Thursday, September 30, 2010

Vicarious Pain (for a change) ... and baconization of the world

I just had a conversation about reading in the school parking lot with a friend of mine. She was saying how much she prefers light novels over the heavy stuff. She has to deal with heavy stuff in everyday life, and she just likes a fluffy novel to immerse in. Naturally, I whipped out copies of my books for her as loaners and (since I couldn't resist) gave her my philosophy on cotton candy, how much we just need an escape.

This morning a different friend called. She is working on the "black moment" in her novel. She is trying to make the awful part at the 85% mark much more wrenching. But she likes things nice for her characters (she says today, but I know she does make them suffer!) so it's hard to get the black moment black enough. We talked about figuring out what her character values most of all (her marriage and family) and putting that on the chopping block for the character--upping the stakes, making it really dangerously close to possibly being lost to the character.

My friend was saying how hard it is for her to get down and write the angry feelings or the pain or the fear. I agree. It's tough!

A few months ago I was reading a book about how to do that. (I wish I could remember which one it was. When I do, I'll post a link.) The author suggested mining our own experiences for times of deep emotion. Think back on times of each different kind of emotion: pain, suffering, embarrassment, grief, anger, hatred, longing, love, fear, fear of loss, disappointment, anything.

Think of times when we've felt that. For instance, the sorrow I felt when my grandma died, or the embarrassment of when (okay, too many to choose from). Then, we can list these times and beside them make a list of what representative emotion they connect to. Make a catalog of those emotion packed moments or experiences, relive them in our minds.

In this way, we mine our own experiences for emotion.

Now, the point the author (bless his heart whoever he was) made was that we don't have to put our character into the same situations we were in. We don't have to make all our stories autobiographical. However, we can draw on those experiences and transfuse the emotion of our own moments into the character's moment.

So, what does all this have to do with cotton candy? We read to escape our own real moments of emotion. Instead, we trade them for the emotion of fictional characters. Sometimes "a change is as good as a rest," and so as we read, we feel the pain or sorrow or anger of someone else, and it's a relief, a release, a cotton candy moment. It melts into our reading souls and can help us forget our own troubles and root for someone else for a change.

Now, I need something salty for a change. I recently heard about a new product: Baconnaise. The makers say their goal is to make everything taste like bacon. Mmm. Sweet is yummy, but salt ... it's the spice of life. Am I right?


  1. That's why I always carry a book with me. There's a hundred different times when I've been in a less than ideal situation and been so glad I had a book to distract me.
    Not so sure about the baconnaise, though...

  2. I know that salt is actually a neutralizer. It basically brings out the flavors. So if something is sour, bam...salt makes the pucker sting. If something is sweet, it somehow clarifies the sweetness. We actually need salt in our diet, but too much of a good thing is poison.


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