Monday, October 19, 2009

Believing is Seeing; Making the Magic Work

Went to see Where the Wild Things Are this weekend and I enjoyed every second. From the very beginning I was drawn into Max's world, and stayed firmly put until the final credits rolled. Which inspired today's blog post.

I know, as a rational human being, that the Wild Things ARE NOT REAL. They are puppets with computer generated facial features. Yet I enjoyed myself more when I pretended they were real, living, breathing, eating, fighting, filthy, wild things. Why is that? Perhaps it's easier for me to lose myself in a fantasy world than some people, but there are certainly times when it's easier than others. It took all the elements of this movie mixed with the emotions it made me feel to suck me into the story. Which leads me to the question:

How do I do this in my own work?

What combination of craft and emotion do I need in my book to catch readers up completely in the web I've woven for them? How do I make them believe, and thus, SEE my vision?

There's a lot to be said about what a story needs to be successful-- all successful novels rely heavily on craft and style, plot and pacing. But how do these qualities come together and make... MAGIC?

I've decided to make a list of what my strengths and weaknesses are, so that I know what I've got to make magic with. From previous critiques I know that I do a good job setting the scene. That's something to work with, for what would the Wild Things be without their wild island? But I've also been told I need to work harder to reveal what's going on in the main character's head. Okay, I can work on that. I've also been told that my style can read a bit dated. Hmmm, I can work with that, too, especially since one of my strong points is making a historical setting believable.

I won't bore you with the rest, because behind the scenes, making magic is very tiresome. It takes a lot of getting it wrong first to get it right, and a lot of hard work to make something so difficult and time-consuming look so easy. I will tell you that knowing I'm armed with the proper components for my magic making takes a lot of stress out of writing.

Of course, there's one component that's more necessary to the magic than all the rest combined.

Every book needs to have the sort of magic spark that makes a reader want to suspend their disbelief-- a book must make them FEEL. Whether they sympathize with your main character's disadvantaged upbringing, or your antagonist's inexplicable love for his sick sister, the reader must feel something. And this, I think, I really where the magic starts. Where the reader really begins to get lost in the story, to call the author cruel for inflicting such hellish torments on the people they've grown to care for.

Your plot full of angels and demons and apocalyptic mayhem will simply roll off the reader like water off a duck's back until a character that provokes an emotional response comes into the story. Then it becomes as real in their head as it is in the author's.

Which is why we read books in the first place, is it not? To be taken away on a journey of words to a place where the problems of imaginary people become more real than our own?

To conclude, there's no reason why we all can't be masters of making readers feel. Haven't we all experienced pain, loss, wrath? Hope, fear, and envy? What writer (or reader, for that matter) hasn't experienced all the emotions life has to offer? Good writers learn how to harness the energy of these emotions, how to draw upon them to add reality to the novel they are crafting. This is something I'm slowly learning to do because as a writer, I instinctively feel what my characters are feeling. However, unless this emotion is properly transferred to the page, the reader will never truly know what they are supposed to be feeling.

The magic happens when the reader doesn't sense the author's hand forcing them to feel an emotion.

That's when they stop simply seeing your story, and they start believing it.

That's what I hope to be able to do with my current novel.

Make the magic real.


T. Anne said...

Ahh yes, the magic. I need lots and lots of it today. Glad you liked the movie!

Abby said...

Great post, Tere! The books I remember most and find myself reading a second and third time, are the ones that make me feel something for the characters.

And what do you mean the Wild Things aren't real? I'm just going to pretend you didn't say that. ;)

Susan R. Mills said...

This is all so true. I read The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass this weekend. I highly recommend it. He discusses this topic in great length. He also gives some exercises to complete to strengthen our writing. If you haven't read it yet, I think it might prove helpful in the goal you have set out for yourself here.

Tere Kirkland said...

T.Anne, sending some revision magic your way if you'll share some of your "agent-attention-grabbing" magic with me!

Abby, how many times are we going to have to have this conversation? Do I have to get King Friday to come and get medieval on your ass? ;)

Susan, I have Maas's Breakout Novel writing book, but I'll have to check out The Fire in Fiction. Sounds helpful, indeed.

Thanks, y'all!

Shannon Messenger said...

Really enjoyed this post. "Suspension of disbelief"--wow, that took me back to my writing classes.

I know for me, I think a lot of times I find the "magic" (or at least I hope I do) when I add something that's a tiny bit real to a scene. Maybe it's because I write fantasy, so grounding something that should be impossible with one real moment I've experienced or heard/read about just sells it. But it's hard. I think the magic also comes from lots and lots of editing, and from never giving up.

Tere Kirkland said...

Shannon, nice to see you around. Would you believe I've never taken a single writing class? I am completely self- and internet-taught. ;)

The magic does come from realistic detail, though, you're right about that one. Drawing on your own visceral emotions is what really makes fantasy novels "magic", more so than all the witches and spells and magic wand waving in Prydain, Middle Earth and Earthsea combined.

Abby said...

Wha?!?!?! It is not a beautiful day, and I don't live in a neighborhood! Bring it! ;)

Just googled King Friday. How do you remember this stuff?

ElanaJ said...

I so agree. Infusing emotion into the story is hard, but necessary. You can do it!

jessjordan said...

What a lovely post! I love the part about not forcing your readers to feel an emotion--It's classic show don't tell, really. If an author keeps insisting that the MC is heartbroken, but doesn't give me anything else, my response is, "So what?" But if an author lets go and lets me feel the emotion--experience the spirals and loops and ups and downs all on my own--then I'LL be heartbroken. And that's what we're really going for, anyway, right? To make our readers feel?

Tere Kirkland said...

Abby, you're killing me! And don't you know my super power is remembering trivial bits of information? Comes from so many years studying art history, lol.

Elana, I have to admit that infusing emotion into the story might be one of my shortcomings, which is why I've been so focused on it lately. Thanks for the faith!

Jess, you are so right! It does boil down to that to me, not forcing it upon the reader. I want them to be heartbroken because my mc is, not because they just wasted $17.95 on a crappy book! ;)