And then...there he was. Bigger than life--all twelve feet of him--cast in bronze and catching the sun's rays on his face: Pinocchio. Wow!
"Pinocchio (Emotional)," arms outstretched and face to the sky, stands outside the entrance to the Cincinnati Art Museum. Created by sculptor and artist Jim Dine, Pinocchio, the sculpture, has become an overnight attraction. The museum itself, dating back to 1886, is world-class---built, incidentally, only 3 years after Italy's Carlo Collodi first published his original Adventures of Pinocchio in novel form. Now visitors stop to have their pictures taken with Pinocchio, faces animated and smiling, before entering the museum. Who wouldn't smile in the presence of such an overgrown, whimsical figure exuding such, well...such emotion?
You remember the story of Pinocchio, right? How Geppetto, the wood carver, makes a wooden puppet, telling the doll he will be his little boy. But almost immediately, Pinocchio gives Geppetto grief with his naughty behavior, enough so that he gets into more and more trouble. And each time he lies, his nose grows longer. "Pinocchio," says his guardian Fairy, "Every time you tell a lie, your nose will grow. When you tell the truth, it will shrink. You can only become a real boy if you learn to be brave, honest, and generous." (See more on the story at these links: 1, 2, 3, 4.)
Emotions range from defiance, alarm, fear, shame and loneliness (after all, bad boys turn into donkeys, you know) to surprise, hope, gratitude, elation--and love. By the end of the story, Geppetto is able to say, "Pinocchio, today you were brave, honest and generous. You are my son and I love you." On that day, the wooden puppet becomes a real boy.
I think I see now why Dine titled his sculpture "Emotional," don't you?
Emotions. Feelings and responses, perceptions and sensitivities. Reactions to life, positive and negative. We don't always know why we react the way we do, but we know how we feel. And it is through the use of emotions in our writing then that we also engage our readers, trigger their emotions, help them feel what the characters are experiencing--and create a good read. Yet, how do we go about conveying emotion in our work? Three tips to consider:
1. Raise the stakes. This sure happened to Pinocchio. Orson Scott Card, in Characters and Viewpoint, says: "Reading a story is not a passive process. While a reader may seem to be sitting still, slowly turning pages, in his own mind he is going through a great number of emotions. Underlying all of them is a strong tension. The stronger it is, the more the reader concentrates on finding out what happens next...the more intensely he feels all the emotions of the tale." There are several things a writer can tap into, according to Card, in order to help raise those stakes, including the use of such elements as suffering, sacrifice, and jeopardy.
2. Touch the reader. Beth Hill, at The Editor's Blog, says "Readers like to be touched, moved, by story." A sample from her list of 18 suggestions for helping readers feel emotion includes: don't hold back...recognize the importance of word choice...create a situation that's important, vital, or life-altering if not life-threatening (again the case for Pinocchio--and Geppetto)...put characters under time constraints...write conflict into every scene.
3. Show, don't tell. We as writers hear this over and over, but nowhere is it more important than as a way of conveying emotions. "Let your readers figure out what emotion characters are feeling by reading their actions," says Evan Marshall at Write the Novel Fast. We don't have to be told that Pinocchio is disobedient and impudent. He shows it by dancing on the table when he's told not to, when he runs away, when he lies and his nose grows. We don't have to be told he's ecstatic over becoming a real boy, he shows he is by his actions.
Need help in identifying various emotions? You might want to check out Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions, Wikipedia's Contrasting and Categorization of Emotions, and Buzzle's List of Human Emotions.
Emotion: how does it contribute to making a book you've read memorable? How do you stir it up in your writing?