Evocative Writing and my precious word count and GRRM’s dirge

George RR Martin at the Comicon

I know, my posts should be focused, and not scattered about talking about one thing then another.  I actually have folks who have subscribed to my blog recently that I do not personally know (I’m sure they will unsubscribe as soon as they figure out I’m a hack).

Regardless, dear new suckers readers, I will wander today.  Prepare yourselves.  I will go out-of-order.

NaNoWriMo is going well.  As of writing this, my word count is 27,123.  Woohoo!

I’m just about hitting my stride in Guilt’s Heart, my second novel, and I’m feeling it.  My characters are focused, I’m focused, and I have a pile of notes that I will spend the months of December, January, February and probably March too, going through to fix what I’m writing – but I’m writing!

I’m also reading George R.R. Martin‘s latest tome, A Dance with Dragons.

This. Man. Can. Write.

I already knew that, of course, having read the previous four tomes of the Songs of Ice and Fire series, but it has been so long since I read the other books, and between them and this one, I’ve read countless unfinished stories and manuscripts, that I honestly forgot what it was like to completely lose oneself in a story.  I’m digging it.

Except nothing is happening.

It’s like, “Please, someone go start a war for crying out loud.  I’m bored.”  Mr. Martin is spending so much time positioning all the pieces just right on his cyvasse board he has failed to notice that everyone has left the party.

With that said, I am enjoying the book, and the way Mr. Martin uses language to evoke empathy is amazing.  I mean, did you all know that Reek was Theon Greyjoy?

You did?

Oh, I guess that just makes me dense, or forgetful…or both.

Regardless, as I read the chapter POVs belonging to Reek, the tortured mess that had been Theon Greyjoy, my heart bled for the man.  When his identity was revealed under no uncertain terms – I was shocked.  Mr. Martin managed to stab me in the heart as I bared my breasts to him in the most intimate and trusting manner.  (Or something like that, I’m trying to emulate the writer here.)

Which brings me to my next topic…

20. Evoking Emotion
Hemingway spoke of a story’s “sequence of motion and fact.” James M. Cain discussed “the algebra of storytelling: a + b + c + d = x.” What they meant was a sequence of incidents in a story that, if arranged correctly and dramatized vividly, will create a stimulus that compels the reader to feel the emotion the author is trying to create. Talking about emotions won’t compel a reader to feel them. “He felt sad” won’t make a reader feel sad. Instead, the reader must be made to feel the situations in the story, to experience what the characters experience; as a result, just as a sequence creates emotion in the characters, it will do the same in the reader. This is a case of stimulus-response.

Writers can achieve this effect if they take the sense of sight for granted and emphasize the other senses, thus crafting multidimensional descriptions and scenes. Details of sight alone almost always create a flat effect, so when revising, take a few minutes to make sure that each scene has at least one other sense detail. In this way, the reader becomes immersed in the story, feeling it rather than being told about it.
—Morrell

As some of you know, I have reviewed the Writer’s Digest 25 Ways to Improve Your Writing in 30 Minutes a Day.  You can read all that I have finished here.  And the twentieth tip just happens to talk about the one thing I’ve managed to learn how to do in the past two years.

I can write a song that’ll make an old woman cry.

Well, okay, maybe not.  Old women have seen it all, but I bet I can get her eyes to moisten!  Just a little!

As Mr. Morrell suggests in the tip above, if you want someone to feel what your protag is experiencing, note the things they are experiencing.  For example, if your protag is about to go to battle and fear has rooted their feet to the ground, mention his dry throat or the tightening of his belly muscles or the sweat that forms on his brow.

I learned this while participating over on the SFFWorld.com forum contests.  There are a few writers that participate in those contests and some are foreigners.  Not just folks from the U.K. and Canada, but Germans, Frenchmen, and, egads, Argentinians ( 😉 SuperFede!).  Those foreigners, unlike my compatriots,  had the gumption to tell me exactly what was wrong with my writing.  They consistently told me that I needed to show my readers how my protag felt, and not tell them (i.e., he’s afraid).  For a long time I ignored their advice because I thought, pssst, bloody foreigners, what do they know about writing – in English!

Well, they are readers.  And readers of any language do not want to be told a story, they want to feel it.

So that’s an extra tip/topic I just threw in there: Listen to your beta-readers or your critique group or whomever you use to run your drafts by.  Very true that they probably do not know it all, just as you do not know it all, but you know what you like.  You know what stories move you and so do they.

Until next time, my friends, write on.

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8 thoughts on “Evocative Writing and my precious word count and GRRM’s dirge

  1. I’m totally with you. ADWD was more like “Circling the Dragons” and I wish more had happened aside from in the last 50 pages. Then again, I’m a huge fan of the series, and willing to let him take as much time and words as he wants.

    Evocative writing, seems to me based on the snippet, is all about showing more than telling. The best way to describe someone’s emotional state is to show what their body is going through, show what they’re thinking about, but don’t tell me they’re afraid/upset/furious. Evoke it! Evoke away!

    1. Right. I still write things like, “she was afraid” or whatever, but at least I know I need to go back to it and show the fear rather than tell it. And yes, it does all boil down to that show vs tell thing, huh?

      Thanks for stopping by, Todd. 🙂

      1. go a level deeper. It’s not just that she’s afraid — it’s does she know that she’s afraid, and how does she react to that.
        Do you relate the tenseness of her muscles, the whiteness of her compressed lips — or the deliberate relaxation caused by the knowledge that she’s afraid (or her shouting to someone because of nerves)

        I’m not a very good storyteller. plot’s not my strong point.

      2. I’m not a very good storyteller either. Which is why I’m going through the tips. Thank you for your ideas. I forget that you can show emotion through action. Very good, and thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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