Friday, 8 August 2008


Don't laugh at me!

It's a curious emotion. Do we want to make our readers feel guilty?
Kung-Fu Panda ticked all the boxes. It employed a very unexpected emotional topography.

[No spoilers ahead!]

I noticed several occasions where the audience were laughing, usually at the foolish exploits of Panda, but were immediately plunged into sighs of 'Aw!' as Panda made a hurt expression. Sometimes, the topography was so abrupt as to have the audience laughing and aw-ing simultaneously.
It's an uncomfortable feeling. Look at Panda making a fool of himself ... ha ha ha ... oh, actually he's really upset ... oops. Sorry Panda.

[No spoilers end here ... or rather, there are still no spoilers, so I guess they continue here.]

Yet the audience goes with it ... the reader goes with it.

Recently, I had a little feedback from one of my readers on my opening chapter. She loved how I made her laugh, and then instantly shifted the tone to make her feel sad for Corus.
I often find myself comparing the emotion that I am about to offer the reader with my idea of what the reader would like to experience. I'm very careful not to prolong negative feelings, and to rapidly move from the negative emotions into a more positive emotion. I've discovered that, by standing my protag perpetually on the edge of a precipice, I can easily move between positive and negative states at the drop of a trigger. I'm also mindful of the feedback I received on my first draft (ooh, ages ago now): there was a strong sense that the novel was heading into very dark territories, and many of my readers did not want to go to such places.

There is a specific thrill in watching a horror movie. There is an expectation which exists even before the viewer sits down to watch, and this expectation is tempered by the opening few minutes, and is slowly shaped and tweaked throughout the movie. But, as Hitchcock observed, 'Laughter is the safety valve'. Implicit in this remark is the notion that very few individuals would enjoy sustained negativity. Certainly, my favourite horror movies are those with a sense of humour, or a sense of wonder, or a sense of something exciting and life-affirming pervading the topography.

As well as restricting the duration of negative states, I've also discovered quite how the tone of the writing influences how the state is received and processed. It's possible to describe something terrible with a wry tone, or to have my protag consider something awful by singing of it! Suddenly, all the darkness in my writing has been imbued with something more light-hearted, whilst retaining its integrity.

I do find it curious that anyone would desire to endure something awful. Certainly, I lost interest in Anne Enright's Man-Booker winner The Gathering at the instant the child abuse kicked in. To me, it felt hackneyed, and I had been enjoying the novel until that moment. And yet, I'm a big fat obsidian pot insulting a kettle.

Tension and release I guess. We must employ an amount of negativity in order to facilitate the formation of a greater positivity.
What is good without bad?

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