Archive for August, 2011

Don’t Rely on the Intangible

August 29, 2011

The other day (sometime between the quake and the hurricane), Livia Blackburne posted a blog on the anatomy of a death scene. It focused on a particular book, featuring a talking cat. She focused on the mechanics of the scene, the use of flashback, the rituals, etc. and argued they were effective at producing emotion. I thought her analysis was good, however, when I read the scene, where the cat dies, I thought it was flat. I didn’t care, and I wasn’t moved. I argued that instead of focusing on the details of the death, the author should invest his/her energies on creating love for the character, and that that love was more essential to achieving a sad death, than any other factor.

Liv agreed, in part, but suggested that she had been equally moved by death scenes she’d read as early as chapter one – how can this happen?

A fair point, really.

My guess would be transference. I’m speculating, obviously, but whenever I have a strong feeling for characters (or people I don’t know well), it’s usually transference. If I read about an old man dying, I think of my father; If I read about someone I can identify with, I think of myself… When this happens, I’m not actually feeling for the character (or the other, if you will), I’m feeling for the people who already occupy space in my heart, and projecting them into the other. When I’m sad at a strangers death, part of it is for them, granted, but most of my sadness comes from being forced to recall painful memories of deaths I’ve come to know, fear of deaths that are looming, and thoughts on my own mortality.

With writing, or any art, you can draw from the deep well of existing emotions – in fact, that may be a requirement. You can shortcut the many pages it takes to craft an amazing character, if you cleverly create a character that people will be forced (or at least likely) to relate to. It is very efficient, and extremely powerful, if you can pull it off.

As I mentioned above, the cat scene did nothing for me. It may be because I never owned a cat, or it may be that I’m just an asshole. Whatever the reason, I didn’t care, and therefore, if that alone was the story, the writer failed.

Of course that was not the entire story. There were another 90K (or so) words that I didn’t read. If the author used them effectively to build up that darn cat, with a few kind deeds, some suffering, some identifiable need, whatever, then I probably would have felt something. If I had grown to love him, or at least had sufficient opportunity to make the associations necessary for transference, I would have been moved (probably, I am a guy after all…) That is why, with my writing, I try to focus on making beloved characters – transference is too unreliable.


Janet Reid 8/3 Writing Contest

August 3, 2011

The Shark’s having another contest. Deadline for entry is 8/4 at noon. Rules and so forth can be found here –

Below, is my entry.  As always, random words are in bold.


It took most of Marlene’s energy gettin’ outta bed every mornin’. Whatever was left was spent keepin’ her head out the oven, and cleanin’ his house. Most days, she’d dust, but never get around to the vacuuming.

It was a Thursday, when she’d had enough. Maybe it was the fever, or maybe the gin, but when she heard that garage door open, and that same Jelly Roll Morton song echoed through the house, she shouted, “T-Bone! We’re through!”

He didn’t say a word, just got back in his truck, and rode off.

That’s how she tells it at least.