So the other day Liv Rancourt and I were doing the grown-up-author equivalent of a 12-year-old girl’s sleepover – we messaged each other on FB and gushed over our crushes (K.J. Charles and Sherry Thomas)
Then Liv, in clear violation of all pinky-swears, told the whole school. (She blogged about it).
It’s a good blog, too. You should read it.
But, the mention of Sherry Thomas and FEELS reminded me of something.
I’ve been a Sherry Thomas fan for a while. If anyone asks me why, I always answer with one phrase, “emotional intensity.” Sherry can grab me from page one, and she never lets go. I’ve spent a fair amount of time wondering how she does it. It wasn’t until I read The Burning Sky that I finally got a clue…and it was because of what didn’t happen that I spotted it.
For the first time ever in a Sherry Thomas book, when I read The Burning Sky, I wasn’t invested from the very first page. In fact, if it hadn’t been for being hooked big-time by the blurb, I might have stopped reading.
Well, that didn’t last. When I went from ho-hum to can’t-put-it-down, I stopped. What just happened here?
The answer. Something Bad.
Not something bad just happened along, either.
The heroine, Iolanthe, does something bad. Really bad. Something with far-reaching consequences. Something so bad she will regret it forever.
To be fair, she doesn’t mean to, but the result is the same.
The result for me, the reader, was that I went from practically skimming to Caring (capital C). Iolanthe, who had seemed distant to me before, was suddenly a Real Girl.
And that, my friends, is the clincher for emotional intensity.
To achieve that emotional response, we have to care about a character. To care, we have to relate. And the way we relate is not through perfection, but through imperfection.
I don’t mean every story has to be doom and gloom. But, be honest. Do any of us really relate to the perfect princess? Yeah, we all want to be her – but she’s not real. We can never truly identify with her. Why? Because no matter how great our lives are, they are also full of adversity. No matter how great we are, we’re full of flaws and insecurities and not-so-great character traits. That adversity and those flaws are the keys to emotion. Pain and joy are two sides of the same coin. There is no context for one without the other. So Iolanthe could be Our Heroine all day long, but until she screwed up and bad things happened, I just didn’t care.
Liv talks about Ben and Jonah in Jackdaw. It’s not their love that makes the story so incredible. It’s how they get there through the pain. As Liv points out, “Ben hated Jonah, except for how much he loved him”. It’s the depths that make us appreciate the heights.
You should go read Liv’s blog. She gets way more into the nuts and bolts of actually writing emotions.
If you want to see if you have the same reaction I did to The Burning Sky, there is an excerpt here.