Monday, May 14, 2012

Emotion - can you ever have too much?

Emotion is the beating heart of a book, too weak and the story struggles and dies but can you have too much? I've never given much thought to the power that authors wield  over readers' emotions but I've listened to several books recently that have had a huge impact on my own. This has made me think carefully about what I want to write and think - 'what effect do I want to achieve?'.

1) Me Before You - this book is brilliantly written and Jojo Moyes had me hooked from the start. A lot in the narrative resonated with me in a good way to start with but as the story progressed I found myself increasingly on edge. I don't want to spoil the book for anyone who hasn't read it yet but I will say the book had me sobbing buckets. I don't think I've cried like that over fiction since Jilly Cooper killed off a character's pet dog (actually she does that a lot!). I loved the book, cared about the characters and it kept me rapt but at the end I felt...well a bit crap if I'm being honest.

2) Recipe for Love was a sweet and gentle contrast. Listening to it soothed me and left me feeling gently uplifted, soft and positive about life. In fact much as a face to face meeting with Katie Fforde leaves you! As though she is giving away a bit of herself to every reader. 'Me Before You' made me feel much more but on reflection I'm not sure I wanted all those feelings, not that it was healthy to experience them.

3) Believing the Lie by Emily Barr was utterly gripping. I couldn't press the pause button on my iPhone and stayed up very late listening to the end. There are dark emotions in this book yet there was a positive tone to the heroine and the resolution of her story was satisfying. Despite the main character's frequent protestations that she wasn't a survivor she most certainly was and the story was uplifting, at least I found it so. 

It is incredibly subjective. Who knows what will touch readers, what stories will make them feel, what old wounds may be opened up...

I have some books by favourite authors on my phone that I cannot listen to. There is one no-go subject area that when it crops up, as it frequently does, I press stop and never revisit the book. I wonder if the authors who write about very dark emotions, who perhaps have never experienced them first hand have really thought about how the reader will feel, how their words will effect them.

I have no objection to writers who want to write 'real' endings or explore complex issues and would recommend all the three books above heartily but I know that, depending on my mood and resilience I would pick the book that left me uplifted, hopeful and taking that little bit of positive energy from the author. 

And if I write that is what I hope to achieve.

How much emotion is too much? I've heard that question a lot. Also the recommendation that we should double the emotion in every scene (a tip that did improve my writing). My personal opinion is that no amount of emotion is too much but it should be applied wisely.

All word processing software should come with a warning: Words are powerful, use with caution.


Sally Clements said...

Very good post, and I agree, sometimes too much is just too much - I avoid reading very emotion packed sad stories for the most part, although they can be great if you're in the mood for them. Real life can be hard, and when it is, I search out happy!

Kat said...

Interesting post, Lorraine. I'm just reading Me Before You, i'm not far enough along to comment really apart from that the writing is flawless. I know what's coming, and tbh I would usually swerve this one as I usually opt for books with a more upbeat storyline. I just read the first chapter at my mums and got hooked, so I can't not finish it now! It's def one to read when you're feeling well, it's such an emotive subject.
I don't think you can have too much emotion in a story, but there's a difference between emotion and schmaltz. I want to laugh and cry when I read, but too much sugar can make me cringe, you know?
I'm racking my brains for my idea of the perfect book in terms of emotion... will report back ( and will try not to mention Ms. Crusie, lol!_

Maya Blake said...

I do believe you can have TOO much emotion, even in a story with a guaranteed HEA! I tend to like a balanced story with enough emotion to made me tear up but also some lightness to make me lol or at least, smile every now and then :)

Kathy Bosman said...

Wow, what a lovely post! I so agree with you. I'm not one that enjoys fiction that makes me feel too sad. That's why I love Katie FForde books! Now I don't feel so bad about my books being light-hearted sometimes - I want people to laugh and feel happy from my books. Sometimes I worry that I don't put enough conflict. I don't want my characters to suffer too much. Maybe that can be a good thing.

Lorraine said...

Hi Kathleen, thanks for stopping by to comment - I think aiming for your readers to laugh and feel light hearted is a great aim, it's so easy to play the misery card!

As regards touching powerful subjects - I've had counselling where I wallowed, to be frank, and the submersion in misery didn't help. I've also had counselling that resulted in experiencing the negative emotions (briefly) but left me looking forward and not stuck in them. Sorry if that comes across as heavy but tbh sometimes the subject matter chosen by authors is ten tonne heavy and it's going to open cans of worms for some readers...

Jo P - interesting you say Me Before You should be read when you're well. While my situation is not as bad as the character's, definitely the fact I have an 'incurable' brain and spine injury meant the book was going to stir feelings, even the title was resonant, I've often had to try to explain to my own care assistant who the Me-before-I-met-you was. I can't really say more without giving a spoiler...

Jennifer Shirk said...

I read to escape real life. LOL!

I want realism but I want to feel happy when I close the book at the end.
I think a little emotion goes a long way anyway.

Romy Sommer said...

Great post, Lorraine.

And Jennifer's words summed up exactly how I feel. I read to be uplifted, to escape, so I definitely avoid books that load on the heavy emotions.