Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Great Writing

I just watched that scene in Everybody Loves Raymond where Raymond's mother reads his diary from when he was fourteen years old. Everyone's angry until Marie tells Ray why she's so upset. Ray's wife comes in and gets mad that Ray apologized for what he'd written so long ago. She thinks Marie should be the one apologizing.

I sat there thinking as I watched this scene that there was something decidedly wrong with me because I had tears streaming down my cheeks. I must be hormonally unbalanced! Maybe it was that I too have a teenager who I'm sure hates me at times. And then I realized what it was that got to me. Great writing. Yep. That's it. Great writing is writing that elicits intense emotional reaction. What qualifies as a good book? For me, it's anything that makes me bust up laughing, creates tears of happiness or heartache, or even tears of fear. It's anything that produces an unbearable ache in my chest or an overwhelming desire to read more.

This scene in ELR will touch anyone who has ever raised a teenager, or who is about to. What makes shows so popular is that we can relate to them. They stir up our emotions. Here is a bit of the scene between Marie and Debra. I wish I could have found a video clip (I searched and searched) but alas, no luck.

Marie: Let me ask you something, Debra. Have you ever had any doubts as a mother?
Debra: Of course, Marie, but—
Marie: No, I mean serious doubts. I mean, do you have any idea what it's like having a husband who doesn't help you at all?
Debra: (understands) Go on.
Marie: And then when you try to go to him for support, he only enhances those doubts? That was my life. Now imagine little Michael, who loves you, who lights up whenever you get near him. Now imagine him at 15, and he doesn't talk to you anymore. And you don't want to push him, so you just give him more love. Then one night, you make his favorite dinner and try to give him a kiss good night, and he goes up the stairs with a grunt. Then one day, you come across his journal, and you open it, and it reads "I hate my mom." I wouldn't wish that on you, Debra.

After this scene, Debra turns to Ray and demands that he apologize again. Everything turns to laughter, but before that, it's heart wrenching and real. There was more to the scene that brought on the tears, but I couldn't find all the dialogue, but you get the gist of it.

This brings me to an important question. Have you ever cried while writing a scene in your book? I have. I sobbed clear through one of the last scenes in my book, The Eye of TanĂºb. Granted, that was a long time ago. I have since re-written and re-worked that scene many times. But the first time I wrote it, I cried and KNEW in my heart it was perfect, and that it would never need to be edited. Of course, I was wrong, but the point here is this. We need our readers to feel that emotion. We need to get it on paper so when they so finally read it, they feel it--just as intensely as we did when it first left our fingertips.


Alison Palmer said...

I once attended a writers conference where the editor speaking said that was the best kind of feedback (the emotional) you could get from a reader. He had us practice reading to sense our emotions rather than to analyze what "works" and what didn't. Very helpful.

Laura B said...

That is exactly true. I never thought of it in that way, but the way you explained it made total sense.
I love reading books that make me feel it in my body's response, not just my mind. I recently read something that made my hands tingle with emotion and I wished I knew how to write that way so someone reading my words could feel that kind of emotion.

Wendy Swore said...

That moment you describe is very real. It's also every mother's fear--that their children will say such a thing. Great writing not only is written well, but it toys with the real fears we all have. Great post.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I've cried through lots of scenes. and then cried again re-reading them. Now I just hope the reader also feels the magic!

Colene Murphy said...

I remember that episode! It broke my heart!! And I don't much care for Marie. But that was so sad!! Yep, great writing indeed.

I think I have cried once before when writing. I hope that means it's good and I wasn't just being a raging, hormonal, wacko at the time. But whatever!

Chantele Sedgwick said...

What a great post. I love reading books that pull me that far in, letting me feel real emotions. I rarely cry in books, but when I do it's usually sobbing that follows. I don't like crying, but I love how some authors capture emotion so perfectly. I also love Everybody Loves Raymond. Awesome show.

Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen said...

Great post, Michelle. We watch ELR quite a bit, and you're right, the writing is great. And emotional. Thanks for the reminder.

Jolene Perry said...

There were a few scenes in two different books where tears were STREAMING down my face and my husband was like, you do like this, right?
I DO! And it's even better when my crittiquers cry in all the same places...

Shanda said...

Great post, Melissa. I never looked at that scene from a writer's standpoint before, though I did recognize it's effectiveness the first time I watched it. Mainly because I'm a mom. :)

I don't often cry while reading, though I often will laugh aloud or get angry. Usually when I am emotionally invested in a book I'm simply absorbed in the story & it takes a freight train to get my attention.

Thanks, Mellissa!

kbrebes said...

You got us thinking. Thanks!

Amber Argyle said...

I'd love to have a guys opinion on this. For me to enjoy a movie/book, I have to be emotionally invested in the characters.

But my husband doesn't.

I recently watched The Duchess. I cried through a good portion of it. When it was over, I turned to my husband and said it was one of the best movies I've ever seen. He gave me an incredulous look and said, "But it made you cry."

Then he thought abou it for a minute, "Also, nothing blew up."

ali said...

I am so afraid of having that sort of thing (the scene you shared) happening to me. I have two boys who are ten. They love me, want to talk to me, spend time with me, write me love notes. Any idea that that might one day change terrifies me.

As for writing, I have had that happen, but sadly not as often as I'd wish.

Marianne Arkins said...

My DD is just about to enter the teen years, and I'm hoping she doesn't go through the "I hate you mom" period too much... I'll miss my sweet, huggy, "I love you mom" daughter!

RE: writing -- the best response I ever got was a friend who read one of my historical shorts and told me she cried. And then, when she read it again, she cried again! LOL...

And, just reading that scene from ELR made me get teary. I'm such a sap.

Melissa J. Cunningham said...

Great responses you guys! You all sound so much like me. I don't know what it is about men either. My hubby never cries, but thoroughly enjoys his books and movies. For me, make me laugh. Make me cry.=)

Misha said...

Oh I have bawled.

Sad thing is that no one even died in that scene.

Getting the feeling that I will cry sometime in my current WiP.


Randall said...


Great Post. I love a book that draws me in. I love a book in which I can laugh, cry, feel intense angst, anger love, etc. Great writing does that. I love the artistic use of words in dialougue, as in Pride and Prejudice. I love the artistic use of words to describe scenes and characters that make you feel as if you are in the location described and can see the character and feel what they feel. That is great writing.

Thanks for sharing.


Anonymous said...

I've read that if you don't feel deep emotion when you're writing emotional scenes, then most likely your reader won't feel much either. Excellent post!

Renae W. Mackley said...

Yes, I've cried when writing. The real trick is that readers don't want to laugh where it made you cry! Thanks for the post.

Elizabeth Mueller said...

I can relate to the instance regarding the husband. My teengirl isn't like that. She and I have a totally open relationship--I swear, we can talk about ANYTHING, even personal stuff.

Great post!

♥.•*¨ Elizabeth ¨*•.♥

Valerie said...

I remember that episode! It made me cry too.

Since I am not a writer, I have never cried at something I have written, but have cried many times at things I have read. I enjoyed reading your "about me" to learn more about my new follower. :)

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