Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Misting the Orchids

I'm reading The Devil's Guide to Hollywood by Joe Eszsterhas, who wrote Basic Instinct and Flashdance and is considered a volatile Hollywood rebel.

He has what he calls ReelSpeak peppered throughout the book in little call-outs.

Here are a couple examples:

An Ambiance Chaser:
A director who uses smokepots in every scene

Parallel Creativity:
phrase used by someone who has plagiarized you

and then there was the one that struck me particularly in this phase of my rewriting

Don't Mist the Orchids:
Don't lay on the sentimentality too thickly

This is apropos for me because I'm writing a novel that has a large romance at the core of it and that happens, ironically, to have some orchid-like flowers skulking around in one scene.

In the stories I've written that I like best, the stories that seem to move people, I've never written with much direct sentimentality. The emotion has come, I think, from what a reader imagines the characters must be feeling, not from what the writer claims they are feeling. And the reader imagines that the characters must be feeling these things because I've proven it with dialog and description.

It's not an intellectual proof, of course. The reader doesn't rationalize that these feelings must be true. She simply feels them.

To a certain degree, I haven't found the right tone, the right approach, yet in several of the important scenes in this book. I've done, I think, too much misting of the orchids.

This aspect of the writing is tough. Finding the right balance, feeling the moment when a scene proves itself emotionally can be a slippery exercise. But in a book like the one I'm writing, it's an all-or-nothing affair. I either get this part right or I go home a loser.

I'm starting by excising nearly every direct reference to a character emoting. Losing sighs, exhalations and tears as fast as I can hunt them down. After that, it's a very painful matter of finding action and dialog that can evoke the intended emotions in the reader without directly begging for them with such ham-fisted tricks by my characters.

If I can manage to turn a failing scene around in an interesting way, I'll post the before and after for your 'enjoyment.'

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