Wednesday, 24 November 2010


Today, I have been crying. Not wailing, sobbing, or beating my breast, mind you. A few dignified tears slipping down the cheeks, and the odd sniff. That sort of thing. But fear not. Nothing bad has happened to your favourite author (second favourite? Third? Fine, an author you might have heard of once, maybe). I've just been re-writing some emotional scenes in FF.

I quite often get a little het up when I'm writing. I don't set out to do it. I'll just be reading some dialogue out loud to myself and suddenly there's a catch in my throat. Or maybe there's no dialogue, and I'm working hard to capture a certain, intense moment in a character's life, and suddenly PLOP, there's a tear there on the page. There have definitely been times when I've finished my day's work with swollen nose and eyes, and headed straight for the chocolate stash. Shadows on the Moon was probably my weepiest work - but TSK and DotF had their moments too. FF is coming out somewhere near Shadows, but I haven't finished revising yet. It may get worse (O Joy).

Since I've always been this way it never occurred to me to question it, and I probably assumed that most other authors were the same way (whether they admitted it or not) up until recently. I remember reading a quote once that said 'No tears in the author, no tears in the reader' and thinking: Well, I've got that covered anyway.

But it turns out there are some authors who scorn this kind of rampant emotionalism, and who say that it's all just silliness and getting carried away. Do carpenters weep over their dovetail joints, these writers ask? Does an engineer get emotional when applying his wrench? No! Writing, they say, is a craft, like any other, and in order to use the tools of craft correctly one must maintain a proper emotional distance and realise that IT'S ALL JUST FICTION ANYWAY FOR CRISSAKES!!!

And hey, before we start badmouthing these guys - we're talking Maggie Stiefvater, Meg Cabot and Veronica Roth here. People whose success and opinions need to be respected. I do respect them.

I'm not just not sure I really agree.

Of course I can see, logically, where writers who say things like this are coming from. Anyone who feels the way they do is absolutely right - when it comes to their own work. But it seems a little prescriptive to be implying that people who do get very emotionally involved with their characters are just being silly. Writers, like all people, are famously individual. One writer's block is another writer's inspiration.

Yes, writing is a craft. A craft like carpentry or engineering. It has its own tools and it can be learned and improved with practise. But it's also an art (I'm not being pretentious here, because I think anything, really anything, can be an art if you love it and do your absolute best with it and believe in it). And contrary to common belief, the stuff of a writer's art is not words. Words are the medium. Just like a glassblower uses glass as a medium in which to capture light, so a writer uses words as a medium to capture emotion.

That's what being a writer is all about, right? Whether we want to make people laugh, or get angry, or feel sad, or happy, the important thing is that they feel. We create characters and stories and worlds with the specific intention of influencing a reader's feelings, of changing the way they feel right in this minute with our story. A writer of fiction wants to engage reader's emotions - and sometimes, some of us need to invest our own to get that. If I can't believe in a character enough to forget, now and then, that they're not real, then I don't think my readers will ever feel my characters are real at all.

On the other hand, fairly recently a very successful author Who Shall Not Be Named (*cough*LaurellKHamilton*cough*) annoyed and amused a lot of authors, including me, by putting out a blog post where she claimed that writing her novels was so emotionally painful for her that it resembled being dismembered, and that she was bleeding on her keyboard. Which. You know. Euw. And her major point seemed to be that anyone who doesn't feel this way is a BIG FAT SELLOUT FAKE and NOT A REAL WRITER.

Eeep. Pretty sure I don't agree there either. Any activity which causes me such intense pain that I feel like I'm bleeding all over the place isn't for me. Isn't writing supposed to be fun? Yes, it's hard work. Yes, it's emotionally draining at times. Yes, it can also be frustrating and (let's not forget) BADLY PAID. But if you hate it so much that it hurts you, for Sweet Baby Jesus's sake stop it. Whether you're doing yoga, competitive tap-dancing or ecologically-friendly beaver wresting, there is a difference between 'good pain' (muscles working, feel the burn) and bad pain (oh my god make it stop making it stop owwwwww!). We writers might like to pretend that we're all eccentric oddballs for laughs sometimes, but this level of angst is bordering on some kind of personality disorder.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is: there are a lot of people in the world who will be telling you This Is How To Be A Writer. Some of them will say things that seem dead on. Others will apparently be talking some strange crazy language that sounds like a penguin gacking up its breakfast. Take what you find useful and move on, and, ultimately, do what works for you and makes you want to write more.

Because no one likes Mr Judgy-Writer-Pants.


Marion said...

There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right. I don't cry over my writing, maybe my books aren't as sad as yours, but I wouldn't criticise anyone for doing so. But as for being dismembered - how does she know? Has she ever _been_ dismembered?

Zoë Marriott said...

Ah, someone quoted Kipling on my blog. I can die happy :)

A very valid point. The woman still seems to have all her arms and legs in her author photos. Another example of her not thinking things through, perhaps.

Saya said...

It must be said that Laurell K Hamilton's recent offerings are a level of angst bordering on some kind of personality disorder.

Wait, there's no border.

Which is a shame, because BEFORE Anita turned into freakpornspazzery, it was actually pretty awesome. Boo.

Zoë Marriott said...

I have heard that, yes. Is there anything sadder than a Good Author Gone Bad? I don't think so. *Sigh*

bfree15 said...

I love a book that can make me cry whether it be in happiness or sadness, sometimes I find myself wishing a book had. I feel that any book that has made me cry has done a good job. I know then that I care about the character and it matters to me when they’re happy or experiencing tough times. It doesn’t matter if they are a work of fiction because there will always be an issue brought up that somebody somewhere can relate to.
I’m sure your carpenter’s would feel something if their art work that they had put their blood and sweat (and tears) into was destroyed. Isn’t it the same thing for an author when there character’s lives are turned upside down or one of them dies or betrays someone etc? I think I would feel cheated if I found out an author didn’t cry when writing a book that I found really emotional. How could they write something so beautiful and not feel anything when creating it. Where did the emotion and pain come from if not from within? If any of you have seen 27 Dresses then I think this quote from the film sums up what I mean:

Jane: You write the most beautiful things. Do you actually believe in love and marriage and just pretend to be a cynic or are you actually a cynic who knows how to spin romantic crap for girls like me?
Kevin: I didn't follow that at all, but I think the second one, the spinning crap one.
Jane: I feel like I just found out my favorite love song was written about a sandwich.

Zoë Marriott said...

I wouldn't say I felt cheated if the author didn't cry. Not all people cry when they feel emotional afterall. But if an author (like Kevin in 27 Dresses) admitted that they were 'spinning crap', I'd want to pee in their cornflakes. That's just disrespectful of the reader.

bfree15 said...

Oh don’t get me wrong I know everyone expresses themselves differently and I’m certainly not one to talk. I am not good at expressing emotion outwardly and people may perceive me as cold because of it but this doesn’t mean I don’t feel just because others can’t see it. That is why it means so much to me when I can cry over a book. When I say cry I merely mean I hope the author felt the intense emotions they created. Be it inwardly or outwardly or at some other point in there life.

batgirl said...

This is sort of a crap analogy, but I think a writer being willing to cry (or, heck, fist-pump) for the character s/he's written is no more unreasonable than a joiner being willing to sit on the chair he's built. Chairs are meant to be sat upon. Characters are meant to stir emotions.

Zoë Marriott said...

How right you are! I mean, I know we're the 'creators', but if we can't bring ourselves to put our own creations to the use for which they were intended (whether that's to be sat on, or to make a reader feel empathy) then why should any other person want to do it? Wow, I got tangled up in my own sentence there. But in summary: yes. Good point.

meghaz said...

Very, very true Zoe. I've never thought about it before (come on, I'm only 11) but you're totally right.

It's not neccessary to cry, but a book that the author didn't feel for is a pointless book.

There's a saying that states that if you don't like your work, how can you expect others to? And I think it somewhat implies here. If you don't feel the burn, feel your character, how can you expect others to?

I know you definetly get into the character, because I love your books.

Zoë Marriott said...

Thanks, Meghaz. It's nice to know that the tears are appreciated :)

Isabel said...

Haha, the bleeding keyboard? That made me crack up. I do cry over my own stories sometimes, but when I do, I feel as if I've made a great personal accomplishment. A writer's greatest challenge is to make their readers really be moved when they read their story. And if you yourself don't cry, why do you expect others to? So I definitely *do not* agree with the authors that think that to cry over your own story is an exaggeration. It's just a sign of how moving your story will be to readers.

Anonymous said...

Wow, surely there can be a balance between the two?? Emotion but also on stable ground?? I kind of agree, how can a author expect someone who is reading the novel to get emotionally attached to the characters if they aren't themselves??

Either way I thoroughly enjoy what you write, so whatever your doing must be working a charm?

Jess :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Isabel: You belong in the blubber's camp with me then :)

Jess: Yes, there should be a balance. I had the hardest time writing a certain scene in FF because I was letting myself get too emotionaly het up. Sometimes you have to step back a little to get the job done. But I have to admit that although it was a relief to get the scene done, I don't like the way it turned out. I think you can tell I was holding back. I'm going to completely rewrite it, and if I end up with a red rose and eyes, so be it.

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