Guest post: Tears, the best editor by Brian Staveley

20 Apr

I’m delighted to welcome Brian Staveley to One More Page today to celebrate the release of his new fantasy novel, Skullsworn; a standalone novel, set in the world of Staveley’s critically acclaimed Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy.

Brian  has taught literature, philosophy, history, and religion before writing epic fantasy. He lives on a steep dirt road in the mountains of southern Vermont, where he divides his time between fathering, writing, husbanding, splitting wood, skiing, and adventuring, not necessarily in that order. Welcome Brian!

Staveley 3_4I try, as a general rule, not to catalogue those aspects of my personality that embarrass me, but if I were to attempt such a catalogue, one item that would definitely make the list is this: I’m a movie crier.

Fine, you say. Everyone cries during movies. Obviously, I haven’t made clear the extent of the issue. I’m not talking about movies like Million Dollar Baby or Saving Private Ryan (though I cry during those, too). I will cry during X-Men. I will cry during a trailer for X-Men. If a television commercial is sufficiently moving—like something for life insurance or Subaru—I might cry during that, too.

Now, fortunately, we’re not talking about gasping, bawling, unable-to-breathe sobbing. Most people don’t even know I’m crying because I can be quite sneaky about it. I get a little choked up. There might be a silent tear or two. In a darkened movie theater it almost always goes unnoticed, though one needs to be discreet at Super Bowl parties.

Interestingly, the crying doesn’t always correspond to the sad moments. In fact, the crying often corresponds to the goosebumps I get during training montages, or when some character does something cool, egged on by an excellent sound track. Think: Han Solo’s surprise return at the end of A New Hope. This, for me, is an even more effective tear-jerker than the sad moments, like when Wicket the ewok is burned alive on a pyre. Wait, what? That didn’t happen? Well, good. I like Wicket.

Anyway, as it turns out, this crying tendency of mine has actually come to serve a vital role in my writing life. I cry when reading just as much as I do when watching movies. The book doesn’t necessarily have to be good, but it needs to create a certain mood. When I started writing fantasy, I spent a fair amount of time analyzing my own reactions to books. Whenever I put a book down for the night, I’d take a few minutes and try to understand why I chose to stop reading at that point, rather than earlier or later. When I decided to forge on into another chapter, I’d ask myself what, specifically, was making me want to keep reading. And when a book made me tear up, I’d dig into that, too. I wanted to understand the technical skull coverunderpinnings to my emotional reactions.

My own books don’t make me cry—I’m too close to them, too mired in all the various drafts and unexplored possibilities. There are, however, two possibilities when I reread a scene that I’ve written: either I feel not all that much, or I feel a cold skin-prickle that I recognize as the precursor to what, if I were reading someone else’s book, might end up as tears. When I’m editing, I know the scenes that should elicit the skin-prickle. If they fail to do that, I rewrite them from the ground up. It’s not that I expect my readers to share all of my emotional reactions. Nor do I think every scene needs to be a tear-jerker. And yet it’s useful, in a job that can get so intellectual, to have a visceral barometer of a scene’s success, even if it’s just a personal one. And if I can get someone else to sob all over the book during their lunch hour, so much the better. I won’t need to feel quite so strange about my own silent weeping.

Skullsworn is published by Tor UK in hardback, ebook and audio formats on 20 April.

Find out more about Brian and his writing at: http://brianstaveley.com/index/

You can follow Brian on Twitter @Brian Staveley.

Stop by again later today for a chance to win a copy of Skullsworn.

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