Thursday, June 04, 2009

Write pathetically

When I think about writing, I usually think about it in terms of the hale Aristotelian triad of pathos-logos-ethos (I blogged about this a little while ago). In other words, writing that works well appeals to your audience’s hearts, minds, and sensibility. When we care about a character, that means the writer has done a good job with writing pathos into the scene. Which means that the most exciting battle scene in the world will never be a good one if every character in it remains anonymous.

This also means that the most important element in the opening pages of a novel is not really action, then, but character. A character gives meaning to the actions on the page. For instance, how much do we care about a child throwing a tantrum in the cereal aisle? How much more do we care if that scene is told from the mother’s point of view, when the tantrum is interspersed with someone telling her that she’s a crappy mom? As always, it depends on the writing, but the second situation would compel me to read on at least a bit further. I’d want to know how the mother responded, both to the tantrum and the criticism.

This is why good action scenes begin with attention to people–to point of view, character, and the who-what-how-and-why of a given person’s response to a situation. So I guess you could say that good writing is pathethic writing.


Matt said...

Excellent post, as usual, Sarah.

On an semi-related note, did you ever see The Stone Reader? If not, I think you may enjoy it.