Everyone knows what it’s like to keep a bucket by the bed when they have the stomach flu. And every pet owner has experienced awakening in the middle of the night to the hwa-hwa-hwa of a cat or dog about to puke. When the latter happens, we spring out of bed, grab the hiccupping animal, and drag them to a room with tile floor.
Why do we do these things? Because we want to control the puke. We all know it’s way easier than cleaning up after the fact. It’s sticky, and gooey, and smelly. And no matter what you use to clean it, if it hits the carpet there will be a stain, however faint.
At this point you have either run off to grab a bucket yourself because you are one of those people who gets sick just hearing someone else get sick. (It can be rather contagious, kinda like yawning for some folks.) Or, you are staring at the screen, wondering why the bleep I’m blogging about barfing.
Well, it’s like writing.
Don’t look at me like that! It is.
I’ve read a lot of stories lately, manuscripts by fellow writers, that don’t have enough raw emotion, or enough evil, or enough something to carry the scene or situation. Oh, and don’t think I’m just pointing fingers—I’ve been called out for this very thing myself.
For example, in an early scene of one of my works in progress, my main character is trying to scare off the father of her child. It’s supposed to be a dark, emotional scene. She has powers, but she’s not using them to the full potential here. She’s, quite frankly, being too nice. I admit, because the book has a significant romance element, I was thinking about an audience who may not take well to scary.
I sent the scene off to a crit partner, and she told me there wasn’t enough “me” in it. She knew I was holding back. The same thing happened in a few scenes in an earlier draft of my recently published novel, Finding Angel, as well. A beta reader told me, in reference to those scenes, “I should have been crying, but I wasn’t.”
I realized the problem. I’d been holding back. In other words, I was trying to get messy, barfy emotions onto the page in a nice, neat bucket. Or keep it on the tile.
But real life doesn’t work that way. Emotions are overwhelming. They are messy and take ages to clean up. And if we want the reader to experience the emotion, we have to be messy when we put it on the page. We have to barf it out—no bucket.
Sometimes, it can be scary. Sometimes, the emotions are a little too close to home. We hold back because it’s not just going to make a mess on the page, but because it’s going to make a mess of us as well. Maybe they are emotions we’ve held down deep for a long time, and we can only bear to let them out a bit at a time.
That’s understandable, but the problem is those emotions don’t translate well to the reader. For the writer, just a hint at a familiar painful situation is enough to feel it full-force again—but the reader doesn’t get that. In order for them to feel what we are feeling, they need more. The only way to give that to them is to let if pour forth unchecked. Barf it out. Then go back to clean up later.
Unlike pet puke, we want our emotional barf to leave a stain. It’s supposed to sink into the reader and make them remember. They should walk by your book on their shelf and feel something. Weeks, months, or even years later.
True, it’s more work. It takes more time to edit away the chaos that can result, but it’s better than having our scenes fall flat emotionally.
So, from now on, put away the bucket when you write. Don’t worry about the mess. If you want your reader to feel the force of your emotion, barf it out.
Kat Heckenbach spent her childhood with pencil and sketchbook in hand, knowing she wanted to be an artist when she grew up—so naturally she graduated college with a degree in biology, went on to teach math, and now homeschools her two children while writing. Her fiction ranges from light-hearted fantasy to dark and disturbing, with multiple stories published online and in print. Her debut novel, MG fantasy Finding Angel, is available in print and ebook.
Angel doesn’t remember her magical heritage…but it remembers her. Enter her world at www.katheckenbach.com.
Thank you, Kat…I think. :}
Of course, I jest. This is awesome. I really appreciate you guesting for Aspire No More and I look forward to more of your work!
Everyone, support your indie writers/authors!