I’m going to tell you something: thoughts are never honest. Emotions are.
I’m wading into tricky waters today. If I’m successful, I will have begun a discussion on a topic that is very dear to one of our own, the esteemed and estimable Donald Maass.
If I’m not so successful, I will have stumbled, fumbled, and bumbled into an area that Don understands far better than I do and will have made a flaming bozo of myself.
Sound like fun?
I’m also going to refer to a talk he gave at ThrillerFest two years ago titled, “Why Your Thriller Isn’t Thrilling.”
In each of these, Don addressed a subject of great importance to him in his evaluation of what matters in fiction: the portrayal and evocation of emotion.
My perspective on this: I have been puzzled by what at times has seemed to be a blurring of the line between emotion and feeling.
As I wrote in The Art of Character:
The difference between emotion and feeling is more one of degree than kind. Feeling is emotion that has been habituated and refined; it is understood and can be used deliberately. I know how I feel about this person and treat her accordingly. Emotion is more raw, unconsidered. It comes to us unbidden, regardless of how familiar it might be. Rage is an emotion. Contempt is a feeling.
[For a more detailed, neurological discussion of this distinction, see “Emotion and Feeling” in Descartes’ Error by Antonio R. Damasio.]
Both emotion and feeling are essential in fiction. But given the distinction between them, rendering them on the page requires different techniques. And that’s where, perhaps, Don and I have differing perspectives.