Thursday, December 11, 2008

Compare and Contrast

evoke--to cause a reader to feel a presence, emotion, longing, or association. Distinct from description, which is the writer's equivalent of drawings on the Lascaux Cave walls, evocation is the indirect approach a story teller uses when conveying information that causes the reader to apprehend the information on his own terms.

Writer A may say of Character B, "She moved about with an air of perpetual sadness," which is a fairly direct description. Writer A may also evoke Character B's perpetual sadness by forcing upon her situations and responses that lead the reader to conclude that Character B is perpetually sad, the latter making the reader a partner in the equation rather than a passive viewer.

Evocation has become "Show-don't-tell" write large. A significant goal for the contemporary writer is to evoke rather than describe. Accordingly, the writer must chose with care which attribute and actions to set forth, shrewdly nudging but not pushing the reader toward a desired result. A notable example of evocative writing may be found in the novels and shorter works of Stephen King, whose fans read him primarily to experience at close hand the frightening associations and circumstances he evokes.

After rereading scenes and passages that have remained in their memory for years, many are surprised to note how little actual description these descriptive narratives contained, and how important the context mattered in which they were placed. Responses often approximate the famed five stages observed by Dr. Kubler-Ross. The first response, akin to denial,becomes, "This must not be the scene I'm thinking of." Then comes feeling cheated by the intensity of the memory. This quickly shifts into the reader's sense of having grown, perhaps having become wiser or more empathetic. But skilled writers know better: Of course we grow, profit from experience, more fully appreciate nuance. The secret for writers inheres in the use of significant specifics, items that employ one or more sensory triggers. These triggers evoke memories of sight, smell, taste, and sound, allowing the reader to experience a desired scene through his own sensual memory.

To evoke rather than to describe has the effect of drawing the reader further into the dramatic situation by letting the reader fill in the significant details. By this very process, the writer is thrown back on his own. How to evoke rather than describe? Start with the feeling to be evoked, then set forth the minute details that suggest the feeling. Let the reader connect the dots.

Trained actors understand and use these techniques in preparing for the roles in which they are cast. They first read the script to determine the author's intent, then begin rummaging through their own toolkit to find sensory triggers that will inform their movements, pacing, and speech cadences to project a sense of their character. The writer, whether consciously or not, uses the same process.

objective correlative--an object, situation, or event that evokes an emotion beyond the object's, situation's, or event's common association. A fountain pen, however attractive, may evoke in a character negative memories of a parent who was on his case because of sloppy handwriting. It may also evoke fond memories of the parent, well beyond awareness of the beauty of the pen itself. An office party to which one is invited by a romantic partner may evoke a sense of foreboding if one's own experiences at office parties was dismal. A family gathering may evoke fond memories or combative ones, depending on one's own family history.

Given a resurgence of popularity among academics and critics by an essay in which T.S. Eliot took on the lack of cohesive motivation in Hamlet, the objective correlative is a valuable reminder to storytellers, suggesting they think of objects, situations, and events as having the power to radiate emotion, first to the characters who experience these feeling, and then, by transfer, to the reader. Understated objective correlative can help the writer deliver on the premise that story must deliver an emotional impact.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I suppose one of the arts to the use of objective correlative is how much the character realizes what it is they are reacting to, or whether they react blindly. "oh, that reminds me of that horrible office party where Idrank too much and had sex with the mailroom boy in the copy room" versus "I just don't want to go, damn it, isn't that reason enough?"