Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fire and Ice

There's an interesting guest post over at the blog 1st Books by Kate Maloy, author of Every Last Cuckoo. I haven't read Ms. Maloy's book, but I found her discussion of the degree to which authors identify with their characters' emotions as they write, and the comment trail that follows the post, fascinating. Some writers, claims Maloy, have a "splinter of ice" at their core, which allows them to keep their characters at a distance. Maloy characterizes herself as this sort of writer: "I never cried when I was writing, no matter how sad the scene or how intense the anguish of my beloved character, 75-year-old Sarah Lucas." She contrasts this aloofness to writers like Joan Wilder of Romancing the Stone fame, who fully inhabit their characters, crying when they cry, laughing when they laugh, sharing fully in their discomforts and joys. Maloy views her "splinter of ice" as a valuable tool which allows her to focus on craft issues in order to create characters and stories that resonate fully with her readers. "If I had given myself over to Sarah, I'd have been like a surgeon trying to operate on her own child, unable to wield the scalpel for the trembling of her hands."

Commenters on Maloy's post seem split fifty-fifty between the two types of writers. I myself am like Maloy; I've never cried nor become too emotionally involved with my characters. I find this ironic, actually, because in real life I tear up easily and frequently. I think, for me, being in control of my characters and their destinies, choosing what happens to them, removes the sense of injustice or helplessness that causes me to cry in real life when I hear about a person's misfortunes. Like Maloy, I view writing a book as more of an intellectual than an emotional exercise, although, like her, I am striving to create an emotional experience for my readers. I am different from many of my writer friends as far as emotional identification goes; I have a friend who told me she did cry while writing the scene where her main character died, and I've heard of writers who find it difficult to write when a scene becomes too painful. I'm not at all claiming one way is better than the other, just different. It would be interesting to investigate to what degree the sense of author identification with the characters influences the speed or flow of the writing. I can see it working both ways: too much identification could make writing scenes where bad things happen to the character more difficult, yet identifying with the character otherwise might make the act of writing more engrossing and the writer more eager to write.

What are your thoughts on this matter? What kind of writer are you? If anyone's read Every Last Cuckoo, I'd love to hear how caught up you became in the lives of Maloy's characters. Her book, a top five BookSense and an Indiebound pick, won the American Library Association's Readers List Award for Women's Fiction, so she's obviously doing something right!


Sheramy said...

You already know I am a cry-er and emotional writer! (Emotional fiction writer, I should say, since I don't weep over my scholarly work!) It kind of freaked me out the first time I teared up while typing, actually. Then I *wanted* that degree of feeling, to the extent of listening to 'mood music' beforehand and mentally whipping myself into the required emotional state. I believed that since the story of Sunflowers is told in first person, I had to become Rachel. If I felt, she would feel too. Simple as that. (I haven't read Every Last Cuckoo, by the way.)

Interesting post!

Julianne Douglas said...

Actually, you were the writing friend I referred to--I didn't want to name names! :) All I can say is you did a wonderful job whipping yourself into an emotional state for writing the climax of SUNFLOWERS--it is a beautiful, powerful scene.

Sheramy said...

Thank you. :-) And I wondered if I was the referenced friend!