Monday Motivation: Be bold and let your characters’ emotions show
In the time of coronavirus we’re all tempted to pull in our heads (or bury them in the sand) to wait out the pandemic. This is an understandable response to the onslaught. In times of danger and stress, caution should rule, boldness will not answer.
But in the netherworlds of our fiction should we be bold? Should we be safe? Should we risk the scorn and derision of those who believe emotions should be veiled?
In Anna Karenina, Anna abandons her husband and her child for her lover, risking the condemnation of society for so doing. But she misses her son, Seryozha, terribly, and on his birthday can’t resist the urge to visit him, despite the danger of being turned away at the door by her husband’s functionaries, or being caught with her son by that same wrathful husband, Alexey Alexandrovitch, who has told his son that his mother is dead.
She comes upon her son asleep.
“‘Seryozha! my darling boy!’ she said, breathing hard and putting her arms round his plump little body. ‘Mother!’ he said, wriggling about in her arms so as to touch her hands with different parts of him.”
He takes a few minutes to wake up properly; indeed, after an initial paroxysm of joy, he falls asleep, before rousing again. But then his joy is unalloyed:
“‘Mother, darling, sweet one!’ he shouted, flinging himself on her again and hugging her. It was as though only now, on seeing her smile, he fully grasped what had happened.
“‘I don’t want that on,’ he said, taking off her hat. And, as it were, seeing her afresh without her hat, he fell to kissing her again.
“‘But what did you think about me? You didn’t think I was dead?’
“‘I never believed it.’
“‘You didn’t believe it, my sweet?’
“‘I knew, I knew!’ he repeated his favourite phrase. And snatching the hand that was stroking his hair, he pressed the open palm to his mouth and kissed it.”
It’s the tenderest possible scene of love, expressed purely and simply, between a child and his mother. And – at last I get to my point – it is expressed without reservation over several pages. The characters act with forthright intent. It is written boldly.
Unless they’re overcome by rage, or lust, adults will usually express themselves obliquely. We’ve grown frightened for the most part of outright displays of emotion. We’re overly concerned by the reception with which these displays might be greeted.
But children don’t share these fears – and when we’re with children those fears melt away, and we’re able, like Anna, to show our true feelings without reserve.
And as writers we must be prepared to show the same courage.