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Expose the Essence

Capturing genuine emotion in a farce, we call fiction.

“A writer must never appear to superimpose his own will on a character to create a character out of character. He must simply project, on paper, the character’s intrinsically inherent experiences,” ~James A. Rockridge, Author of Saving Lily - The Enders Game.

There was no need to tell Ultimate Fighter fans that Forest Griffin left humiliated after his insane loss to Anderson Silva at UFC 101 on August 8, 2009.

After three minutes and twenty-three seconds of organizational manslaughter, Silva defeated the former light heavyweight champion. The future MMA Hall of Famer barnstormed the octagon, zipped up the tarmac, and hid.

MMA fighters have devastated quite a few of us, yet our experiences with shame, humiliation, and indignity are authentic.

If a writer wishes to convey such emotions on paper, allowing our readers to feel our character, we might consider a few helpful writing principles.

Writers must be clever, witty, somewhat brainy, and honest. More importantly, we must assume our readers are astute, own plenty of inference skills, and therefore can deduce and conclude reasonably well. The thrilling task before the writer is to allow the reader to sharpen their deduction skills against valid evidence presented in the form of text. We must provide a solid basis for our story’s theme and its resolution.

If the reader suspects Jim is the rapist, but the story’s end indicates Jane is a virgin, the writer should have planted counterfeit grains along the way, or the reader may feel they have been slapped in the face with a rubber chicken.

We don’t need to tell the reader directly; Jane is hoodwinking us because the writer concludes, aka “Tell and not show,” sucks horribly. Now, as a writer, I might want to resist the impulse to slight my reader’s deductive acumen. We should always trust our reader’s skills.

For example: Instead of writing Joanne loves Mordecia Slaughter, I might consider writing, Joanne makes Mordecia Slaughter’s heart thump like a sick bird’s butt.

Readers desperately need to imagine body language, flashbacks, flavors, smells, and duplex behaviors that clue them in on Joanne’s deepest feelings. A great writer knows their characters inside and out. They have mapped every thought and can lay them out so as the reader experiences them through their five senses.

Joanne’s experiences must flow naturally from her condition. A writer must never appear to superimpose his own will on a character to create a character out of character. He must project, on paper, the character’s intrinsically inherent experiences.

Emotions become exposed when the writer quietly tricks the character’s neurological circuitry, tapping here and there, stepping on a nerve now and then until she dances naked before the reader’s imagination.

Well-done, emotional characters are cling-ons. Readers chase after characters that have left their guts splattered across the page. It could be either via vocal intonations, vengeful remonstrations, or hotshot rejoinders. Mood suggestive nonverbals move readers. Consequently, it must not appear late in the story. Readers must be moved early on, or they will move on early. And why not? Readers trust writers to jumpstart dormant sensitivities with a ferociousness equaled only by the writers’ need to fire them up.

James A. Rockridge


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