Creating Emotion in a Reader: Cunningham does it, why can’t I

How does a writer create emotion in a reader?   This was the question tonight on Pat Bertram’s Gather Group: No Whine Just Champagne.  With a Group title like that, who needs anything more, right?  The discussion was a good deal more and the hour spent reading and commenting with other writers well worth the time.  To visit Pat’s blog, click on the link, lower right, of my “blogroll” and find interesting weekly posts on the craft of writing.

In advance of the Live Chat on NWJC, I wrote the following, just so I would have something to offer, and now I offer it here, on my blog, so as not to . . . hmm . . . not to vaporize [I knew I could come up with a good sci-fi-cyberspace verb if I gave it a sec!] so as not to “vaporize” my thoughts on good writing and emotional development of characters, in readers, making us care about those we’d just as soon not care about . . . etcetera.  So, here goes: 

I’ve been rereading The Hours by Michael Cunningham.  The character played by Meryl Streep in the movie is, in the book, the protagonist of the story thread that Cunningham gives the most space/pages.  I think because she is a shallow character, at heart, Cunningham is required to spend considerable time so that we, as readers, can find in her those elements of ourselves that we always hope stay hidden – our envy of what we don’t have; our propensity to go on about “surfaces” of things and people, the artifice, the “pretty” of pretty lives, and find ourselves unhappy, on some level. 

Someone mentioned “deep” pov in pre-discussion, and I wondered if what Cunningham does with the “Mrs. Dalloway”/Clarissa character in The Hours isn’t exactly that . . . an attention to miniscule details and inner thoughts of a woman dissatisfied, yet pretending a vitality and happiness she doesn’t genuinely feel.

As a reader of the Pulitzer winning novel, and viewer of the movie, I can honestly say that in the movie I cared more about the Mrs. Brown (Julianne Moore) character and the Mrs Woolf (Nicole Kidman) character than I did about the modern woman, Clarissa a.k.a Mrs. Dalloway.  But, in the book, it is the Clarissa character that I find myself emotionally involved with, reacting to, caring about more so than the others.  She is not a sympathetic character and yet … I sympathize.

Good job, you, Mr. Cunningham, for taking me where I didn’t expect I might go with this read.