As a result of my endless hours of editing, I wanted to discuss a reoccurring pattern. It’s easier to edit sentences that are logical, factual or funny. I blast through grammar checks and the sentences don’t require large changes. Why? These basic concepts don’t require lofty explanations. X leads to Y, which causes Z. Simple, clear, basic and easy to explain.
Passion, sadness, anger, and joy complicate writing. X happened and Bob feels… Gahh. What does Bob feel? Bob is upset. No, let’s make him angry. Is “upset” different from “angry?” Well, sort of; that’s complex. X happened and Bob feels angry. Wow, that reads awful. Bob cannot suddenly feel angry, something must have set him off. Plus, we cannot randomly inject a basic feeling, it must be carefully described.
Bob is so angry that his blood boiled. Much better. Now, Bob requires a complete back-story with supporting dialog to reveal how his anger affects others. “Sally, I feel terrible. X makes my heart ache; like it is being crushed by a thousand needles.” Powerful and incomplete.
Does a human heartache as if it is being crushed by a thousand needles? In reality, an emotional event doesn’t send needles into a heart. Also, needles don’t cause “ache” they cause sharp pain. Wow, this basic emotional description became complex.
Let’s play with this sentence. “X makes my heart ache like it is being crushed by a thousand sharp rods.” Better, but wrong. Alright, let’s fix the original sentence. “X makes my heartache under the force of a thousand needles.” Worse, yet more “correct.” This sentence must be scrapped and the author needs to go in a different direction.
Last night, I edited two paragraphs for style. These paragraphs addressed the main character giving his horse to a family. It took me over an hour to fix and the results still needs work.
Why? The main character liked the horse, and the family wanted to show their appreciation. I needed to share his thoughts and get an emotional reaction. At the same time, I needed to make sure I used good logic, grammar, and flow. Finding that balance between emotional content and good sentence structure is difficult. To make matters worse, I often add the words “I” “feel” “he/she” and “me.” The result reads like a stuttering child who discovered a thesaurus. Drives me crazy.
On the other side of the coin, there must be distance, reflection, and regret. How did Bob feel after the event? Well, why not skip that emotional junk? That’s easy. Readers hate dispassionate stories.
The core of every good story rests on an emotional foundation. It’s a key part of building the bridge into a reader’s mind and I enjoy writing about emotions. It’s fun to dig deep into a character’s mind to pull out their most sacred thoughts. However, the result is difficult to edit. The sentences read like a five-year-old describing his first bike.
In reading other works, I am not alone. Many books overcompensate or miss the mark with regard to emotions. Normal characters are emotional messes and horrific characters are confusingly nice. It’s a great feeling to know that I have company in this area.
Fortunately, I see this area as something that I can improve upon. This struggle makes my heartache like a…
You’re the best -Bill
October 23 2019
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