Lindsay Longford

Using Point of View to Intensify Emotion

CREATING
INTENSITY AND EMOTION THROUGH POINT OF VIEW

Know
how sometimes you’re reading a book and your attention wanders? Or
how some books suck you into the world on the page?

There
are many ways an author can create that kind of intensity for a
reader: through plot, through innovative syntax, mood, the kinds of
characters. Getting into the mind of the point of entry character,
though, getting into that character’s head so tightly that it’s a
mind meld is one of the most powerful because then the reader forgets
the separation between his/her head and life and that of the life of
that character.

You
know when an author’s done it well. In romance writing, I think
Jennifer Greene, Anne McCallister, and several others do it so well
that you’re inevitabley drawn into the emotions of the books. In
thrillers, Lee Child keeps you at a distance with Jack Reacher, but
Child gets into Reacher’s head, if not his emotions, so that you’re
observing with, seeing the same things Reacher’s noting.

Child
doesn’t necessarily give you the conclusions Reacher’s making,
as, for instance, in the famous and brilliant scene in The Persuader,
where Reacher is observing the gun the villain is talking about and
there’s the chance that the bad guy will turn it on Reacher.

Suspense
builds as Reacher notes every detail of the gun, processes it,
absorbs it. As a reader, you could no more stop reading at that point
than the earth could stop revolving.

Child
creates suspense, even while maintaining a kind of distance between
Reacher and reader, through a fabulous accretion of details, building
and building. He keeps the mystery of Reacher at the same time,
however, by not giving the reader Reacher’s conclusions about what
he’s always observing. By not providing Reacher’s conclusions,
Child holds back on a certain kind of emotion.

We
don’t get Reacher’s feelings. We do, however, get an incredibly
intense scene of suspense through the power of those details about
this very special weapon and what it can do.

A
romance novel, however, will include those feelings, will include the
point of entry character’s conclusions and decisions as a way of
intensifying emotion because you are then bonded with that character.
Having the same emotions as the character allows you to root for
him/her, allows you to be in that character’s head and world.

So
using specific, powerful details is one way of creating suspense and
emotion through a character’s point of view.

But
not just any details.

Each
detail has to be essential to what will happen as a result of the
character’s observation.

If
a writer, less skillful than Child, for instance, just piles on
detail after detail, even wonderful, specific ones, what happens is
that the details don’t add up to anything. They don’t acquire
meaning, emotion, or suspense.

And
the reader tends to skip over those sections.

So
if you mention a detail, or several, figure out what your purpose is,
but even more important, be sure you, as the writer, know why these
details are important to the character and what s/he will do with
them or how s/he will be affected by them.

Otherwise,
shoot, sugar,it’s just all purty stuff, and it don’t mean a
thang.

All
right, using specific, pointed details that are important for
whatever reason to the point of entry character is one way of
creating and intensifying emotion, suspense, and page-turning
interest.

Another,
slightly trickier technique is to look at the vocabulary and syntax
of your point of entry character. But. . . not the vocabulary s/he
uses in dialogue–that’s a whole ‘nother topic–but the kinds
of words the character uses when s/he’s talking to himself or
herself. When the character’s thinking . Take a look at how the
character structures his/her thoughts.

If
you stop yourself sometime while you’re thinking–NOT that easy to
do, is it?!–you’ll notice that you’re not thinking in complete
sentences. Your thoughts aren’t flowing in an organized point,
sub-point, connected fashion. Most likely they’re bouncing like
ping pong balls in a lottery machine all over the place. Odds are the
the thoughts burst out , randomly feeding off the previous thought,
leaping forward to something else. The vocabulary is usually simple,
maybe profane in ways the character isn’t in dialogue.

Here’s
the reason this technique can become tricky. As authors, we tend to
use our own inner vocabulary and syntax when we’re trying to create
those of a character.

Danger,
Will Robinson! Danger!

Stoplight!
Stoplight!

The
mind meld you create depends on your using character specific
language, character specific structure.

For
example, if a guy’s a carpenter, how does a carpenter perceive
things when s/she observes them, when s/he thinks about a problem?
Does a carpenter think in terms of measurements? Of planes? Of how
things join together?

What
are the carpenter kinds of words and world view that are specific to
that occupation? Painters tend to be aware of colors, musicians,
sounds. What characterizes how a carpenter, your character, sees the
world? Reacts to it?

If
you’re not into carpentry or whatever your character is, then you
need to rejigger your writerly thinking so that your writer mind can
give your reader the reality of that carpenter. Or cook. Or pilot.

So
you need to interview folks like your character, talk with them, get
a sense of how they express themselves, and, just as crucial, how
they think and how they see the world.

Two
techniques. They’ll both serve you well as a writer. There are
more. But two will serve for the moment, right?

Lindsay
On Writing

I.
THOUGHTS ABOUT WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’RE GETTING LOTS OF NEGATIVE
FEEDBACK FROM EDITORS/FRIENDS/CRITIQUE GROUPS AND YOU FEEL CREATIVELY
STYMIED

1.
Big Picture Stuff: Efficiency is NOT necessarily your friend at this
point. In other words, writing fast and rewriting fast may not serve
you well. A chore-oriented mindset geared to “fixes” won’t o
allow you to wallow in the moment, won’t let you give a reader all
that texture and emotion..

a.
If it’s an editor or your agent who you feel just isn’t getting
your work or who no longer likes you or your work: You might need
closure for the current uncomfortable situation so you can get back
to work—a note? Eventually a face to face, non-confrontational but
one where you discuss the situation and lay your concerns out, even
if it requires a trip to NYC or wherever?

b.
Critique groups: How can you use it to get the most from them? More
brainstorming? More conceptualizing of bigger story issues? Less
taffy-pulling on your manuscript? Do you need to step away from the
group for a breather, for a chance to regain your equilibrium and to
hear the voices of your characters and to find the flow of your
story? It’s okay if you do. Critique groups by their very nature
can be so helpful that they become a kind of noisy wave coming at
you, confusing you.

c.
One thing has always worked for me and that is an intensive analysis
of some books that work for you: a kind of spreadsheet/chart of the
main elements? How the writer creates characters, how the emotion is
worked from chapter to chapter and how the pull through of emotion is
kept central rather than action/plot. I’m talking real, chapter by
chapter, scene by scene deconstruction here. An outline, a
spreadsheet of when characters are introduced, what kinds of
interactions the protagonist/antagonists have with each other, with
secondary characters, how many scenes in a chapter. You know, that
kind of stuff!

d.
Health: B-12 vitamins, good sleep, a change of scenery, some input of
fun things that remind you of your strength. Your creativity goes
south when the body’s not in tune. Hey, you can’t race a finely
tuned sports car at 150 miles an hour when the carburetor’s
clogged. Or two tires are flat. Right?

2.
Your Process—what are some things about your process that may be
working for you or may not be working to help you produce the best
work? In other words, have you become so comfortable with how you
work that you’re taking shortcuts and don’t realize it?

a.
If so, SLOW DOWN: maybe go through the idea of the book first,
jotting down emotional moments that reveal WHERE the character’s
emotional development is at that point rather than focusing on what
might/should be happening? I.E. If you usually have 21 chapters, just
take a pad of paper and jot down two scenes per chapter that focus on
WHERE the h/h’s emotional movement is at that point. Then you can
see the emotional development of the two major characters for the
whole book. You can see if there’s an emotional arc to how they
change from the first chapter to the last.

b.
Think about writing a one sentence emotional development line for
both h/h or antagonist/protagonist: EG: In order to move forward from
her past mistakes and to become whole and find genuine love, your
heroine seeks and needs redemption. Then, in each chapter, test the
scene against that pull through line. Same for your hero or
antagonist.

c.
Before you start writing each day, jot down what the emotional place
is for h/h in that chapter and check to make sure that whatever
action you write, whatever scene you place them in, develops that
emotional touch point. Every scene must have a purpose and must push
the emotional AND plot developments further ahead. If a scene’s
charming, lovely, but doesn’t really do anything except be
charming? Cut the sucker.

d.Maybe
do a bit more layering of scenes as you go? Wallow in the moment of a
scene’s texture? The things of the senses, concrete, that
show/reveal how the character feels in that scene so that you don’t
have to use internal monologue to tell us?

3.
Obstacles/High Stakes

a.
How much can you take away from the h/h before the story even starts?
How emotionally desperate/low can you start them out? Are their
circumstances as rock bottom as you can make them? What is the
impossible dream? What is the unclimbable mountain? These are the
elements that ratchet up the emotional pull through for a reader and
make a reader care about a character.

b.
Once you know exactly how close to the edge of the cliff you’ve put
your characters, then they have to fight to pull themselves up out of
that place, and everything they do has the risk of pitching them
right back into the awful place, the desperate place. What will they
risk for love? For self-respect? And, especially, what would happen
to them IF they risk all for love? That has to be a real, palpable
consequence for h/h.

4.
Scene Development

a.
Think METAPHOR for every action, every paragraph—if possible. Use
objects/weather, textures to carry emotion and to key into the
character’s emotions.

How
can objects be touched, seen, used, smelled in order to convey the
emotion of the moment. EG: Feeling: She was uncomfortable. Action on
the page: Never meeting his gaze, she folded the sheets, lining up
each corner with military precision. Suddenly, fiercely, he yanked
the crisp fabric through her fingers, crumpling the carefully
smoothed linen, drawing her closer with each tug until their fingers
clung together within the cotton.

What
is the sheet a metaphor for? What do her actions and his show us
about their emotional state at that moment? With your protagonist,
for instance, what concrete object can you let represent represent
him/her? Would a car or a drum set or a hidden piece of jewelry equal
freedom? Control? Power? An analgesic that eases some emotional pain?
Work a primary metaphor for all its worth.

b.
Work on book time vs real time—expand the real time to give the
reader the whole moment before moving on to next
action/scene/chapter. EG: Say a hero is observing the heroine in
action that takes only five minutes of real time: how does what he
sees her doing affect his sense of who she is in reference to his
feelings toward her at that moment? And how does his recognition of
what he’s observing motivate him to act?

5.
Sameness: think about whether or not you use the same kind of town,
the same kind of setting. Those choices lead, possibly to a sameness
of character? Sameness of plot?

Most
important, remember above all: you know how to right the ship.

None
of these suggestions is an absolute, but maybe one or more will give
you some ideas so that you can get your feet back under you and
regain your confidence when feedback is unsettling your creative
process.

Leave a Comment