DEEP AND COMPLEX EMOTIONS

I have lately written a number of blog posts about emotions, stressing that different personality types deal differently with emotions, attach a different importance to them, even consider different events or experiences as emotions.

We know that different genres of literature are preferred by different types for reasons of topic, focus and length. Poets, song writers and short story writers – are able to express big messages in few words, and, of course, some topics need more words than others. Others need many words to paint their world, and some readers prefer to immerse in a fictional world.

Action stories tend to be page turners, full of physical excitement, in which characters respond to their environment, with the events following in close succession, with little or no time for personal relationships or emotions. Motivations – the stuff that entices people to act – tend to be external and driven by a survival need.

Even more so than action stories, hard science fiction either avoids emotions altogether or it describes them as objects of knowledge. The characters might have romantic relations, but these tend to be stated rather than felt. Hard science fiction after all, is based in the hard or exact sciences and their objective is to describe the science or technology possible for the future. – As opposed to social science fiction, which is based in the social sciences or humanities.

The simple detective story, for example the books by Agatha Christie, feature characters that commit crimes motivated by either money or a romantic relationship (external objects). They tend to come to their drastic action without any of the emotional stages of doubt, guilt, remorse or conscience. Those on the side of the law – considering the setting is Britain in a time when the death penalty was common – show equally little concern for these emotions. They go by right or wrong, as if those are strictly objective, while true emotions are stereotyped or absent.

In contrast, Arthur Conan Doyle deals very well with emotions, especially those of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, which are true emotions. But although more logically complex, the plots are not socially or emotionally complex.

Lindsey Davies, in her historical detective series set in Ancient Rome, manages to include the complexities of Roman society, but also the personal relations of the main character with his different family members and his partner. The size of each of Davies’ individual books reflects that extra depth.

Romance stories, though usually focused on the external object, sometimes deal with very deep emotions, but those tend to be limited to a few characters and they are seldom complex, because the objective is a “happily ever after”.

There are plenty of stories that combine action, mystery or romance with relationships, in which motivations are more than just reactive, and that deal with emotions, but not all of those emotions are deep or complex.

Many family dramas are about relationships, especially the conflicts between partners, parents and kids, like teen rebellion or kids witnessing their parents, arguing, divorce or die. These involve true, very deep, but straightforward emotions. Usually, there is one motive or antagonist (whether in the form of another person or a disease or accident). Losing a parent (whether to divorce or death) is devastating and painful, but it is not necessarily complex; pain, loss, and possibly a sense of guilt, are direct emotions, relating to one person or event. And usually there is one solution that helps set things right, like talking to someone, being honest, grieving, and often a third party or new relationship. Such stories can be really powerful, because most readers can relate to the experiences, and because the feelings are easy to understand and sympathize with.

Other stories deal with complex or conflicted emotions, which are therefore generally deep as well. Complex emotions are not as easy for the reader to sympathize with, and neither are the characters, because the feelings are not straightforward, and they cannot be neatly placed in right or wrong boxes. Complex emotions tend to occur within a character, as well as between characters who may all experience inner conflict simultaneously, and there is often no solution. Complex emotions happen when a person’s conscience gets caught up between the rights and wrongs of others, their own unconscious or darker inner self and the consequences of their actions and emotions.

Those are the emotions I portray, because they reflect best what goes on in real people, even in those who suppress them. My stories don’t have “a bad guy”. I don’t need one, because ‘bad things’ happen when good people get hurt. Emotional hurt is capable of turning the sweetest and most giving person into one who contemplates murder or revenge, and the only thing that stops most of us from acting on such feelings, is our inner conscience, which is itself a complex of personal experiences and inborn personality. And exactly because those personalities are all different, can we not understand each other’s motivations and emotions, which causes us to respond judgmental to the other person, which brings about the next problem.

To me there is nothing more fascinating than the interactions of all those different complexes within all the different people and how they respond to each other. In other words, I try to be true to life with all its messiness.

 Of a Note in a Cosmic Song, being my biggest novel, involves at least eight point of view characters and a large cast of others, all interacting at different levels, and each regarding the others through their own sense of right and wrong. This evolves over a period of eight years, while on a journey to colonize another planet and start a better society.

The Happiness Inquisition is a novella, so the build-up is shorter, but the five involved characters and their relationships all are driven by inner as well as outer conflict.

In the Real World has two sixteen-year-old characters dealing with the emotions of war, even if the story is set in modern-day Australia, which is not a country at war at all. But because all conflicts are based on similar motivations, the situation at school (and home)  is a recreation of what war is like. The same emotions are involved, even if the actions are on a smaller scale.

Soup and Bread has an eleven-year old point of view character, who gets torn between choosing to help a victim of bullying or acting on her fear and look the other way. Through her eyes, the complex emotions of parents, teachers and other kids, is shown in response to the much more serious consequences of such behaviour, as well as physical and mental illness.  It is, therefore, not just a book for young adults.

Lohland is my only book that probably does not qualify. This story, being my first, involves a much more straightforward problem for the main character; a teenager, who, in addition, is of a personality type that tends to suppress their emotions, so even if I, as the writer, am aware of his inner conflicts, he tends to rationalize them, and the story mostly focuses on environmental changes.

In short, my books are not page turners full of physical excitement, but a portrayal of complex social situations from the perspectives of different types of people to allow the reader experience their intentions, conflicts, misunderstandings and motivations. This takes time, which is why I naturally end up writing novels. The action of my stories is in the emotions, in the relationships, and in the conflicts and their (sometimes disastrous) consequences.

Since readers and writers must connect somehow, readers a who prefer to deal with interpersonal relations and emotions in a straightforward manner or not at all, are not usually interested in my stories. My perfect reader is a people-person. Someone who wants to witness what makes people angry, sad, self-conscious, fearful, and often all of those at the same time: complex emotions.

 

 

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