Is there a greater art than evoking a feeling that has no name? When readers feel those it’s magic. It’s pure human connection, silent but nevertheless potent heart to heart sharing. It’s like when couples who’ve known each other forever exchange a look. Who needs words? The look says it all.
Nameless emotional experiences can be dark, too. When we leave the light on, shudder or feel sick inside at the horror of human cruelty, we are feeling something less specific and yet larger than any feeling we can label. The same goes for sensing the presence and reality of God. For those who have felt that even sublime words like humility, joy, wonder and awe are inadequate.
Ironically, in fiction there is only one way to get across a feeling with no name: words. How is that supposed to work? How can you evoke something nameless without naming it? Obviously we are here discussing evoking emotion. We are talking not about telling, but about showing in its highest form.
The least effective way to evoke unstated emotion is with pregnant pauses, “significant” looks, or gestures like shrugs or the dismissive wave of a hand. Overused devices have little effect. Snorts, grunts, and exasperated huffs—Women! Men!—are similarly pale.
Wonder doesn’t arise when readers don’t have to wonder. When the obvious is implied the feeling that readers experience does, unfortunately, have a name: indifference.
By the same token, why bother to evoke in readers feelings that can be readily identified and which have accurate names? There’s no magic in that. Wonder doesn’t arise when readers don’t have to wonder. When the obvious is implied the feeling that readers experience does, unfortunately, have a name: indifference.
The art we’re seeking is the evocation of tacit feelings that leave the reader helpless to explain and speechlessly certain that they have felt exactly this themselves. Unique feelings are situation-specific. They flare as brightly as fireworks and perish just as quickly, leaving nothing to hold except the memory of having experienced something fragile and elusive, an excitement or trepidation that is at once real yet impossible to convey or recreate.
How can this be done? [Read more…]