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.