Make ’Em Feel Something

A book I’ve been slowly going through these days is a writer’s craft book called The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. If you know anything about Donald Maass, you know that he’s a literary agent who has read thousands of manuscripts. He’s also written other craft books.

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Over the years I also have reviewed for publishers and other venues more manuscripts than I can count. But sometimes I found myself puzzling over why a manuscript didn’t work for me. Right off the bat, Maass’s book gave me insight with this quote:

When a plot resolves, readers are satisfied, but what they remember of a novel is what they felt while reading it. (Maass 4)

Many times, I did not feel anything while reading a manuscript. Even stellar writing, Maass mentions, can be a turnoff if a reader does not feel anything while reading a story. So the point of Maass’s book is to help writers create the kind of stories that cause readers to experience the journey—not just read about it. In other words, the kind of stories that make readers feel something.

Part of that experience is fostered through helping to immerse a reader in a character’s emotional journey. Have you ever had a hard time writing an emotional scene? I have. Usually while drafting, I only scratch the surface, especially if a character feels a complex array of emotions. Consider how you felt on an extremely emotional day.

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So, writing emotional content does not come naturally to me. But Maass cautioned

While it’s fine to fill pages with what is natural and easy for you, it’s also critical to get comfortable writing what isn’t natural and easy. (74)

I want to get better at writing emotional scenes. This means I might have to rewrite a scene over and over until I break through the wall of resistance within myself.

Something else that inspired me to get better at writing emotional content is a quote from another book I’m reading. In one of the forewords to The LEGO® Batman Movie: The Making of the Movie, written by Tracey Miller-Zarneke, director Chris McKay and producers Dan Lin, Phil Lord, and Chris Miller wrote

When assembling these [LEGO] movies from the beginning, we always start with an emotional question to explore over the course of the story.

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They actually asked more than one question to shape their main character’s emotional arc. One of these questions was a what-if question. (I won’t share those questions, since doing so would involve a spoiler.) Sure, the filmmakers want to entertain people with their production. But also they want people to feel what the character feels along the way. This inspires me to carefully consider the what-if questions that are the basis for my character’s emotional journey.

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How do you feel when you have to write scenes with high emotional content? Is it easy for you? Hard? If the latter, what do you do to press onward?

If you don’t write stories, consider the last book you read that really moved you. Why do you think it did?

Maass, Donald. The Emotional Craft of Fiction. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2016.

Miller-Zarneke, Tracey. The LEGO® Batman Movie: The Making of the Movie. New York: DK/Penguin-Random House, 2017.

The LEGO® Batman Movie poster from xemeston.ir. Emotions image from taringa.net.

Films with Rounded Edges

I’ll get to the birthday giveaway in just a minute. But first, this. . . .

In my quest to cut back on violent imagery (which I discussed in this post), I watched three movies with a softer touch. Two—The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014) were directed by Irish filmmaker/illustrator Tomm Moore.

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Tomm Moore

Both were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

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Here’s the trailer for Song of the Sea.

The third was Lego Batman: The Movie—DC Super Heroes Unite (2013), directed by Jon Burton. This movie is based on a videogame. You can watch the trailer here.

(To avoid overcrowding this post with trailers, the Secret of Kells trailer can be found if you click here. But only if you want to.)

Lego Batman has fight scenes so innocuous a five-year-old can view them without twitching. That’s not a criticism. I loved it and Tomm Moore’s gorgeously animated films.

The Secret of Kells is based on a real book—the Book of Kells, a medieval illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels on display at Trinity College Library in Dublin. It features Brendan, a boy living the monastic life in a walled village, where his uncle, the abbot, fears an impending attack by the Vikings. A visit from a famed manuscript illuminator sets Brendan on a life-changing journey. In Song of the Sea, Ben—one of the main characters—grieves the disappearance of his mother while avoiding his six-year-old sister Saiorse, who has yet to speak a word. Being sent away to live with a stern grandmother sets Ben on a journey of discovery about his sister and why their mother left.

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Book of Kells Chi Rho page, which the film mentions

What I love about both films, besides the utter beauty of the art, is the exploration of Celtic mythology. Fairy stories are generally a way to gain my rapt attention. Brendan meets a fairy—one of the Tuatha De Danann. Ben thrives on stories of fairies and selkies.

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Brendan with Aisling, the fairy Brendan meets in the forest

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Ben (bottom right) with Saiorse (the little girl in the center surrounded by fairies)

In an interview at the GhibliWorld.com, Moore cited Hayao Miyazaki (Ponyo; Spirited Away), Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack; Hotel Transylvania), and Michel Ocelot (The Princes’ Quest; Tales of the Night) as influencers. (If you know Miyazaki’s work, you know that Studio Ghibli was founded by Miyazaki and another filmmaker—Isao Takahata.) If you’ve seen the work of these filmmakers, you know the beauty and scope of their projects. I have certainly appreciated their work over the years.

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Hayao Miyazaki

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Genndy Tartakovsky

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Michel Ocelot

I know what you’re thinking. An attack by Vikings? Evil villains teaming up to destroy a city? (If you saw the Lego Batman trailer, you’ll know who the villains are.) Aren’t those violent acts? Yep. There are scenes of peril in all three movies. But the peril is definitely palatable for a young audience. The deliberately softened edges in some scenes help.

And that’s what I appreciated overall—the rounded edges. In his behind-the-scenes presentation, Tomm Moore talked about the deliberate choice to match the style of the Book of Kells by featuring circular imagery in many of the scenes. In his commentary, Moore described these images as “a little bit more friendly.” If you look back at the imagery on his films’ DVD cases and the other pictures above, you’ll see the rounded edges of the heroic characters. The antagonists, however, have sharp angles.

Moore is not the only one who has this opinion about rounded edges. I found this article on web design: “5 Colors, Shapes, and Techniques That Make Your Company Friendlier.” The writer, James George, states

[A]dding circular elements to your website can help to break the mold and make your website look friendly and more inviting.

Another article that talks about the inviting quality of rounded edges is this one.

I can’t say I know for sure what the thought process was behind Lego Batman. But Lego minifigs usually look inviting. In the film, many of the characters smiled a lot, which made them look, well, adorable.

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I never explored the idea of rounded edges being friendlier until I began writing this post and heard Moore’s discussion. Perhaps that’s why I love the rounded tops of some Tudor-style doors. I don’t know about you, but I want to walk through these doors.

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So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. I’m feeling much more relaxed—relaxed enough to announce the winner of the birthday giveaway. (If you’re not sure what I mean, go here.)

The winner, without further ado, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Penny of the Life in the Cutoff blog!!!

Penny, please confirm below, and provide an email address where you can be reached. Also, let me know your choice: coffee or tea.

Thanks to all who commented. Have a happy Avengers 2: Age of Ultron weekend!

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Song of the Sea DVD cover from dvdsreleasedates.com. Secret of Kells DVD cover from mysfreviews.com. Tomm Moore from purepeople.com. Lego Batman from flicks.co.nz. Ben and Aisling image from twitchfilm.com. Song of the Sea still from cinemarcado.com.br. Brendan from cinematheque.fr. DC heroes from watchcartoononline.com. Doors from homecurbappeal.com. Genndy Tartakovsky from cn-cartoonnetwork.wikia.com. Hayao Miyazaki from cinekatz.com. Michel Ocelot from lejdd.fr. Avengers 2 logo from comicvine.com. Book of Kells Chi Rho page from-ireland.net