Monday, July 6

How long can you stay mad?

     

   
   
  I’m bewildered.
          This is, you understand, probably an improvement over being overwhelmed, befuddled, or whiney—all characteristics of mine you’ve been witness to.
          I’m judging an RWA chapter contest. It’s not hard—the scoresheet for the contest is comprehensive and intended to be helpful to the writer. It’s not one of those that makes you think, Geeze, really? because it’s totally unconnected to the entries. I am, to tell the truth, enjoying the judging. I like the categories I have and most of the entries I’ve had have been good. One of them was so good I gave what may have been an unprecedented perfect score. (I am way jealous of this writer, whoever she may be, by the way, but jealousy is fodder for another blog, so just ignore this little segue.)
          What has me bewildered is that while I have seen lots of well-written sexual tension, and lots of well-written conflict, and...okay, yeah, also some info-dumps and some dreck, I haven’t really seen much in the way of emotion.
          No, that’s wrong. There is emotion. There’s anger. And it’s over things that happened long ago—I mean, really, how long can you stay that mad? He just saved your life and you’re still ticked off and waxing all kinds of obnoxiously rude because he hurt your feelings in high school? Grow up!
          Admittedly, conflict is hard for me—I’ve never been convinced it’s necessary J--but when it’s conflict that makes me roll my eyes or stop reading, maybe it’s not all me. Maybe the writers aren’t working hard enough to establish both believable emotion and relatable conflict.
          Okay, now that I’ve once again held forth on emotion—are you surprised, D’Ann Lindun?—what do you think? Do you think holding onto fierce righteous anger for years and years is enough emotion or viable conflict?  

          Thanks for coming by. Have a great week!

18 comments:

  1. I'm right there with you, Liz. Having lived beyond my 30s (okay, 'way beyond), I recognize that hot anger just doesn't last. It may die down into embers, or just finally warm coals. But it sure don't stay stoked by anything. ESPECIALLY when we're talking about high school pain and anguish. By the time I was in my 30s, I had four kids trying my patience and giving me enough anger to deal with. If I'd been childless? Who knows? But so many things happen in life that high school just doesn't last forever. Not for me, and not for many people. Real conflict is what we get when we live our lives, and it's not all anger.

    In the meantime, have a nice day!!!

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    1. Thanks, Judith. I can always believe conflict that isn't based in anger because, yup, that's the way it is.

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  2. Intriguing post, and conflict is the one thing I've struggled to include and perfect within my writing. I think anger is based in the past, resulting from early, perhaps scary to a child experience. Until we face our fears, a simmering anger can be triggered by a high school reunion or a stranger cutting us off in traffic. The stress in a major change can activate those early fears, too - as in social upheaval. What works best for me is making my characters confront their fears. They may use anger to avoid the meeting, or hide in tears, but, just as in life, their fear comes back to be exposed. Then healed. I hope this helps. Guess every writer needs to come to their own understanding of the need for conflict. Damn it. (grin) But I've read books without tension and all I can say is...boring!

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    1. Oh, yeah, tension is good, and some anger is good, but not when anger drives the whole conflict--at least not for me. Obviously it works for a lot of readers, because there's a lot of it going around, but...like a gazillion other people and I have said a gazillion times, life is too short and I find it hard to relate to people who hold onto active, fierce anger for a long time. Thanks for weighing in, Ashantay--I always love what you say!

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  3. I agree, Liz. I think anger is an important emotion to own, but it doesn't last forever, as Judith said. It turns to mis-trust and maybe sadness, and a lot of times people never get over what happened to them...but I think when something stays white-hot like that for years and years there is a deeper issue. THAT would be a good conflict to explore. :)

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    1. Yes! It's like once you own it, you can start to let it go. You're right about the deeper issues (what fun that would be to dig up), but even then, if the anger is misplaced, it makes it an eye-roller for me.

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  4. While I agree whole-heartedly, there ARE people out there who hold onto that anger. My spouse, for instance, refuses to attend his HS reunions 'because how those people treated me' (he's 61 for god's sake!), and will only speak to a handful of people he sees when we're out and about. When my sister and I first joined Facebook in '09, she told me NOT to 'friend' certain people, b/c of the way they treated me/us back in junior high. SERIOUSLY??? But yes, my sister refuses to attend her own HS reunions. I've let bygones be bygones....and yes, while I've friended people, they've since unfriended me, and good riddance. They were thrilled I was published, but had nothing to say after we met in person....am I crushed? No. I knew it was probably happen, and don't care either way. That much hate and anger isn't healthy to hold onto.

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    1. I think you're right, Molly, and something we tend to not realize--or own up to realizing--is that much of the remembered unhappiness from adolescence had to do with our own faulty perception. Maybe not everyone's, but mine for certain! :-) And I just think you miss so much by staying mad. Pollyanna strikes again...

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  5. Geez, I have enough stuff cluttering my brain that I actually do need to remember. I don't have space for slights that happened years ago. I really don't want to read about characters who are that petty, either!

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    1. Oh, thank you! :-) It's not that I think you have to forget--I had a hero who stood the heroine up for the prom and believe me when I say she remembered--but, good heavens, don't make it a pet!

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  6. We had a former crit-mate who had a WIP about a heroine who was mad because the hero stood her up at prom--or something like that. And my response was the same as yours--REALLY??? I just couldn't fathom that someone would be that upset over ten years later. Why hadn't she gotten on with her life?

    Although, to be fair, I've seen other writers do the same thing. Apparently, so have you--hence the post :)

    I think anger in fiction is just such an easy conflict. Almost too easy. And like you, I don't understand harboring resentment and bitterness over years. It is such a waste of time and energy. And really, it hurts the heart to keep nursing old wounds. I'd rather just forget and get on with my life.

    My brother-in-law once said, "I wouldn't want to be judged for the things I said or did when I was sixteen, so---" I like to keep that in mind about my past, although I'd extend that window through my twenties. We thought we were grownups but Lord, have I learned a bunch in the years since. And I know I might have said or done things that I wouldn't even consider doing today.

    Great post, BTW :)

    But, that's life. If we didn't learn from the bad choices we made in our youth, we'd still be toddling about.

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    1. I think "too easy" is right, Margie, and your brother-in-law, too!

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  7. I agree that anger is too easy of a way to get some conflict in a story. :) Or rather , long held anger.

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  8. Yes, I have to agree with you, anger is way overused as conflict in romance. And believe me, I blush to admit it, but I'm guilty, too. I've done it as well in some of my earlier books. Now I think hurt can go on for a long time because it undermines us and makes us feel vulnerable, but true anger is probably hard to hold on to. Resentment can also hang around for a long time. As for me, personally, I can stay angry maybe overnight, that's about it. Great idea for a blog to explore.

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    1. Thanks, Hebby. I'm a 15-minute mad person, and very impatient with people who hold grudges, which is probably why the sustained anger bothers me.

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  9. I have trouble with conflict, too, but I have to agree with you about anger. I'm slow to anger and get over it in a few hours. I know very few people who hold on to anger for long periods (sadly, OG is one). That's poisonous, and I'd never do it to a hero or heroine. Hurt, however, is another matter, as Hebby said.

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