A moment in the film Forest Gump, in which the title character realizes that he has fathered a son. His eyes flood; his face fills with terror that the little boy might be like him. A moment of extraordinary self-awareness that his seed might have carried a taint.
The question: Was that moment more than craft for Tom Hanks? Yes, an actor feels to portray feelings, but did the emotion leave a mark? Did he walk away with any lasting emotional imprint?
As writers, if we don’t feel those significant moments in our own work—in the preparation, in the laying-down of the words and after the fact—are those moments genuine?
I’ve mentioned here how emotionally invested I am in the end of The Spiritkeeper; how it still has the power to make me cry. I’ve mentioned the more recent Everything. Now I’m four chapters deep into the new work and I am the question unavoidable.
Soundtracking is a ligature to emotional intent. The music carries with it the nuances of a plot’s landscape-of-the-heart. But when that music isn’t playing…when one is gathering plot points into a tape recorder in the middle of the night or going full-immersion into the chapter to write it from the inside out…if a character absolutely refuses to give the writer an emotion to work with, what then?
In Everything, that refusal was actually a boon. The main character was full of not-ness. So write that. Here, the main character has found a concealment behind the preoccupation of his life; to the POV character, he offers the amiable distance that one discovers (rightly) in a celebrity whose life remains his own, not yours. Perhaps there’s a way to harness that, too.
We wear our characters on the inside. We blink and sigh and want with them. That truth, at least, remains constant. No matter how reluctant they seem sometimes.
For the moment, the inability to share in the closely-held emotion is merely vexing. A rank stubbornness. A vacancy.
But when the dam breaks, when the emotions finally come, stand out of the way. Things are going to get interesting.