Wednesday, October 15, 2014

story telling as emotional catharsis

 image from purchased CanStock image

We've all seen the movies (okay, most of us) like Sleepless in Seattle where the women get to talking about a film, An Affair to Remember, and are in tears as they discuss the angst, the very emotional and romantic ending. It's humorous because the men look at them as though they are nuts and then have their own emotional (real or otherwise) catharsis regarding a guy flick of men at battle sacrificing themselves for each other. 

The same thing is played for humor when the author/heroine in Romancing the Stone is writing the ending to her newest manuscript and sobbing as she writes. Her ability to do this, not to mention far out, unrealistic plots, is what had made her a bestselling author, who (in the story) was famous for her romances wherever she went.

I read the same kind of emotional reaction last week in a writer group where I visit sometimes. A reader had just read a book she had read before and described how she was sobbing at the ending. Now she knew that ending was coming (maybe even knew it the first time she had read the book), but the same emotional waterfall happily overcame her.

There are films that totally aim the viewer to have this emotional reaction. The Notebook is one where when... Okay in case people have not read or watched that book/film, I'll go no farther, but emotions are definitely played for all they are worth looking for that emotional release for the viewer/reader.

Thinking about this has made me wonder if it's the missing link in my writing, and it will always be missing for the most avid romance readers. Is there a market in romance reading that likes good stories, characters, interesting plots, emotions, but is not seeking to pull heartstrings to that level? I have never written a book and sobbed at what I had written...

I cannot relate to sobbing at the ending of a book-- unless a dog, cat, horse, or beloved animal gets killed (Bambi does not have a place on my DVD shelf nor does Old Yellar or any other story that goes 'Black Beauty' on me). I love animals too much, have had too many of my own sad endings with those beloved animals and thus relate too much to that kind of painful loss in fiction. 

So, while I could get emotionally pulled around by a story, I choose not to by not seeing or reading them. It won't happen to me in romances-- not any of them-- from the best to the silliest. A little teary from a movie? Sure but not sobbing.

If one seeks that kind of emotional catharsis, it certainly is safer to have reactions to romantic books because, at least in them, they will end happily. Jane Austen may not have had a happily ever after in her life, but she gave one to all her heroines. Stories based around animals give no such assurances. 

I think I used to have more emotional reactions to films and can remember years ago getting teary at An Affair to Remember. I've had a few tears in my eyes from emotionally significant moments in films but books, can't remember any that did that. Now I am wondering if this is a missing link in me which won't let me really relate to what romance readers most want from their stories-- i.e. an emotional experience that moves them so deeply they sob. 

As I mentioned the last blog, I do go for trying to feel the emotions of my characters and hence the photos I use to inspire me to keep those feelings real, as I find words to describe them. But manipulative writing where I deliberately have something happen, not because I think it would for these characters, but with the reader in mind and how I know it will take them on the teary ride they want, that's something I haven't done. I wanted more realistic romances, but in wanting that, have I cut myself off from what the average romance reader wants?

So if anyone reads here, who is a devoted reader, of any type of book, is that emotional catharsis what you hope to receive from a book? The same thing is doubtless true for men in reading adventures. They vicariously get the adrenaline rush for what the hero braves that they don't have to.

2 comments:

Tabor said...

I do want to crawl inside at least one of the characters and get some kind of passion. When I used to read romance novels in my twenties it was definitely an escape from diapers and dishes and the sexy parts where the touchstones for me. Now it is the intellectual meeting of the minds between characters that touches me and I am a big sucker for lost ways of life and environmental tragedies. I still cry each time I see Out of Africa. But I have enjoyed books with strong characters (usually non-fiction) and gotten an emotional satisfaction from that.

Rain Trueax said...

I like strong characters but don't cry about what happens-- as long as a horse isn't mistreated ;). Emotionally, I would have a hard time killing off a character I really liked just to get the reader to cry. I can usually tell when a reader/viewer is being manipulated by a plot device that is only intended for that.

It's a good point on the desire to see the characters meet their minds, come to an intellectual understanding as well as emotional. I have thought though that my writing stories, which do that, is part of where I lose romance readers.