Sort of SBD

I'm editing a story and my instructions are to insert more emotion, more inner life.

I'm finding it hard to do at the moment because I just read Great Maria by Cecelia Holland. The book is not a romance. It's a story of an ambitious 11th century woman and it's freaking great. Maria is entirely believable and there are no whiffs of 21st century mores. She kills a man and has others killed and though she occasionally thinks about it, she doesn't obsess. And she knows doing penance will take care of any fear of being kept out of heaven.

The book is almost completely devoid of interior descriptions of inner turmoil (we get the exterior shots though). It's practically third person objective. Everything is shown, nothing told--hardly a scrap of emotional reflection. Maybe a sinple line here and there.

"What he said caught her imagination." That's the entire description of the moment Maria decides to go with her father's plans and marry a knight she hadn't noticed before. And her would-be lover is not telling her about how her hair looks in the moonlight. He's saying there's a lot of loot out there and I'm going for it. Or something along those lines.

Her husband has no way with women and no interest in learning what makes her tick. He's pure ambition. Their conversations tend to be about the latest plot or the kids. When a child or two dies (as they did back then) she grieves, but he refuses to discuss it. At all. And that's that. She has been half in love with another man through the whole story and the final actions she decides to take is thoroughly in character.

They're not just thoughtless animals and the subtle emotional life they lead (occasionally her husband covers her hand with his, or they laugh together) accumulates. It has plenty of time--the book is 920 pages. And we grow to care about him and about her as much as any people whose minds you see wide open on every page.

The style fits the times and the people. As Westly says "We are men of action, you and I." Men of action don't sit around fretting, mooning or examining their emotions. Planning maybe but when they worry about taking out an enemy they worry about getting killed or caught, not how their lover is going to be repelled.

The stuff I'm writing looks 21st century to me.


  1. You little Hemingway you. Love him or hate him (I tend towards hate, usually, cuz the man is so damned butch), he did the same thing. No interior dialog. You have to intuit the character's inner life from his actions.

    I'm dredging up memories from high school, but it seems to me Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome was the same way. I remember Ethan sitting across the table from his love interest (Mattie?), crunching up the table cloth in his fists. From that, we were supposed to understand that he had some serious wood for her. And if my high school English teacher had phrased it that way, I probably would have enjoyed the book better.

    Guess what I'm trying to say is, have you already done your work and not realized it? Are your characters' internal lives evident from their actions and dialog? If so, you might already be done.

  2. I lurved him in HS. but last time I looked at his stuff I thought damn he tries too hard not to try too hard. Too much capital A Art for a pulp fictionaire like me. Now that Fitzgerald, he's something.

  3. Fitzgerald: I loved Gatsby, read it three or four times at least, but I couldn't seem to get into anything else he'd written, except for Bernice Bobs Her Hair. I think that was Fitzgerald. Great bitchy short story.

  4. Totally off-subject butmazon have just informed me that it will take another two weeks to deliver your book to me. What a pain in the ass!

  5. Ok, that was supposed to read 'but Amazon' lol

  6. Butmazon is a good name. I'll go with it.

  7. I have THE GREAT MARIA in my TBR pile; now I have to move it up.

  8. Oh, Ethan Frome...sigh. Love that one. And Fitzgerald, esp. "Bernice Bobs Her Hair." I haven't read any Dunnett, but I hear she's similarly disengaged. I think modern romance-writing sometimes spoils readers for catching the nuances--even the best romance authors spell it out so there's no mistaking the emotion. I worry I won't be able to comprehend tougher reading after zoning out on romance. The first comment is probably right, though, I bet you've got more in there than you know.

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  10. snort.
    Thank you Doug and Megan. . .For once I wasn't being insecure. I was citing instructions handed . And I have to say, it's all peas and chocolate bars (more dramatic than apples and oranges)--I'm not condemning one style and adoring the other.

    It's just hard to slip into hyper-awareness mode after reading that sort of book. Probably should go check out some Colette first.

    After I finish deleting all the spam-o-la crud I got. Bleargh.

  11. wait, I'm spamming myself.

    And is it bad that I called you doug and not douglas? Have I ruined my chances at bearing hobbits?

    I did manage to change the Meg to Megan before the dog's nose hit send twice, rapidly.

  12. Colette! I _just_ sold my entire Colette collection to the local UBS. I loved her back in college days, but not so much lately. Let me know how she stands up. And now I am spamming you.

  13. I prefer 'Doug'. (My wife thought 'Douglas Hoffman' sounded more mellifluous for professional purposes, since the first two syllables of 'Doug Hoffman' sound like a rude suggestion*.) Besides, would I let a little thing like that stand between me and my Darwinian victory dance?

    *As in, "Doug 'off, ya bastards!"


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