewatched the entire series over a span of about two  weeks, which was when I realized just how tight of a series The Vampire Diaries has become. The first season solidified the tone of the show and its  storytelling style. The second season mastered that storytelling style  and took it to the next level by adding a significant amount of really  thoughtful character development. The season three premiere took those  character beats developed last season and not only executed them  perfectly but also built upon that foundation. I realize I am gushing,  and it may sound unseemly; perhaps watching a large volume of mediocre  summer television and new fall pilots has my perception skewed. All I  know is this is one of the most purely satisfying episodes of television  Ive seen in months and one of the best episodes this show has ever  done.

I watch a lot (A LOT) of television. I watch a lot of unanimously fantastic television (Game of Thrones, Mad Men, The Good Wife, Dexter), I watch a lot of cheesy, campy, pretty crappy television (True Blood, Weeds), I watch a lot of cable dramas that are pretty fluffy (Warehouse 13, Covert Affairs, anything else on USA or SyFy), I watch a lot of network fluff too (Grey’s Anatomy, Gossip Girl, Castle). (I currently watch, during the year, 40+ ongoing scripted television shows. That’s not counting ANY new shows for this 2011-2012 season, or shows cancelled over the past year. It’s a disease.)
But baring Showtime or HBO shows, or FX and AMC shows, there are very few network or cable shows that deliver the great television beats every week. In fact, we’ll throw out those channels because they work in 13 episode seasons (which is really how they should).
If we focus our attention on 22 episode network seasons, there are pretty much only two shows that manage to be utterly and truly fantastic every week.
One show is The Good Wife, which has some of the best casting I’ve ever seen on television, and it’s core cast (ALAN CUMMING stealing every scene he’s in, and some he’s not; Josh Charles! Christine Baranski!) and recurring cast (A sly and cunning and evil Michael J Fox!) are truly some of the best actors and characters on television right now. It’s also a very tightly written drama.
But the only other show on network that manages to blow me away every week, that manages to make me gush and squeal like a little girl; the only show that makes me say “Holy shit!” every act break (so six times an hour) is THE VAMPIRE DIARIES.
I know nobody else (of my followers/reader) watches it. I know a lot of you scoff.
But as stated in the AV review, this is a show that just gets tighter and tighter as it goes. It manages to scare, to thrill, to entertain; it also manages to make you weep and feel for its characters (witches, vampires, vampire hunters, werewolves, ghosts and the occasional human). It’s six-act structure, playing to commercial break, is designed to leave you crazed and bewildered each break. It constantly and continuously manages to be both breathtaking and heartbreaking. Every week, for 22 weeks, it succeeds on every level that a television show is meant to.
That is all just to say that, yes, I love The Vampire Diaries. I truly believe this is a show better than the network it’s on, and better than a lot of other one-hour dramas. I called it the “Game of Thrones of The CW” on twitter last week, a statement I beleive stands. It’s an epic show grounded in humanity and emotion, a show rich and full of mythology that isn’t afraid to kill off it’s cast, or dramatically alter them, or wreak havoc within it’s world and characters.
I know none of you are going to read this and say, “You know what? Maybe I’ll watch Vampire Diaries this week.”  But the next time you’re on netflix, or browsing Hulu, or looking for something to watch instead of Always Sunny or Jersey Shore or some procedural… I’d say think about The Vampire Diaries. Give it a season. (It does start out rather Dawson’s Creek-y with vampires, but drops all that very fast).
I know where I’ll be every Thursday night. I’ll be in Mystic Falls.
See you there.
Later on, I thought back to that scene, and I realized it was because the writers let us know who Stefan was that the scene was so powerful.  I wasn't crying because I thought Elena's words were powerful, or because it was sad that Stefan was crying, but more so that he had been so gravely affected by her words, and that even in his darkest moment he was able to reach out to her and she seemed to be able to save him.
It's moments like those that you'll want to create, the moments that your readers will never forget and always want to return to.
Don't be afraid to reveal your character's fears.  And chances are if you start getting teary-eyed during a scene, your readers will too.
Lindsey R. Sablowski


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