Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Man of Feeling

I have unfortunately never read Henry Mackenzie's The Man of Feeling, though it was assigned to me in my  Early Modern Litterature course in college to drawn comparisons between the automatia of the age and the naive protagonist Harley. Man's pursuit to blur the lines of distinction between man and machine in the Early Modern era, a task which extends to this day, has not waned in it's fervor but I still remember the study of Emotion during the course especially as it pertained to the Romanticism unit in the course. That being said, let's discuss emotion, particularly pertaining to literary characters.

Characters, as I have mentioned previously, are people in the literal sense-- thinking, feeling, autonomous, etc.-- and it is rude to curtail their expressive power with our whims and predilections. I think one of the best ways to write authentic emotional expression is to get into contact with raw human emotion. I do this with the news sometimes. CNN always has a story about some poor bastard who gets iced in some hovel somewhere around the world, so I usually start there. Real people do real things, somethings too horrible to imagine. Others can also do great and courageous things as well. Between the two we can glean more about human behavior in the extreme.

Emotive characters generally surprise and inspire us, draw us out, and engage our feelings and emotions. Often they do unexpected things, which we find unsettling. Sex scenes often surprise us in literature in this regard, because we forget that our characters are passionate and lustful just like normal humans. How scandalous you desire to be is up to you, but generally I pull back, not necessarily because I am Christian, but because I feel most humans have an understanding of what goes on under the sheets, so I don't feel compelled to elaborate.

Another exercise that could be helpful is to take exhaustive inventories of your characters. The way to do this is to take a sheet of paper and write on it your character's habits, hobbies, anything really that the character does. This information isn't necessarily going to make it into the story most of the time, but what it does is help to build a picture of the character in your mind. Most of the people we write come to genesis in our minds as 2D cardboard cutouts, and it isn't until the end of the work that we are familiar with the character. This can help sideline that process. Does your character smoke? Does she get her period? Does he drive a pickup truck, or a sedan? These are minute details that don't need to be in the book, but we all know how the little details influence our writing style.

The last and final example is one that is long coming. You can copy other people's characters. Sometimes the most interesting novel is one that features and amalgam of odd characters that meet one another. The chemistry is limitless. What if you wrote a book about two roommates, Darkseid and Superman, but they aren't the actual characters, just two men with their personalities? However implausible, it would make for an interesting narrative. This isn't the most thought provoking example mind you, but it's a start.

I hope you found this lesson enjoyable. Stay tuned for next week where I will start a new project suggested to me by one of my readers. Should be fun. See you then!

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