Sunday, April 02, 2006

What, Never? No,Never! What,Never? Hardly Ever


Lists are great things: orderly, organizational, occasionally onerous.
Often headed by the ominous header "Things to Do" and supplemented by the addendum "Round Tuit."

Writers are slaves to the List Lamp.
Feverish fecund lists involving items like: "check that return address is self/not agency." "Put in SASE." "Check Spellinges."
Ah well.

Writerly advice blogs often succumb to the Lure of the List: "Ten Crazy Things To Do To Promote Your Novel" par example.
My favourite is, of course, the private and ever-lengthening list - heading for #38 now and re-visited occasionally with a kind of dour amusement - is "Why You May Never Be Published."

I vaguely remember one list - one of those earnest efforts to assist, designed to encourage writers to realize their characters out of the stock pot of convention and cliche - which posed a series of questions.
Unfortunately I failed to bookmark and can only remember a few items.
Here's the first one - avec mine answer.

Question (1): Does(do) your character(s) ever cry/weep/trickle?
Short Answer: Not really...but she threatens to.

Excerpt:
"Damie...are you alright?"
He reached out to grasp the trembling fists she was trying to hide in her coat pockets.
She half-turned away.
"Please...don't touch me...don't do anything in a nice masculine, supportive, sympathetic way...or I can't promise not to make a spectacle of myself right here in the middle of the sidewalk... and throw myself on your chest, snuffing and snotting all down your shirt front...and I'm sure you wouldn't like that."
She managed a small uncertain grin.
You have no idea what I would like, John thought.

Are your characters inclined to be snufflers or stalwart? Teary or stoic? Do your characters dissolve? Or do they sneer at effusions of emotion? Comment/react to other character's waterworks? If so, do the tears and heart-rending sobs arise from fear, pain, anger, weariness?

C'mon - pit it out in Mommy's hand.

36 comments:

Erik Ivan James said...

Mine do "all" of the above. They cry, they show explosive anger, they laugh, they vomit from extreme emotion, etc. Of course, they also laugh, poke fun at one-another, express sympathy and compassion, etc.

I attempt to put as much "real" emotion in my characters as my skills will allow me to do.

Bernita said...

That's a given, Erik.
But when do they do it, why do they do it and how do they weep?

Savannah Jordan said...

It depends on the character, really.

In the vampire series, it is very viscearl/emotional; so yes, there are tears. (Pinhead whispers in my mind, "Oh yes, there will be pain")

In the erotica shorts, no tears yet, except maybe a glimmer of wetness in the corner of an eye. Crying isn't very sexy to me, I guess. ;P

Sariah in HUNTED? Oh, hell no. Well... maybe I'll allow her to deliquesce once.

Erik Ivan James said...

Depends on the emotional make-up of the individual character (not event). Some, like Damie, fight it back. Others, at the moment. Some, only in private.

Probably still wrong answer.

Bernita said...

Argh, no Erik, in my usual dim way, I just framed the question too generally.
I think I was looking for specific examples and how it clued the reader to the character.

I don't find crying very sexy either, Savannah.
Wonder if the usual scenario - hero folds clinging female in his stalward arms - is a genuine male reaction to waterworks.

ali said...

I often get annoyed at characters crying in books. I just want to say 'pull yourself together'. I think it has to be done very well to make you feel sympathy. Or maybe I'm just cold :).

But, anyway, for that reason, my characters rarely (if ever) cry. They might feel like it, but they don't.

Bernita said...

I'm inclined to agree with you, Ali.
Sometimes I feel embarassed for the character - or want to boot them one - especially if the situation does not ( to my mind) warrant waterworks.
By and large, think I prefer a few drips down the cheek to noisy blubbering.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I'm not advocating cliched characters, BUT one thing they fail to account for on lists like this is that characters do have to fall within certain perimeters to be believable, and that people are comfortable with certain character traits.

This is talking generalizations and majorities, but how many women will relate to the 6-foot tall, as mucscular as a man burly woman who makes Schwarzenegger quake in fear when she comes stomping along? Fearless, virtually indestructable, never thinks about anything more than the next time she can snap a guy like a twig.

Consider me not very interested...

We need points of commonality to relate. We need characters with flaws to show their humanity. But then they get swept under the broad judgment of "cliches".

Savannah's right - it depends on the character and the context. That list-maker over-generalized, methinks.

Sela Carsen said...

They cry when they need to. Crying is a natural reaction to being overstressed. My heroines weep when the pain, fear, fury and stress come barreling in at the same time. Usually not in public, but sometimes. I like it when they cry in the shower so no one can hear them.

Dennie McDonald said...

If I use it in a story it is usually for emotional blackmail... but sometimes maybe you need it for a particular character. But I have really found that one yet.

Dennie McDonald said...

not ... have NOT really found it - sheesh - I am only halfway through my first cup of coffee....

Bernita said...

That's the problem with lists - and sometimes discussion questions, Sandra.
There should be more emphasis in the difference between perennial attractive conventions and cliches.

Crying in the shower...I like that,Sela, rings very true. Often that's where a character may allow emotions to sweep over them.

Perhaps what I'm getting at is the back-ended way certain qualities of character are demonstrated.

Bernita said...

Emotional blackmail is a good one, Dennie.

Rick said...

Catherine gets teary from time to time, but never bawling like a fire hydrant. Medieval people seem to have emoted unabashedly, but it is 1511 and we are no longer barbarians.

Bernita said...

As a reader, Rick, I would have assumed it would have lots to do with tears being seen as weakness - which she cannot afford to show.

Erik Ivan James said...

"....hero folds clinging female in his stalward arms....."

Not for me. I want her dried and "blowed" out.

First I hand her the hanky. When she's finished with the water and snot, then I'll give her the hug, if she wants one.

I'm more asshole than hero.

Carla said...

"Wonder if the usual scenario - hero folds clinging female in his stalward arms - is a genuine male reaction to waterworks"

Not from my observation. Much more likely to look embarrassed/awkward and retreat to a safe distance.

Rick said...

Bernita - as a reader, your guess would be right. She doesn't think it consciously; it is too deeply rooted for that.

Carla - even folding her in his stalwart arms is likely to be done in an embarrassed way, trying to make it stop. Certainly it is far indeed from being any sort of erotic stimulus.

Janna of Canada said...

One of the few instances in which I have the better over my characters in terms of personality traits is that they all weep - sometimes quite effusively - whenever the situation warrants it, while I myself am not much of a crier at all. (Assuming, of course, that one considers the stopping down of painful emotions and stress as "better". I suspect one day my head may blow clear off my shoulders as a consequence.)

And I agree with Sandra about these lists. One that I take serious issue with is the Mary Sue Litmus Test considering that many of the characteristics that are defined as "Mary Sueish" are the same traits that make for a unique and interesting character, and at times fulfill the very definition of a "character".

Bernita said...

Erik, you sound more normal and sensible.
One needs a hanky after an episode.

Thought that too, Carla, and Rick confirms it, not particularly erotic.

Not sure that's a bad thing, Janna.Giving way can also be conducive to a continual state of mental crisis - a sort of indulgence.
I, for one, have over-active tear-ducts - but they have nothing to do with my mental capacity at the time and in no way indicate over-wrought emotions or hysteria.

I, too, take issue with that test.One of those thing written partly in fun, probably, and then taken as stone.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I cry when I drop weights on my foot.

So I wouldn't be upset with a character that does that.

Bernita said...

I usually swear.

Robyn said...

There are different kinds of tears, though, as well as different levels of emotion. I myself will bawl like a demented cow when Old Yeller dies onscreen, and not be the slightest bit embarassed. But anything that really matters? Tends to get buried, and buried deep.

Culture plays a role as well. I can't imagine any stoic-through-her-tears Western woman throwing herself on a loved one's coffin while she wails. Sometimes I envy the Eastern way of release.

Rick said...

Janna - I emphatically agree with your doubts about the Mary Sue test. A good many of the traits are classic elements in some types of literature.

There's a general degree of confusion about the elements of characterization in romantic fiction (in the broad sense, not only love stories) as against "realistic" fiction. On this whole subject, I always recommend Debra Doyle's excellent rant:

www.sff.net/people/doylemacdonald/genre2.htp

She also has a wonderful piece on "girl cooties" in SF/F.

Bernita said...

Me too, Robyn.
Cultural imprinting affects expectation of conduct to a remarkable degree -as does gender expectations.
I do not scream at mice.

That's a superior rant, Rick, thank you for the link.
Homer's Illiad would not fare well. Not to mention Odysseus.

M. G. Tarquini said...

My heroines cry when somebody preempts the last cannoli.

So do my heroes.

Gabriele C. said...

It depends on cultural context and individual character.

Since texts like the Song of Roland have the heroes weeping for the loss of a friend/relative/etc on a regular basis, my Mediaeval characters tend to be emotional in various degrees. Touches between men were quite common, too, and honi soit qui mal y pense.

Romans didn't like emotive exhuberance as far as I can tell, so my Roman characters tend to suppress their tears and other signs of distress. I'm not sure yet but maybe someone will have a breakdown; and Aurelius Idamantes overall is more prone to showing feelings than Horatius Ravilla. And he thinks it's wrong not to control himself better.

I don't know much about the Goths and later Germanic epics (Song of the Niblungs) don't indicate earlier behaviour. The Edda has a lot less tears and touches than the French epics so the Goths probably were not overly open about their feelings.

I have no idea about the Selgovae, but Talorcan himself definitely suppresses his feelings to hide them even to himself.

Bernita said...

That's ...um...food for thought, Mindy!
Might make a strong man weep at that.

"to hide them even from himself." Some of the most delightful reads are about characters who hide their emotions "even from themselves."

Gabriele C. said...

I hate prepositions. :-)

Rick said...

Bernita - The Iliad doesn't really have many girl cooties; the war is over a woman, and so, nominally, is the wrath of Achilles, but it is really all about being dissed. The Odyssey is another matter, and women figure much more prominently in it: not only Penelope but Nausicaa come off as as real personalities.

Another way of contrasting them: The Iliad is a soldier's epic, the Odyssey a sailor's epic. He just wants to get home - though Penelope might raise an eyebrow about the seven years of liberty call he took on Calypso's island.

Sandra Ruttan said...

But some propositions can be fun, Gabriele.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I've cried a few times when I flew off the back of my treadmill and hit the wall....don't ask!

So I wouldn't be adversed to my character doing the same!

Lady M said...

Mine cry, scream, laugh, piteously whine, beg, plead, snort, sniffle, bawl, drip tears, wipe the wetness from their eyes and a variance of many other emotions.

I think most of all - that my characters try to be as lifelike as my typing will allow them to be.

They want to come forth from the screen and actually live. So they are also emotional. Some are stalwart... some are brash... some are gushy loving pitiful folk... some are snotty... and so on.

But they wish to live and be what others are - including trying to be the writer, herself.

*G*

Grabs B and gives her the biggest hug today!

Great question.

Lady M

Lady M said...

Oh - and they do it because the circumstances of their written lives.

They cry because something sad - or happy happens. They wipe their eyes when they don't want to be caught...

They sniffle when they have colds or if they are pretending to have an allergy attack because a commercial reduced them to soft lump on the couch and they don't wish to admit they might be crying.

They drag snot up their arms when they lack hankies - or daintily bawl into a tissue when their best friends die or run away with their husbands...

They live as I breath life into them.

Bernita said...

Oh ho, great verbs, Lady M, and Bonnie will particularly love the word pictures.

That was when you hurled the book, wasn't it Bonnie?

Nevertheless, Rick, though I haven't read them recently, I think that pair would fall afoul of a number of the MarySueisms - taking the strictures generally and not genderly - beginning with the names...

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