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I Miss You: Why Emotion in Storytelling is Difficult to Get Right

27 Nov

I_Miss_You_-_Korean_Drama-p1As past blog posts reveal, one of my weaknesses as a storyteller is emotion. How do I get it right?

There’s a kdrama (Korean television drama) I’m watching now that I’ve been avoiding for months. It stars some of my favorite actors. It has great reviews. What’s my problem?

The story is heavy. It involves events I’d rather not witness or experience, and emotions I’d rather not feel, vicariously or in reality. Not because I don’t recognize them, but because I do. Despite the drama and the fiction, and the improbable though not impossible plot, the actors make it real. Characters might sometimes over-emote–or do they? We viewers would like to think so from our safe distances, but there are moments that parallel uncomfortably close to our lives: betrayal, loss, anger, grief. Love.

The fiction is the events; the truth is in the characters–how they act, react, relate, think, feel, speak. Volumes are communicated without a word being spoken. Oblique dialogue simmers with subtext.

It’s darn good writing.

Gentlemans_Dignity-poster1

The show’s title–I Miss You–is sentimental but apt. I’m only halfway through the series, and have no idea how it ends. Were it just a melodrama or just a romance, I’d probably never touch it. (To be honest, my viewing is like my reading–eclectic–thus the qualifier “probably”.) However, it’s also a mystery, dagnabbit. I’m a sucker for a good mystery.

I’ll compose an addendum to this post once I’m finished with the series. Meantime, for those interested in a romantic comedy that’s more than the genre moniker implies, check out another kdrama, A Gentleman’s Dignity. It features a core group of four friends who were fellow troublemakers in high school, and though they’re now forty and successful, they never quite grew up. (For over-emoting, though, the immature younger sister of one of the architects takes the prize.) For a solid, time-twisted, taut, suspenseful mystery with a strong romantic element and some of the best visual storytelling I’ve seen in a good long while, watch Nine: Nine Time Travels. Word is that ABC is looking into developing an American version, but I don’t know how a remake could equal the original.Nine-_Nine_Times_Time_Travel-p1

Back to the original topic: getting emotion right in storytelling. I know it when I see it. I know it when I read it. Why, then, is it so dang difficult to write?

This, I think: Emotion reveals the writer, and there’s only so much of me I want you to see.

Monday, December 2, 2013
The End (or, what I think of the series now that I’ve finished watching all the episodes), and spoilers:

I’d watch it again. In fact, it’s on my wish list of movies to add to the DVD library.

The last episode wraps up story threads, but skipped parts of the story I wanted to see, and yet expanded on material that, while okay, coulda been left out. But I’m not saying it was a bad ending. It’s a happy one, with the now-grown young lovers being married after all their years of separation and heartache.

Some viewers thought the villain was the real hero/protagonist of the story, and they might have a point. If he hadn’t existed, most of the story wouldn’t have happened. The teenagers would likely have been separated due to class differences, and the boy might never have been pushed to overcome his fear and grow into a decent adult–which was his life goal, especially after witnessing the mess grownups had made of their lives and his.

The young villain might never have become murderous were it not for the actions of his elders, who were greedy, selfish, cold, and murderous, too. Though their deeds, in and of themselves, did not achieve the elders’ desired ends, they set in motion tragic events, and unleashed the latent killer residing in what was likely an already twisted mind.

He lured others into his circle, held them there by manipulation and guilt, and delegated some of the killing .

The girl was beaten by her father, later kidnapped and raped, then separated for over a decade from her family and friends, who the villain said had abandoned her.

Much cause for tears and emotion in this story, thus the catalyst for this blog post.

Some viewers wearied of all the tears. These weren’t necessarily temper-tantrum tears, or explosions of grief, but had the appearance of unbidden tears, those that come when memory overtakes us, or when physical and mental exhaustion overwhelm us, when we’re repentant or sad or angry, and can’t stop the emotion.

There comes a time when a body is all cried out, though, and so weary of the tears that they dry up.

I thought I was in a no-cry zone in my own life. Until my father called with news about his wife, who is dying of cancer and refusing treatment. I choked up, and tears came before I had any notion they were there.

As a storyteller, I need help writing emotions: I don’t want them leaking all over my manuscript, but they need to be present and real.

As a viewer, I pretty much want the same thing: real, but not overdone to the point of cheesiness or “Oh, dear Lord, make it stop!”

As a person, well– Life’s messy.

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