Emma Darwin in her wonderful blog This Itch of Writing explored the emotional connection between writer and reader. A timely piece as it’s been on my mind.
Emma speaks about distance and intellectual management of emotion by the writer to create the desired effect in the reader.
Yes, and one more yes.
So much work I read these days lacks that essential skill.
Distance is obviously essential in journalism or reportage, but it is more important than we think in fiction or creative non-fiction.
Theatre practitioners Stanislavski and Meyerhold went to opposite ends of the extreme. Both worked hard at their philosophies. Both studied their respective crafts.
Stanislavski and the subsequent Actors Studio in New York believed in emotional engagement, empathising, being, feeling and becoming the character. It gave rise to some exceptional performances and a certain amount of indulgence.
Meyerhold was about the physicality, the mechanics of performance to trigger emotion and reaction. Actor as part of the machine, actor as manipulator of tools and audience, as in pantomime, commedia dell’arte and puppetry.
As artists they honed their art; as directors they affected their audiences.
Whichever end of the spectrum they lay, neither would simply go through the (e)motions.
Worse still, going through recycled emotions is about as fascinating as a drunken friend retelling you how s/he met him/her. Again. Thinly disguised diaries or wish fulfilment is not literature. Why should we care?
Memoir, creative non-fiction and stories-based-on-ourselves all require a skill almost unheard of in these times of social media mirrors and echo chambers. How is one to be authentic via media that sprinkles moondust in your hair and makes dreams look real? How does one suppress the ego and use the material in the most effective way to entertain and enthrall the reader?
Recent books I’ve read underline Emma’s point so here are three more points to add:
- Have a story to tell – otherwise get a therapist/write a diary
- Talk to the reader, not yourself
- Even if you are the central actor, when writing, take the role of director
7 books that work:
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, Jeanette Winterson
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, David Sedaris
The White Goddess: An Encounter, Simon Gough
The Hare with the Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal
Paralian, by Liam Klenk
And my childhood favourite, My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell
All images courtesy of Vien Hoang via Creative Commons