here’s my inner pain, bitches!

I was reading some so-so fanfic the other day, and I recognised this particular juvenile, immature quality in the writing that I still battle with in my own writing. It looks like this: Characters are in conflict with each other and then they have an emotional scene where they SAY ALL THE EMOTIONS TO EACH OTHER. ALL! THE! EMOTIONS!

Then Cat pointed out to me exactly what’s going on in a scene like that: The characters are vocalising all their inner pain. ALL their inner pain.

The whole point of inner pain – ahem – is that it is not made outer.

Obviously the inner pain has to become external at some point – or there have to be at least enough clues for the reader to begin to understand the pain a character is carrying around with them – or else what’s the point of having it at all?

A great example of inner pain: Severus Snape. He’s absolutely awful (his inner pain doesn’t stop that from being true), but when Harry ends up naming his son after him, we cheer. Why? Because it turns out that Snape had to bear the burden of Dumbledore’s death, and looked out for the son of a man he couldn’t stand, all for the love of Harry’s mum. If we hadn’t found out his inner pain he would just have remained awful – not to mention, we would probably have still thought he was evil.

So: revelation of inner pain = good.

However, imagine if Snape had run around yelling I have inner pain, feel my inner pain, THESE ARE MY FEELINGS AND MY INNER PAIN!

It would soon have become a bit awkward – not to mention boring – and it wouldn’t have mattered so desperately what side he was really on. It’s also the emotional-moral-highground equivalent of whinging. After a while you just feel like yelling, “Get over yourself and do something already!”

Which brings me to the quandary I find myself in now.

I’m approaching the final chapters of my novel (*incredulous imminent celebration*) and I have all these outstanding emotions that need to be resolved between characters. But as per this whole rant so far, I don’t want those characters to just speak their emotions at each other and resolve through sheer volume of emotive statements.

One thing I try to keep in mind is this: Having full-on emotional conversations – the kind that are truthful and confronting enough to actually cause change or resolution within a relationship – are not easy, or nice, and quite often afterwards it’s more difficult to see that person than less.

And sometimes saying all your feelings can actually do much more harm than good. It can be a hurtful, messy thing, and there’s no objective marker to tell you when you’ve said too much, or to remind you that saying all the things isn’t necessarily the way to move a relationship forward.

So often in fiction a good emotional bout solves everything. And I simply find that hard to swallow.

I’m trying to remember, as I navigate these scenes, that it’s often the difficult things to hear that make the difference – not the verbal/emotional diarrhea. It’s when you say the simple thing that is harder to say than spewing out your pain. It’s the observations you make for yourself, when you decide to look around and reevaluate your world.

And yes, hopefully there are fewer bodily fluids involved.

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About anna cowan

I look around, and here I am - housewife and aspiring romance novelist. This seems unexpected.
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10 Responses to here’s my inner pain, bitches!

  1. Jeyna Grace says:

    I so hope my fan fictions aren’t like that…

  2. I know there are exceptions but for the most part – anyone who thinks that writing is easy – just hasn’t tried to do it.
    I feel your inner pain, Anna.

  3. Excellent. I always feel so *used* when a character has a major FEEL MY PAIN monologue (and there are lo, so many examples of this) and one is bludgeoned with the author’s desire to demand pity and understanding of a reader who really just wants to be entertained. It can be worked in subtly, alluded to, without a long character-hijacks-everyone’s-whole-entire-day-with-emo-oil-spill. Not saying I know HOW, just that i’ve seen it happen elegantly and without excessive preciousness. Much luck!

    • anna cowan says:

      emo oil-spill is officially the new term for the excessive outpouring of emotion. Excellent! I think you’re exactly right with the demanding pity part – that’s what annoys me the most. I will pity the hell out of your character – until your character tells me to. Something like that.

  4. robena grant says:

    I’ve always written shoot-em-ups and mystery. No dead bodies…no book. My critique partner would have to make me dig deep to get to the characters emotions, and to remind me that the first word in romantic suspense is romantic. Ha ha. This last manuscript, which I call my Italian story, was an exercise in emotion. I kept fretting that I was becoming melodramatic. So much deep stuff. I finished it last week, and my crit partner loves it. We shall see. We shall see.

    • anna cowan says:

      LOL – my crit partner often struggles with getting the emotional stuff out, she’s much more interested in cool intellectual high jinks. This Italian story sounds very intriguing, though! I suspect that when you’re very conscious about writing emotions, they can feel more melodramatic to write than they are to read. It’s part of what makes the judgement call so difficult.

  5. Cara says:

    I’m officially snaring the term emo oil-spill.

    I think such oil-spills can mean that the author hasn’t found the point at which the conflict naturally and convincingly comes to a head. So instead of the story having its own momentum which draws out from the characters what they need to say, it has to be forced, punched and squeezed into submission – and the characters react to that by spewing forth emotions.

    Good luck with the last few chapters of your novel Anna, I’m sure there are no oil-spills on the horizon,
    Cara
    x

    • anna cowan says:

      I love that way of looking at it – as forcing emotions to a head at an unnatural point. It means a possible solution is to look at what’s still unresolved between characters, which will probably also lead to resolving plot problems. I reckon if you were really conscious of this, you could also use it to create tension between your characters by forcing something uncomfortable between them. Hmmm. Much food for thought!

  6. bleu_bleuet says:

    This post made me laugh. Ah, yes, oil-spills. 🙂

    Like Cara, I don’t think you need to worry. You seem to have enormous insight in your characters and you have looked at a far more subtle way of doing the spill as you proved to us with the ‘a world full of things that are happening elsewhere’ post. Also, you have already realised the danger of an emo oil-spill and therefore will avoid it. 😀

    Now, Cara’s comment and your response made me wonder whether you can actually use the emo oil-spill as technique in your favour. If, for example you coud bring it about by external forces that are part of the plot, so that the feeling of wrongness the reader experineces can be used for later catharsis of the characters. Not only in a romatic but also a friendly relationship.
    Or if maybe an emo oil-spill that is interupted in its middle could be used for something good. Or, maybe, interesting situations could be created by having a spill between the characters and having them act exact opposite of what they said. This kind of relates to your observation of ‘just say the thing’ and ‘showing, not saying’. It could probably be used to really mess with the reader.
    Hmmm.

    I’ll think about this a bit more.

    (And sorry I didn’t comment on any other of your recent posts – I feel so inadequat when it comes to romance – even though your posts are always so interesting. Oh! And thanks for the reading list. I think I will try some of the books after I have finished with the pile of unread books still lying about in my room 🙂 )

    Good luck with your writing, Anna!

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