Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Necessary Coldness


I’ve completed the revisions to the manuscript of A Light Shining, the sequel to my novel Dancing Priest. The basic structure and concept of the original manuscript is there, but the finished story turns out to be something different, and it is due primarily to two things: a dramatic shortening of what had been the final section (dramatic as in a reduction of some 10,000 words; some will be saved for other projects); and the creation of a new character.

The new character doesn’t have a large role, but he does have a sufficient role, and it lasts throughout the story. In creating the character and the scenes he appears in, I did something I didn’t know there was a name for – necessary coldness.

In Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within, author Kim Addonizio describes the technique of  “writing it colder,” which is a way (or technique) to handle emotion on the page, a deliberate underwriting or stripping out of emotion that actually has the opposite effect. She quotes a letter by the Russian writer Anton Chekhov:

“When you want to make the reader feel pity, try to be somewhat colder—that seems to give a kind of background to another’s grief, against which it stands out more clearly. Whereas in your story the characters cry and you sigh. Yes, be more cold…the more objective you are the stronger will be the impression you make.”

Pity is not the emotion I am aiming for with this new character. It is something altogether different. I introduced the character in a blog post entitled “Watching” in August, and also mentioned him a little later in “Where did he come from?

But the idea of coldness permeates the scenes in the book with this character. And by writing the emotion down, I believe the reader’s emotion is dialed up. When I went back (several times; make that numerous times) to reread those scenes, I kept rereading and rewriting, and rerwriting in the direction of less is more.

By the time the manuscript was finished, I understood what I had done. When I read the section in Addonizio’s book, I realized there was name for it – necessary coldness.

I would tell you this character’s name except he doesn’t have one.


Over at TweetSpeak Poetry, LylaLindquist has been leading a discussion of Kim Addonizio’s Ordinary Genius. This week we’re covering Part III – “The poem’s progress.” While she’s focused on poetry, what she’s writing – and the exercises you can do – apply broadly to all kinds of writing. To see what’s up with the discussion, please visit TweetSpeak Poetry.

1 comment:

nance said...

Interesting about the necessary coldness. Good to hear about some of the details of your writing experience.