“All of our actions take their hue from the complexion of the heart, as landscapes their variety from light…Very vew people have a natural feeling for painting, and so, of course, they naturally think that painting is an expression of the artist’s mood. But it rarely is. Very often he may be in greatest despair and be painting his happiest painting.”
With the onset of postmodernism, a new dirty word has entered the English language.
The highbrow artist may scorn it. The intellectuals might dismiss it out of hand. Too many critics may decry it as passé. But there is one thing they ignore at their peril.
The audience still craves that emotional hook.
If you are aiming for a profession in commercial art, you had best pay careful attention to what your audience wants.
So how to do this. Well, for starters, you need to be honest with yourself. Emotions can be faked in the short term. But over time, a false emotional tone to your artistic work becomes just another word for prostitution.
Part of your artistic persona will become your approach to emotion. This includes the postmodern artist, of course, since their approach is to pretend it doesn’t play any role at all. Clarity is essential, because your current work really needs to focus upon just one. There simply isn’t room for more. You can shade it, you can restructure and build and deepen and develop. But each successful work of art has a core mood.
Once you have a handle on what this central emotion is going to be, you need to develop a means of conveying this to the audience. For myself, as a novelist, the key I have found that works best by far is point of view.
This is a personal decision, and it fits the kind of characters I like to build. There are any number of alternatives. The key is not the way you portray the emotion. The vital issue is that you are honest about this, and you remain focused upon that core element throughout each work.
Back to point of view.
The easiest way to explain this is through example. Let us start with an action: A man, his wife and their college-age son are having dinner in a restaurant when a young blond woman enters, whose beauty is positively arresting.
It’s okay as it goes. But what is the emotion? This is not a trick question. The answer is, there isn’t any. Why? Because in order for there to be an emotion, it has to be tied to a character. Right now, the action is seen from outside the characters. We are looking down upon this scene from a godlike perspective. To make it real in the emotional sense, we need to become imbedded in one of these people. And that happens through point of view.
So, from the wayward husband’s perspective:
She had hair the color of a long winter’s sigh, and eyes that pretended surprise at the hunger she ignited.
And from his wife’s perspective:
A long-haired, long-limbed terrorist entered the room, igniting fear in the hearts of every woman over thirty.
And from their son’s perspective:
As he watched the woman cross the room, he heard his father’s eyes click like billiard balls, and his mother’s heart crack. Again.
See how easy it is?
In reviewing manuscripts from new writers, I often come upon long descriptive passages, especially in the first couple of chapters. They wore this, they looked like that, the place where they were was like this, they held…You get the picture. Such verbal regurgitation often arises because the author neither sketched nor outlined, so they are still trying to come to grips with the characters and the place when they start first-drafting. They are writing from the outside and they are trying to cover this with a lot of verbiage.
It doesn’t work.
The audience does not need detail. The audience is not interested in having all this information before they get into the story. When it comes to emotion, the audience wants one thing. Just one.
Are you listening? Because this is a make-or-break reality.
The audience wants to connect.
DO THIS NOW:
- Go back to the question you wrote out from the previous exercise: What is it about?
- You need TWO answers now. One to the direction or concept. And one for the core emotion.
- Do not hesitate, do not stop, do not pause while you figure this out. Accept it as the challenge it is. You will be working on this for however long it takes to design and craft and complete your project.
- When you are done first drafting, go back and ask yourself that same question a final time.
- Then restructure your work so that the entire artistic endeavor is focused upon your answer.
Davis Bunn’s next novel MIRAMAR BAY comes out March 28th 2017. Don’t forget to order your copy today!