Emotional Barrier in Fiction: After You Cross It, What’s Next? (Part Two)

Part Two of the “Emotional Barriers” post — equally as good!

Writers In The Storm Blog

Today Tiffany Lawson Inman is continuing the discussion of the emotional barrier in fiction. If you missed Part One on Wednesday, click here.

We’re lucky not only to have Tiffany share her knowledge with us, but she’s giving away a “seat” in her next online class at the Lawson Writers Academy on this very subject to a commenter from Part One or Part Two.  We’ll announce the winner on Monday. Contest closes Sunday, September 29, at noon.

Tiffany Lawson Inman, headshotby Tiffany Lawson Inman

Welcome back!

We learned in Part One of this post, that the emotional barrier is VERY IMPORTANT, and very hard to break down without completely collapsing in on ourselves. We are all afraid of icky gooey stuff that seeps out when we are alone, and it takes skill to use the memories and gut-wrench that is on the other side, right?


And comedians like Louis C.K. have…

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Emotional Barrier in Fiction: Why is it so important for you to learn how to cross it? (Part One)

This is a great article — definitely worth saving and reading again and again.

Writers In The Storm Blog

We are fortunate to get a double-dose of Tiffany Lawson Inman this week with her insights on the emotional barrier in fiction. Look for Part Two on Friday. Oh, and read on. Tiffany’s offering a “seat” for one lucky commenter to her next online class at the Lawson Writers Academy.

Tiffany Lawson Inman, headshotby Tiffany Lawson Inman

Emotions play a big role in writing fiction.

That’s not a big secret, right?

Nope, but what I say next might surprise you. One of the many things I learned during my years as an actor is that most people, including writers, are afraid of their own emotions. Feeeeeeeeeeelings.Kermit Oh yes, those pesky feelings.

Most people are afraid of the thoughts and situations that forced them to feel hate, shame, guilt, terror, deep sadness, and dread. Humans are blessed to have the ability to emote, but they also have within them an emotional barrier to protect…

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The Power of No

Lately I’ve been thinking about Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

In both these stories, the heroine receives a proposal of marriage from the hero half-way through the book, and she says “no.”

Now, we know he’s the hero and that he’s right for her and it’s all going to be sunshine and rainbows when they get together. So what’s wrong with her? You’d think they’d get to their happily ever after a lot faster if she wouldn’t be so stubborn and irrational.

But the heroine has to say No. She HAS to. It’s vital, because we learn what kind of man the hero is from his reaction to her rejection.

Does he hear her when she says No?
Does he respect her right to reject him, however much he might disagree with her decision?
Does he treat her fairly and with respect even though he’s hurt?

During the 1800s, women were not as independent as they are now. Most women went from living under the control of their fathers, to living under the control of their husbands. Their lives were ordered and decisions were made for them by the men they were closest to. From birth to death, a woman had literally no opportunity to say No to any major life decision, and make it stick.

Except one: She had the opportunity to say No to an unwanted marriage proposal.

Well, her family might still badger, argue with and pressure her, but she could say No.

Furthermore, saying no and meaning it is an important message that is shared in these stories. Both books give examples of the wrong way and the right way for a man to take rejection – because hearing and respecting her No is essential.

Mr. Collins (Pride and Prejudice - 1995)

Mr. Collins (Pride and Prejudice – 1995)

In Pride and Prejudice, we see Lizzie Bennet rejecting Mr. Collins’ proposal. She says No, and he won’t accept it. He gives her a big long speech about how she doesn’t mean what she says, ending with, “As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.”

He refuses to listen to her repeated message that No means No.

Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy - Pride and Prejudice (BBC - 1995)

Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy – Pride and Prejudice (BBC – 1995)

Darcy, although he’s astonished and angry about it, hears her No. He doesn’t tell her that he knows better or that she doesn’t really mean it. Instead, he gets control of his emotions and asks her why.

At length, with a voice of forced calmness, he said: “And this is all the reply which I am to have the honour of expecting! I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavour at civility, I am thus rejected. But it is of small importance.”

Lizzie sets out her reasons. Darcy doesn’t like her reasons, but he doesn’t try to argue her out of her position – he leaves, and then sends her a letter. He gives her his perspective, and space in which to think about the situation.

Darcy’s handling of his rejection shows how he might handle other disagreements that might arise between himself and Lizzie. He can listen to her viewpoint and respect her as a thoughtful person – an equal. That’s a far better indicator of marital happiness than physical attractiveness, personal charm, or a ton of money would be.

Henry Lennox (North and South, BBC - 2004)

Henry Lennox (North and South, BBC – 2004)

In North and South, Margaret first receives a proposal from Henry Lennox, longtime friend of the family and a respectable lawyer. We know Henry is a decent guy because he respects Margaret’s refusal.

We know that Margaret has thought about the pros and cons of marrying Henry. She doesn’t feel ready for marriage. She also doesn’t like certain aspects of Henry’s personality. On that basis, she is entitled to say No to his proposal – even though it could be argued that Henry might well be her last best hope for marriage and stability. But still she’s entitled to make that decision for herself.

John Thornton and Margaret Hale - North and South (BBC 2004)

John Thornton and Margaret Hale – North and South (BBC 2004)

John Thornton also respects Margaret’s No. He argues with her, calls her unfair and unjust, but he has heard her. He accepts her refusal. And he tells her that she has nothing to fear from him:

“I have never loved any woman before: my life has been too busy, my thoughts too much absorbed with other things. Now I love, and will love. But do not be afraid of too much expression on my part.”

The turning-point in John and Margaret’s relationship comes later, when John protects her reputation. When she lies to the policeman investigating the suspicious death of one Leonards, John knows that she lied. He thinks she is protecting a secret lover. But because he still loves her, he helps to keep the secret of her presence at the train station where Leonards died.

We know that Margaret has lied to keep the police from knowing that her brother, who is under a sentence of death for mutiny, has returned to England to see their mother one last time before she dies. John doesn’t know this, but he is the magistrate assigned to Leonards’ case.

Margaret’s involvement is only a side-issue in discovering how Leonards died. It’s not really critical in resolving the case. So basically, Magistrate John Thornton has the power to make Margaret’s life difficult or easy. He chooses to make her life easier, even though he doesn’t have to. That indication of his character helps Margaret to realize that he is worthy of her love.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts in which young women feel pressured not to say No. Saying No makes you a bitch. You can’t “friend-zone” a guy because that’s so mean. When someone asks you out on a date, you have to give them something in return for the meal or entertainment or whatever, because that’s only fair. And once a young woman has said “yes” to one thing, apparently she’s automatically said yes to everything else. Frankly, I think that’s frightening.

Our ancestresses knew the power of No. They also knew what a man’s response to No said about his character.

Don’t give up the power.

Teen Reads Week Oct. 13 – 19, 2013

Me, age 13, and my favorite book back then.

Me, age 13, and my favorite book back then.

What was your favorite book when you were a teen? Who were you, back then — and what does that person look like, when you look back at them from today?

These are all the questions I asked myself recently, when a writer friend of mine posted a picture of herself as a young teen, along with her favorite book when she was in middle school.

So I did the same. (True Confessions time! No wonder my mother hated my hair style.)

And my favorite book — or actually, the first book of my favorite trilogy. I pulled it off my bookshelf and am re-reading it now. It’s still beautiful and powerful. No wonder I loved it so much!
There wasn’t very much worth watching on TV, and I’d discovered the joy of reading very early on. Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books were other favorites of mine, since I was horse-mad at the time, but fantasy was my first love. I worked my way up from fairy tales to myths and legends, to high fantasy and science fiction. I read the Lord of the Rings when I was 14, and I still have the 4-book boxed set of the trilogy and The Hobbit that I got back then. The paper is crumbling and yellow, but I still read the stories now and again.

So yes, a dreamy and bookish kid. But when I look back at myself, my feeling is that I did the best I could. Don’t get me wrong — I wouldn’t want to repeat those years, but it wasn’t the Dark Night of my Soul (that came later).

But for others, the teen years were rough. Was that you?

When you look back, do you like what you see? Do you remember your teen years with fondness or loathing? Would you do those years again?

And what were the books that sustained you during that time — I’d love to know.