Sunday, January 6, 2008

Twelfth night, ungreening, unemotional

The Christmas tradition I'm used to requires putting up the Christmas tree and other decorations on Christmas Eve, and taking them down on Twelfth Night. To take out the greenery before then invites bad luck. So this afternoon I'll be putting away decorations. Then more packing for the SCA Twelfth Night in Vancouver, where I'll see a third apprentice off into laurelness. I am very proud of all my apprenti.

Writey stuff: Crits of Willow Knot are coming back from my deeply-appreciated beta readers. Those who haven't sent yet, please don't take this as a hint or push! Because of entertaining cross-OS circs, I'm printing the comments out quite slowly, and I won't be sitting down and revising for at least another month. I've had my head so deep in the last 3d of the story for so long that I really need to establish distance before jumping back into it.
Some common threads showing up already. The plot is less incoherent than I feared, though clarification (and possibly simplification) is urgently needed, especially on the political side. Repetition and too much scenery in the first part, which I think is partly a result of the workshop one-chapter-at-a-time format, so that I was re-establishing the setting and the situation with each chapter. I also got obsessive about the drenched style of writing, expecting someone to pop up and say 'hey, what happened to all that evocative description you were doing?' when it would more likely be the reverse.
Footnote: C.S. Lewis allegedly groaned once when JRRT was reading his latest at an Inklings meeting, 'Not another f--ing elf!', and I started to feel that way about trees. It will probably be a relief to start pruning.
One repeat comment has me thinking. That I keep an emotional distance from the characters. I hadn't thought of it that way. I'm not a partisan of any of my characters, and I dislike it when I can tell that a writer is partisan (with exception always for Simon Templar because Charteris does it so damn well, and he does undercut Simon from time to time).
But I'm not sure I understand where my emotional distance lies, or whether it's a style or a fault. Is it a matter of mechanics, like 'filtering', where the writer tells us that the character 'could see', or 'saw' something, instead of showing us what he saw? Or is it something less easily pinned down? I'd describe Tanith Lee as having more emotional distance from her characters than, say, Barbara Hambly, but Lee also uses the authorial voice much of the time, talking to the reader directly, which I've assumed is because she's English.
Footnote: I wonder to what extent the insistence on 'show, don't tell' is North American rather than British or European?
But it's not as if I'm providing ironic commentary, or even commentary, on what's going on for the characters. I'm keeping a fairly close limited 3d, and trying to show emotions by actions rather than telling. Maybe I need more telling?

More personal stuff: Perhaps it's because I try to maintain a distance from my own emotions. I'm not a great fan of emotion, or of sincerity, both of which I've seen used as bludgeons and prybars. People who are 'in touch with their emotions' don't necessarily notice or respect other people's emotions, either because their own emotions are a full-time occupation, or because they can use their emotions to get what they want in a sort of passion-eat-passion world where the most emotive outshouts or outsulks the competition.
Those who encourage others to 'express their emotions' and 'get in touch with their feelings' often have fairly strict (though unspoken) guidelines for what those emotions should be, and are not pleased or welcoming when the wrong or unexpected emotions are expressed.
People who are sincere, or at least describe themselves as sincere, sometimes regard that sincerity as an excuse for what others might call rudeness or selfishness. (Remember that I'm old enough to have encountered 'gut-level communication' in my youth, which I would describe as communication unmediated by consideration.)
Generally I try to keep my emotions out of the way, and to consider how my actions or words will strike other people (obviously not something I always succeed in) or at least to not let my emotions affect my decisions.
I believe I'm perceived as reserved, which is kind of funny from inside, where I know myself to be a seething mass of resentment and vituperative anger. Oh, okay, you're grinning incredulously now, but just go back and read the unseasonal rage post, and consider the triviality of the cause, mm?

"Flora sighed. It was curious that people who lived what the novelists call a rich emotional life always seemed to be a bit slow on the uptake." Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbon.

So here's a request for a favour from my hypothetical readers, please and thank you. Can you recommend to me a book or author who puts the reader in close emotional touch with the characters, who doesn't have distance? For bonus thanks, any excerpt that shows how it's done.

4 comments:

dawtheminstrel said...

I've been thinking about this post since I first read it. I didn't see you as emotionally distant from Myl. I saw her as stoic. I thought that tone showed her stop-moaning-and-get-on-with-it attitude. There were heartfelt moments, her thoughts on her first period, for instance, and her terror on the roof. I think I'd like to see more joy if she feels herself loved though.

I'm not sure I can suggest author's with no distance. My idol, Lois McMaster Bujold, is very close to Miles though.

batgirl said...

I had a similar comment on Fold, which is part of what brought this on.
I see Myl as being a bit of a hardcase, because she's had to be, and because she is, in modern parlance, 'damaged'. In revision I want to show more of her loosening up and accepting Alard's love after her return.
Do you know, I've been avoiding the Miles books, even though I've enjoyed other Bujold books? I have so many friends who love Miles, but I've been wary of angst. Should I go for it?
-Barbara

dawtheminstrel said...

Oh lord. I love the Miles books with a burning love. Bujold is my idol. I plan to move to the twin cities and stalk her.

batgirl said...

I'll take that as a yes? My friend Zo is also a worshipper, though it's a close race between Bujold and Diana Wynne Jones for top place in the pantheon.