Monday, December 17, 2007

Emotional Writing, the Cons

What, you may ask, is a Christmas photo doing on an entry about the cons of emotional writing?

On the left, the small glass container has always been in my life and part of my Christmas. It started out as a pine candle that was burned every Christmas eve. When I was four, I was allowed to use a kitchen match and light the candle, my first really grown up act ever, ever. I remember the brilliance of the flame, the heat of it licking near my fingertips, the pride of the accomplishment.

I could write pages about my memories of that one item. But I won't. Why? Because it is particular to me. Family stories don't constitute fiction. Sometimes that line gets blurred and what should only be a dairy or journal entry ends up being stretched too thin to become "a story."

Which brings up the major con of emotional writing. Jim of The Truth About Lies commented in the previous post: Many time I have written a poem as a direct emotional response to certain events but what I have noticed is that the closer the writing is to the event in general the poorer the quality of the piece is.

Good point, Jim. And the bigger the event the more distance is needed. In my workshops, I've run into this problem over and over. What's happened isn't fiction. Fiction is not only retelling a story, it needs more. It needs a story arc and resolution. "But it really happened," beginning writers wail--and that's the problem.

And if the event is large enough, the writer may never be able to escape the confines of the emotion. In my candle-lighting event described above, I can use my memories to heighten a moment in a piece of fiction. But some events are too large, too strong to use so specifically.

That having been said, the pros outweigh the con.


Cornish Dreamer said...

A very interesting point of view that I haven't thought about before. The comments on the previous entry were also a fascinating incite into emotional writing pros/cons. RT

Jim Murdoch said...

You remind me of a point that Woody Allen makes in Crimes and Misdemeanours. Lester a crass, hugely successful television producer, cannot resist defining comedy in the broad terms beloved by interviewers but which often mean nothing at all. He says that ''comedy is tragedy, plus time'' or ''if it bends, it's comedy. If it breaks it isn't.'' Basically what he's saying is that jokes about things like the Lincoln assassination simply couldn't be made the day the guy died but now people aren't as sensitive – "Yes, but other than that, Mrs Lincoln, what did you think of the play?"

The Los Angeles Times reports: "It seems the time that elapses between catastrophes and comic takes on them grows shorter and shorter. It took almost 100 years for jokes to emerge about Lincoln's assassination … and less than a decade about John F Kennedy's assassination." With September 11, it took less than six months. And not all who attempted to use jokes to address the enormity of the attacks were condemned.

Joking is a way of coping with tragedy. I'm not commenting on the rights and wrongs of people making jokes about these deaths but it does illustrate very well how we need time for our wounds to heal over before we can sometimes process stuff, e.g. "You know, some day we'll look back at this and laugh."

jesse said...

Nicely put, I adore your emotional moment.

I remember a few times trying to do something emotional, always a mess. Even more of a mess when the writer is both writing emotionally and emotionally attached to the emotions. I do remember some very good reactions to poems I wrote based on strong emotions, but I do believe it was because the poem evolved into poetry during the writing.

Thank you.

Conda Douglas said...

Thanks, Rebecca and Iiosis for your kind comments. These 2 posts came to me because of the Christmas season--so evocative of so many emotions.

And Jim, I wonder if the shortening of time before the jokes begin is a function of how quickly, often and intensely we get news? And of course, good news isn't news. We're always bombarded with the bad and humor is one defense.