Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Emotion and Entertainment

Robert Turner shares some well-earned advice to pulp writers in his 1948 booklet, Pulp Fiction.
I hope you know what emotions are, because they play a prominent part in this not so gentle art of fiction writing. You, as a writer, are going to play on emotions, with words, as a pianist tickles the ivory keys with his fingers. At least, you are if you intend to succeed as a fiction writer. 
We all have emotions. Prod any reader’s emotional reflexes and, Mr. and Mrs. Writer, you are going to entertain him. I am not a psychologist, so perhaps my definitions of these terms will not be technically correct. But they will serve the purpose to show you what I am getting at, I think. 
To me, the condition of being entertained is a comparative state. It is being aware, the opposite of being bored. If you needle a reader’s emotions, he cannot be bored. There are many ways to do this. The more of them that you learn, the more powerful and successful a writer you will become. That is why, forever after you have sold your first story, you will constantly study people and other writer’s work, to learn more and more of the tricks of getting at people’s emotions. 
Examples are sometimes good for clarification. Okay. Let’s say that you love dogs. You are walking along the street and you see some guy kicking the hell out of some skinny, half starved little pooch. Or some sadistic guttersnipe is tying tin cans onto a puppy’s tail. What do you feel? It can be anger, or sympathy, or both. Those are emotions. 
All right, there are two nice little emotions all lined up and dusted off for you. Use them in a story. Substitute the villain or one of his henchmen for the guy doing the kicking in the example used. Substitute your hero--or heroine--for the pooch. I’ve started many a story that’s sold, with the hero getting hell beat out of him--or just coming out of unconsciousness and pulling himself to his feet, after taking a shellacking. The reader feels sorry for the character, he feels sympathy toward him. You have aroused an emotion; therefore, you are entertaining the reader.  
To do this properly, of course, you have to build a scene that comes alive in the reader’s mind. That hinges on the subject of realism and we will deal with that in due time. In the street scene example, something is really happening and you damned well know that, because you can hear the dog squealing or whining and you can hear the guy cussing and the sound of his boot connecting with the animal’s ribs. In the story scene, you’ve got to kid the reader into thinking it is actually happening. We will cover that, later.  
Now, for Job’s sake, please don’t start every story from here on in, with some poor guy getting the bejabbers beat out of him. That is only one way to arouse one emotion in a reader. There are hundreds--perhaps thousands--of other ways.

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