... no tears in the reader. Or so I've heard it said.
I often write in the time between I get dressed and when I have to leave for work. One drawback is that if I am writing a particularly emotional scene, I start crying. I keep writing. I keep crying.
There's nothing like showing up for work with red-rimmed eyes and a headache from crying -- 10 minutes late as well because I was trying to get the last few sentences down.
As writers, we try to plumb those depths. In fiction, we feel what our character feels so that we can put that experience on the page. In memoir, we remember those emotions. Lewis Nordan, author of the memoir, Boy With Loaded Gun said he wanted to make his readers laugh and cry in the same sentence. I want that, too, because that is how life is. But how?
At some point, I find I need to real it back in, lest I slip over the edge into maudlin. I need to step back and keep the details that convey the power of the scene without lapsing into self-pity. Self-pity is an easy thing to write and a dreary, annoying thing to read.
In The Poetry Home Repair Manual, Ted Kooser writes:
"To write a poem that is not just a gush of sentiment but something that will engender in its readers deep, resonant feelings, you need to exercise restraint to avoid what is commonly termed sentimentality."
Or worse yet, gushiness. Yet if you take too much of the emotion out of the piece, it loses its heart and its human connection. It's a fine line to skate.
When working with beginning poets, Kooser said he will make them write without any overt statements of feelings. No outright statements of love or grief, but only the situation that would cause such things. Trust the reader to have the emotional reaction to it, he advises. You do not need to lead them by the nose.
His advice works for prose as well. I've often felt the most powerful stories are best told most simply, most concretely. Details tell the tale. I am more moved by a woman's hand shaking as she smooths her mother's hair in the coffin than I am when the writer tells me the character is grief-stricken.
As I scribble this zeroth draft, I am likely gushing. My job as a writer is to go back and reel it in, find the fine details. Maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll make you cry, too.
And in honor of Veterans Day
Chris Valentine, a long-time WyoPoets member, sent us a collection of war poetry that honors those who have served. We also invite you to read on our blog Art Elser's words about finding healing from his Vietnam War experiences through writing.
Today, our thanks go out to all who have served our country.