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Mentor Monday: Emotional Ping-Pong


Last week I promised to share some insights
from my mentor, Claudia Mills.

Claudia is helping me revise a middle-grade novel
about two girls, one homeless and the other, not.

The first time I met with Claudia, she praised my
"wonderful sense of the shifting terrain of interpersonal
dynamics and psychological nuance."

But, it turns out my sensitivity and attunement to my characters
is also the main stumbling block in my story.

Claudia went on to write in her comments:
"It's that you are SO good at psychological nuance that I sometimes
felt as if I were watching a ping-pong match . . . feelings were shifting
back and forth with such frequency that I lost sense of where
we were in the overall shape of the story."

She was absolutely right.
And I have a feeling some of my earlier readers had that same issue
(whether or not they were able to articulate it that way).

So that's what I worked on in my opening chapters
(plus some other issues regarding initial conflict).
I focused on the psychological dynamics in each scene,
watching for the ping-pong effect.
I wanted to build tension in each of my story's relationships.

I worked and worked.
Last week I met with Claudia to discuss the revisions.

While I nailed the revisions of the initial conflicts,
it turns out I'd written some more emotional ping-pong.

I was frustrated with myself,
and as we talked, I wondered if I'd ever fully grasp what she was saying.
I mean, I'm a hyper-sensitive person and I feel lots of emotions all the time;
I wasn't sure if I could write characters any other way.

And then Claudia said this:
Your task is to give yourself room to build.

Cue the epiphany music!

I cannot write scenes in which characters' feelings
jump all over the spectrum from one moment to the next.
Even though they might feel that way inside,
I can only allow their emotions to move incrementally within each scene
so that there's somewhere for them to go as the story progresses.

For example, if I write a character expressing full-blown anger
toward another character in the opening chapters,
there's not a lot of room to maneuver the emotions of their relationship.

I need room to build.
It's as simple as that.

(This was taken yesterday afternoon and somehow the imagery feels right for this post). © 2010 Tracy Abell


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 8th, 2010 05:23 pm (UTC)
Bleh. I'm a ping-pong pro. But she's so right.
Feb. 9th, 2010 11:23 am (UTC)
You ping-pong, too? I never noticed that in your writing but maybe that's because I didn't fully understand the concept until now.

We can kick the habit together!
Feb. 9th, 2010 12:54 pm (UTC)
Yeah. I ping-pong. Not so much in DS, but it's a big problem in the first third of my 60s mss. Gives the reader whiplash.
Feb. 9th, 2010 05:05 pm (UTC)
Ah, then it's a generational thing. Only in the 60s, man. I can dig it.
Feb. 8th, 2010 05:24 pm (UTC)
Beautiful doves, by the way.... Love the open wings.
Feb. 9th, 2010 11:23 am (UTC)
They are beauties, aren't they?
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 9th, 2010 11:27 am (UTC)
I'm so happy I finally understand the problem because I think I've written that way before. A bunch. Not in all my stories but all the ones with intense emotional arcs.

The doves are beautiful. I was just thinking the other day how I admire them because they remain calm and unruffled as they roost in the tree alongside the finch scuffles and squirrel invasions, etc. I could use that mind-set. :)
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 9th, 2010 05:07 pm (UTC)
Wouldn't it be swell to be nearby? Together we just might be able to crack the code to the universe!

Some days I'll take serenity any way I can get it!
Feb. 8th, 2010 07:49 pm (UTC)
Nice -- and yes, the bird pic is perfect :)
Feb. 9th, 2010 11:27 am (UTC)
I love that new pic of you, Robin. It makes me smile every time I see it.

Feb. 8th, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
Yay for epiphany!

Now... onward, yes?

And gorgeous bird picture.

Feb. 9th, 2010 11:28 am (UTC)
Forward, march! (With more confidence than I had before, too!)
Feb. 8th, 2010 08:39 pm (UTC)
Room to grow... and to spread your wings. Beautiful!

You'll transform the ping-pong into something powerful. I'm sure of it.
Feb. 9th, 2010 11:28 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for your vote of confidence. Off to spread my wings....
Feb. 8th, 2010 10:36 pm (UTC)
this was a great post. nice epiphany. and the pic is beautiful.
Feb. 9th, 2010 11:33 am (UTC)
Glad you liked my little epiphany. Thanks for stopping by.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )


a.k.a. Tracy Abell

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