More on creating emotional depth in fiction
Published: January 2, 2009
|In the February 2009 issue of The Writer, Mary E. DeMuth offered suggestions on how to create more powerful fiction by creating emotional depth. Following is her related Before and After sidebar showing how she improved a problem passage, as well as a list of related resources. |
Before and After
In an early draft of my novel Watching the Tree Limbs, young Mara has very little emotional response to her daily life—a life fraught with abandonment by her aunt, the mystery of her parents' whereabouts, and sexual abuse at the hands of a neighborhood bully, General.
She twisted and turned in her sheets, entangling her sweaty self in them like a cocoon. She closed her eyes and longed for an adult embrace—of a fond touching from her mother or her father. For a moment, one tiny moment, she willed her parents into existence—parents who would hold her like the sheets held her now. Instead of fighting against the percale, she slowed her breathing and begged for sleep. And God, if You are out there, please let me find my voice in the nightmare.
In the second draft, I've expanded the scene to give the reader a clearer picture of Mara's emotional landscape.
She twisted and turned in her sheets, entangling her sweaty self in them like a straight jacket. She closed her eyes and longed for a hug—of a fond touching from her mother or her father. For a moment, one tiny moment, she willed her parents alive—parents who would hold her like the sheets held her now. Instead of fighting against the bedding, she slowed her breathing and begged for sleep.
As she started to fall asleep, a tear trailed out of her eye. She wiped it, but another one came. Then another. Before she could wipe them all away, a sob burst from her chest. She smashed her pillow to her mouth, suffocating her wail. Heaving chest, watering eyes, aching heart—all these combined into a display of weepy helplessness. She ached for Nanny Lynn to come back from heaven, to swoop down like a cowbird to rescue her from General. But no matter how much she cried, nothing would change. And this made her weep all the more until she heard footsteps.
Aunt Elma appeared in her doorway. "You crying? What for?"
Mara heard a tinge of tenderness in her aunt's voice. For a moment, she wanted to spill everything out. "I'm sad."
"Mara, how many times have I told you that Nanny Lynn, she ain't coming back, no matter how much you boo-hoo." Aunt Elma walked over to her bed and bent low. In a rare show of motherly attention, she smoothed the covers over Mara and stood. She shook her head.
Mara could see her wet eyes. She misses Nanny Lynn as much as I do. Maybe she'll understand if I tell her about General. Maybe that's love behind her eyes. "I know, but—"
"No buts about it. Get over it. I want no more tears about her. She's gone. You should be over her by now." She turned abruptly and shut the door behind her.
Mara slipped her thumb in her mouth, thankful she hadn't spilled her words, worried if she didn't plug her mouth, she would.
• Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors by Brandilyn Collins
• Write from Life: Turning Your Experiences into Compelling Stories by Meg Files
• Advanced Fiction Writing Ezine by novelist Randy Ingermanson: www.advancedfictionwriting.com/ezine.