Category Archives: Story
The Heart of a Mother – Interview with Filmmakers Evelyne & Gabriela Tollman
Two years ago, Gabriela Tollman’s son Charlie was born prematurely. After 11 days, he lost his fight to overcome E. coli. As the pain shattered her mother’s heart, she had no idea how that pain echoed out into the hearts of millions of mothers each year who have a child die. The grief, self-blame and physical ailments she suffered were the beginning of a journey that has brought her to where she is today: Kickstarting a feature film to raise $30K to put the story and the hope and the healing she has found in front of audiences. With her sister, Evelyne Werzowa, her partner in writing, producing and acting in “Secrets of an Unborn Child“, Gabriela stands strong for mothers (and fathers and siblings, too) who miss “the one who was supposed to still be part of our family.”
In Secrets Of An Unborn Child the lives of two sisters intersect. Clare loses her baby and Anna, in the midst of an emotional crisis, inadvertently abandons her child. The film follows the two sisters as they overcome their worst fears and help each other rebuild their lives.
It isn’t everyday that you meet women filmmakers who have the raw courage to crack open their hearts and so intimately reveal very personal pain. Gabriella and Evie, as she’s called, are two mothers (yes, they both have 6-year-old boys) who are passionate about letting the grace of learning to let go, reach out and gently touch the souls of those who are afraid that if they do let go, they’ll lose their child forever. Experienced filmmakers, Gabriela and Evie embrace film as a pathway to bless the human spirit. If you are or know a mother who has lost a child to illness, injury, war, violence, accident, please read and share this post. And know, that in your journey, you are not alone.
And if you are a mother who is blessed with a child, then join us in celebrating life, resiliency and the power of the human heart.
Tell me the story of how you each became filmmakers.
Gabriela: Evelyne and I have been acting in and writing plays since we were six years old. We grew up under Apartheid in South Africa. Freedom of speech was sanctioned. Film was a safe place to express ourselves, to escape the lies and to tell the truth. After immigrating Evelyne went on to theatre school at LACC and studied Screen Writing at the Writers’ Bootcamp in Los Angeles. Evelyne has directed one short film and hopes to direct more in the future. I attended UCLA as a theater student, but was always drawn to the Film department. After graduating UCLA I learned Film Editing and I wrote, acted in and directed my first short film THE LAST GUNSHOT about the social implications of Apartheid. It screened in over 30 festivals including the Cannes Short Film Corner. After that I was hooked. I have directed over ten short films since then. They have played in festivals all over the world including Sundance, and won several awards. I am very excited to be making my first feature film with Evelyne.
What part of filmmaking is “the energy that lights you up” for you?
Gabriela: I love the entire process of making a film from writing to filming and editing. I also love the collaborative process of filmmaking. I see film as a spiritual medium. One where you distill an aspect of the human experience, examine, it, live with it, experience it and grow from it. I love that is a medium that combines all other mediums such as writing, painting, acting, editing, etc. I also love that it allows the audience to experience a world through images. I have always likened film to hypnosis as it affects people on a deep subconscious level. That to me is very powerful.
Tell us about your journey with Secrets of an Unborn Child. This is a very personal project for you, one that has required you to be vulnerable and share your own grief and journey via the two protagonists – where did you find it in your soul to bring this personal pain out into a very public light?
Gabriela: I have always worked from personal experience in my films. As a South African immigrant I grew up during Apartheid and I witnessed a lot of fear and violence. My first short film THE LAST GUNSHOT explored these themes and the familial implications of Apartheid. In some of my other short films I’ve explored themes of intimacy, isolation and violence against women. SECRETS OF AN UNBORN CHILD was motivated by a real experience I had when due to complications I gave birth to my baby at 7 months. He struggled to survive, but didn’t. It was a painful and difficult experience. I started to write the script with Evelyne. I was compelled to explore the theme of survival after the loss of a loved one. Writing this project has helped me heal. Finding an outlet for pain has always helped me feel like less of a victim and less vulnerable. The pain I felt after losing my baby was overwhelming. I hope that this project can help those experiencing loss feel less alone; and let them know that some day they will feel happy and alive again.
Evelyne: When Charlie was born too early, with a terrible infection, they tried everything: blood transfusions and a life support machine. After just 11 days the doctors told them it was hopeless. They were faced with a very hard decision. They decided to turn off the machine. His hands went into Mudra as if giving thanks to his parents for letting him go. Gaby suffered from depression, physical ailments and negative thoughts, that maybe it was her fault somehow. And then we began to write together. Write about her struggle, the negative voices that plagued her. The guilt that somehow she may have caused this. The voices she longed to hear began, “Mommy, I’m OK. It wasn’t your fault.”
This film is the story we want to tell of two sisters who come together to help each other. The sister Anna, who I play in the film, is lost. Stuck in the role that so many parents get into. Full of frustration, anger, overwhelmed at parenting and her child. She has an emotional breakdown and walks away from her small son, leaving him in a boiling hot car. We wanted to tell the story about what it means to love and loose. What is means to make bad decisions, and the road back to love.
What is your dream for this film? What do you want it to do in the world?
Evelyne: Our dream for the film is that it reaches a wide audience of people who it can inspire and help. Three million babies die each year. This is more common than we know. It is not talked about a lot. How can you heal from loss? What does it do to a marriage, etc. And then on the flip side there are so many parents who don’t realize having a child is a gift. There is a staggering amount of child abuse and children being forgotten in automobiles each year. I want people to realize how lucky they are and that we all have an incredible ability to find god, love, and heal if you dare.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing the script? The most rewarding?
Gabriela: The most challenging part for me was honoring the truth of my experience and not backing away from it. Having the guts to communicate the depth of the anxiety, fear and sadness I was experiencing. The most rewarding for me was that as I healed, my character healed. The more Clare listens to her own voice, meditates and gets in touch with that deeper part of herself the more rewarding the process became.
Evelyne: The most challenging thing for me was making sure I did not dismiss or downplay what this experience was like for Gabriela. The pain, the fear of physical ailments manifesting and the voices she heard calling her from another place were all real. Allowing her to put that on the page then making sure they pushed against Anna (my character) in the film. Anna is the opposite of Clare (Gabriela’s character) she pretends everything is OK. She can’t face the pain inside and tries to deny what she has done to her own child. The two sisters ultimately push each other to face their darkness. I also wanted to make the story is engaging for everyone, not just those who have experienced loss. It is about being open to Consciousness or God and your subconscious. To listen, to hear, really hear your soul. Everyone can relate to this. How am I alive, really alive? How do I love? And do I have the courage to step into being alive, not live my life on the outside.
Even though the pain of your characters is based on your own, your characters have a life of their own and they are not you – what has it been like working with them? What have Clare and Anna taught you? How have they surprised you?
Evelyne and Gabriela: What a beautiful question. Writing Clare has taught us that we all have a process that helps us heal. As a society we can be so judgmental when it comes to healing and death. We live in a society that says “get on with it, put on a happy face.” The sisters’ father in the film, Monty, tells Clare “Come on, get on with it; people lose babies all the time.” Clare taught us that every phase of life has a purpose. That we learn from every experience. That pain can be an incredible teacher. We don’t need pain to grow, but if you are faced with it don’t deny it. Clare teaches us not to run from pain just because it is uncomfortable. Be with it, connect with it, connect with yourself, be still, that’s when true healing can occur.
Anna, on the other hand, reminds us to listen. She gets too stressed, too flooded by life that she can’t relax when her child is talking about birds that can talk. She is driving, lost in frenzy; then leaves her screaming child in a boiling hot car. Anna is who we all can become if we don’t stop, breath and take life in. We think of her often in the frenzy of life.
Was there a point where you nearly gave up on this film? If so, what motivated you to keep going?
Evelyne and Gabriela: Sometimes Gabriela worried that reliving the story, the trauma would not be good for her health and psyche, but it has been just the opposite. This journey has given her energy to inspire others, to share her journey. Healing is a process, it doesn’t happen over night. What definitely kept us going is that getting this story out there can help others not feel so alone.
How has this film affected your relationship as sisters?
Evelyne and Gabriela: Working on the film has helped us tremendously. We compliment each other. Gabriela is not afraid to go to the dark places and Evelyne likes to find the humor and irony. There is a lot of that in the script and we laugh alot at ourselves and at our characters.
How does your collaboration work?
Evelyne and Gabriela: We will talk about a scene, what we’re trying to say in it and then one of us will usually take a stab at it and the other one will then do the rewrite. Gabriela wrote all the internal dialogue and I would say “love it, or, wow, you went too far with that!” We help stretch each other. Some scenes we wrote five times. For example, we wanted to give the character Michael (Clare’s husband) a voice, about how he feels with the loss. We tried everything and a physical action seemed to work best. It’s a painful, beautiful gesture that you can’t say with words.
Where are you at in your own spiritual journeys? What does “faith” mean to you now?
Gabriela: My spiritual life deepened immensely after the loss of my baby. I tried desperately to understand why. I sought out the books of Louise Hay, which helped me. I read MANY MASTER, MANY LIVES by Brian Weiss. This book changed my life. It helped me understand the world in a different way. It helped me understand we truly are all connected and that we are all here to learn and grow. That nothing is random and life really is supposed to be full of joy. Another person that affected me deeply and helped me heal is Marianne Williamson. I began going to her talks on Monday nights. I felt so lucky to meet her, she was so open to me and really helped me. I began following and studying A COURSE IN MIRACLES. I continue to do the lessons each day. I really have learned that so much about our life is what we think; that we do have control over our thoughts and our mind. That each day, each minute, we can chose between love and feeling connected to something bigger, brighter and more beautiful or fear.
Evelyne: As an artist, as a mother, as a wife I think you get tested a lot. We’ll, I do. I come up against my own beliefs opposed to others’ beliefs. And then I have to let go and breathe. We’re all in this together. I remind myself to come from love, and I meditate, find the quiet, so I can hear the silence, the soul, God, whatever you want to call it. I’ve seen miracles and magic in my own life that gives me faith. My own son was diagnosed with Legg Perthes disease. I don’t think this is a random thing, I think it can be a gift for all of us, a gift we can give others. The night of my son’s diagnosis I felt an energy come into my room, spin around my son and that’s when I knew he would be okay. The world of healing came and found me. I didn’t seek it out, it found me. But that’s another story. On the day we said goodbye to Gabriela’s baby, Charlie, his hands went into mudra. I saw that as a sign he was going back to God and that blew me away. You can’t make that stuff up. If you’re open you can see it and there have been more miracles I have witnessed.
What role does fear and faith play in your creative life?
Gabriela: Creativity has always been an act of faith for me. When I feel any fear or negativity creep in I write about it or create something about it and that diminishes the fear. I think that’s why making this film continues to be so cathartic for me; it helped get me out of my fear.
Evelyne: I feel blessed, I know it sounds corny or crazy, but often when I write, it just comes through me. Later I read the draft of a script I’m working on and I think “How did I write that?” it just came through me.
How is it to be a mom and a writer and filmmaker and actresses?
Evelyne: Out boys are best friends. We are very lucky. We have play dates, they sword fight and we edit together. We have passionate conversations and our boys love being a part of it. The other day my son said to me” “Mommy, you talk to Auntie Gabriela five times a day. You have a lot to talk about!”
We are playing Clare and Anna in the film. We thought about maybe casting other actresses, but this film is tailor made for us. As ex-pats from South Africa, we also deal with violence in the film and motherhood. We have been acting together since we were little and this is a natural extension of that.
What is it like for you to be the scriptwriter and also the actress who must embody that character?
Evelyne: It’s wonderful; we know these characters so well. We have lived with them for such a long time. We’ve done writing and acting exercises with them, written their dreams, their best childhood memories and their secrets. It’s also intense to share the shadow side, but we feel so safe working together. We have that sister bond where we can just give each other a look and we know what the other is thinking. We are both huge Ingmar Bergman fans. This is our Persona, our homage to Bergman.
Learn More and Support “Secrets of an Unborn Child” at Kickstarter.
Follow on Twitter: @Unbornchildmv
View Gabriela Tollman’s website at http://www.gabrielatollman.com
Encouragement for Writers (and Characters) in Revision
As writers, we spend the majority of our time in revision. It’s where we truly get to know our characters and ourselves. It’s a time of intense concentration that requires different skill sets than first drafts. Revision is where we hone our craft. Where we wrestle. Where we experience the deepest depths, darkest fears, brightest illuminations. It is the real work of a writer and where writers and characters need the most support.
If you’re like most, revision is never done until you decide it’s done. Story is one of the only art forms that can always be improved, changed, re-directed, given new form. Because we spend so much time in revision, there are a few things we can be mindful of during the process.
It’s okay to feel lost.
We think we should always know where we’re going, don’t we? We get critical, trusted feedback; we take time to listen to our guidance on that feedback; we feel strong pressure to know where the story should be going from fade in to fade out. Some people swear by their ability to plot out their entire story from beginning to end. If that works for you, that’s wonderful. It doesn’t work for me. Story unfolds as I write it. I have a general understanding (usually) of the beginning and the end, with glimpses of points along the way. But for the most part, I don’t know what’s going to happen until it happens to the characters. I don’t know what they’re going to say until they say it. That may sound very chaotic, but for me, it works. I am the container that the story flows from. I give it shape and form, a place for the characters to dwell. Knowing up front where we’re all going? Not going to happen. Feeling lost and completely blind at times is just part of the art form. Which leads me to the next point.
Time is irrelevant, even with deadlines.
You’ve got a deadline – what do you do? Keep working. But work without striving. If you strive, you’ll lock down your ability to be receptive. Being receptive is 90% of your job. Keep an open mind toward time and understand that you can’t force it. So, take breaks. Step away. Listen to different music. Be present and available, there to receive. Keep a mindset that you’re on duty. Some of that time, you’ll only be on call. Waiting for the characters, waiting for something (you may never know what) to occur where the next scene or thought formulates. You may need to sit at your screen and just write. You’ll get a feel for the story’s rhythm, how the characters prefer to work with you, and the ebb and tide of your own process as a writer. Just flow, don’t force.
Characters need you more than ever to be perceptive.
Revision is stressful on you and even more stressful on your characters. If you’ve got a solid draft down, they’ve done considerable work with and for you. They’ve poured their energy and emotions into it far more than you have. And let’s face it, most of story is conflict and that’s a tough energy to sustain and endure. Give them a break. You’ve got to get characters to work with you, even if they disagree at first at the changes you (as the Story Director) are asking them to make. Include them in your decision-making process and they’ll surprise you with their willingness to dig deeper. Your protagonist and antagonist carry the most weight and should have the most influence on you. If you think of your characters as a cast (and bear in mind the actors who will embody their roles) and yourself as the Story Director, you’ll be able to ask characters to do or try new things — to fight harder, to reveal more, to defy each other — with the safety that at the end of the day, they’re all still friends.
Characters need you more than ever to be perceptive. You need to be available, there as coach, confidant, leader, ally, therapist, and witness. You will never work more closely with your characters than you will during revision. Build your team. Be compassionate. Be tough. And remember, no matter what, you’re responsible for making the final decisions.
Doubts are normal and necessary.
We all go through it. Doubts, fears, wondering how we’re ever going to pull this off. We run up against challenges that make us quiver. This happens to every one. Success just makes it worse. Doubts are part of the process and this never changes. But think about it — doubts mean we’ve come to a place that is stretching us to either grow as a writer (and a person) or quit. There are no other options. If you grow, you expand your writing acumen, your craft and your experience.
Your mind and spirit need to disengage.
You’re in the midst of revision on a project you feel passionate about. Time passes unnoticed. You are in your story more than out of it. You think about it all of the time. You push on, keep going. Just stop for a moment. Your mind and spirit need a break. The more engaged you are in revision, the more likely that you’re dealing with characters and scenes that are emotionally trying. To the characters, and to you. These emotions may have little or nothing to do with your non-writing life though. You need space to process them. (If you’re not feeling your character’s emotions, you need to dig deeper, because if you can’t feel them, your reader/viewer won’t either.) Let your character’s emotions flow in and through you, but make sure you let them flow away and out of you as well.
Be patiently persistent.
Take the attitude that you will never give up. If what you’re writing means something to you, then set it in your heart that you will do whatever it takes to nurture it, protect it, support it and carry it into the world. Set it in your heart, too, that the process of writing is the real life of a writer. It’s not the film made, the book published. It’s the act of writing. That’s where your successes arise, that’s where you feel the joy. That’s where you are a writer.
Carpenter or Architect? Writers, Which One Are You?
The premise of most “writing how-to” books is this: writers make up stories. Because they make up stories, writing one really comes down to selecting the right structure, tools and materials to build one. If you read enough of these how-to books, and apply what they preach, anyone can write, right? And even further, for those writers who are stuck, the idea that you can just find the right tool to get unstuck somewhere in these books turns into an endless search for a elusive solution.
What amazes me is that so few writing books stem from the premise that so many writers actually experience: we don’t make up our stories, our stories exist and emerge as themselves.
How many writers have felt that the story “comes alive, with a life of its own” and that “the characters seem to know what they want to say and do”, and that “writing is more like channeling”, etc. , etc. You’ve felt it, right? I certainly do. The idea that my brain has concocted the characters, their personalities, their backstories, their emotional fabric, their pain, their reactions to decisions I don’t even know they’re going to make yet, feels completely foreign to my experience and how I receive stories. Perhaps because the concept of “making something up” involves a conscious decision, i.e., “John’s eyes will be blue, not brown; he’ll be afraid of heights and have a fiery temper.”
If I want to know what John looks like, what he’s afraid of and how he reacts, I have to ask him, listen and watch.
I’m not saying that writers don’t have choices to make and don’t alter details to serve the story. We do. What I am saying is that there is no way I could fabricate a story from scratch. Maybe I’m just not clever enough. My experience is that Stories and Characters present themselves to me, I get glimpses and hints here and there of what is going to happen. But mostly I’m working blind and don’t know what happens until my characters do. Which means the snags I face are not structure, tools and materials, but issues of relationships, trust, intention and communication.
Those aren’t in the books.
I have to spend time with the characters to hear what they have to say, what they’re afraid to say. It’s a journey we travel together. They lead, I follow. They speak, I listen, write it down. If something’s not working, or if there’s a better way to present the emotional fabric of their story, we work it out, try different things. We run into spots where we’re not sure what comes next.
The answers aren’t in the books.
They’re in the writing.
In other words, “results and clarity come from engagement (taking action), not thought.”
And not from endless searches through the next promising writing how-to book. I find the next scene by physically typing on the keyboard as the scene unfolds. I spend time discussing with the characters what the next scene will be, but I don’t always know. The answers sometimes elude me for days, until in some odd, unexpected moment, there it is. But more often than not, I have to go back to the keyboard and just type. Let the characters lead, get in deep water, see how they get themselves out. It’s an organic process. It’s not in the books.
But what about outlining? Treatments? Plotting before you write? Doesn’t a story need to be planned ahead of time so you know where you’re going? You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, after all.
Mmm. All good points.
What is the purpose of a house? To have a structurally sound protective environment that remains in place and supports a human lifestyle, right?
What is the purpose of a story? To move the human heart to respond, to open, to feel something.
There is a place for craft and knowing how to use the tools of your trade.
But a writer is more an architect than a carpenter.
And where do architects get their ideas? From listening to the needs and desires of the one who will live in the house. Who lives in the houses of our Stories? (If you said, audience – you’re incorrect.)
Characters live in the houses of our stories.
If you want to be a carpenter-writer, then you’ll end up with a house that some other architect designed and has built before. If you want to be an architect-writer, then you’ll understand why the most important quality to have is the ability to listen deeply into the Storyworld and trust what one hears, feels and intuitively knows. You’ll design and build from there.
You’ll translate stories that pierce the human heart and move us.
Write the Story You Need to Write
I read a thought-provoking post this morning from Lori-Lyn Hurley titled “You Know the Way” where she explores how we need to discern what is true for us amidst all the well-intentioned advice we get. “You hear one of these truisms often enough and it wears a little groove in your brain. It becomes true for you, when maybe it isn’t,” Hurley writes. “There is no shortage of people ready to give you instruction and advice. For the most part, these people have your very best interest at heart and are sharing information in absolute good faith. Some of that instruction and advice is going to resonate with you. It’s going to be of wonderful assistance. But some of it, you’re going to have to respectfully dismiss. Great teachers, people you love and respect, are sometimes going to tell you things that just aren’t true for you. They’re going to share truths that aren’t your truths.”
Hurley speaks to a spiritual community, but her words are no less true for writers and artists. In fact, they are more relevant than ever. So much of our art world is entrenched in copying what is proven to be financially successful that we risk losing the ability to offer something original. We get caught up in playing it safe. While this may work financially, it’s caustic to creativity. The very nature of creativity is to bring forth what hasn’t emerged yet. We see a wonderful freedom to explore new worlds in the frontier of technology – because it is new and the potential unknown. But there is just as great a potential for originality in the traditional arts as in technology. If we can get out from under the fear and weight of all that has come before us.
If you are in charge of your creative work, you own the process of how you create it. You are the only one, in fact, who can decide what that creative piece will be. There will come a point after you have gathered the sound advice of professionals you trust, when you will need to set aside all of their voices and go back into the work alone. Just you and the work. No one else’s opinions, directions, no consideration of who will approve or disapprove, of what your critics will think. No thought of awards or returns. Just you and the work.
From there, write the story you need to write. The one that trusts you more than any other writer to write it. The one that chose you. Trust yourself more than anyone else to take the risk of delivering something original.
Strip away the illusion that the work must “out-do” everything that’s been done before and go back to a very simple, very still point of being.
A place where there is no audience other than you. Where all it will ever be is what it becomes in your hands.
Where you allow it to be as beautiful and wild and deep as it wants to be.
Hurley says: “Listen to the voice that rises up through the earth and travels through you like light. Listen to the whisper of your very soul. Listen with your ear to the ground. There is a story that belongs to you. There is a song that is yours to sing.”
Sing. Sing as if no one will ever hear you.
And then, they will.
Managing the Emotional Fabric of Story
Suzanne Kelman wrote a post the other day about falling in “love” with a character. It got me thinking about the emotions that go in and come out of a Story and how we manage that emotional fabric. Now, you may not have fallen in love with your character, but chances are, you’re pretty close to your lead ones. And you should be. The relationships we form with characters have an emotional intimacy to them if for no other reason than the deep trust that exists when characters choose us to tell their stories, then rely on us to help them make it through the telling. Where I digress with many is in the nature of these characters. I do not believe that we “make them up.” I believe characters exist in their own realm.
Whether or not you believe characters are real or made up makes a difference in how you manage the emotional fabric of the story.
Characters Who are Believed In, Are Believable
It’s our job as writers to manage the emotions of the story so that we give audiences something to respond to. If you hold that you are the one “making up” what your characters’ story is, what they do, how they react, who they are, who they used to be, what they say, and ultimately, what they feel, you are missing the real blessing of being a writer (not to mention, working way too hard). You are coercing a story into being. Coercion, even subtly done, leaves a mark of fabrication.
You are also denying yourself the opportunity to let your characters change you. (You aren’t still thinking that your character’s the only one being changed in the story arc, are you?) If you’re making your characters up, you’re keeping them at arm’s length. That’s not where they need to be. Characters need more freedom and respect than that. They need to be able to get into your heart with a realness that isn’t burdened with the constant denial of being “made-up.”
Characters who have your full trust and faith do extraordinary things. Characters who are believed in, are believable. If you suspend your disbelief and let them exist, you’ll see that they guide and direct the story, they respond emotionally and authentically, they decide what they are going to do, when and how. They say what they want to say, far better than you can say it. And they know who they are.
This lends itself to stories that are authentic, that flow, that ring true to the human spirit.
Isn’t that what we want? It’s what we are called to deliver. Emotionally-authentic stories that audiences respond to. Characters so vivid that actors and audiences feel them as breathing, living beings and remember them for years to come.
If you give your characters the sovereignty they need, they’ll give you the story you need.
Move from Controlling to Trusting Characters
If you move from controlling characters to trusting characters, you change the dynamics of how you receive and interpret stories. It becomes less about you, less about writing and more about listening and relating. You move into collaboration with characters. And that’s where you want to be. That’s where the gold is. That’s where your story takes on “a life of its own” because it has a life of its own. You become a witness, a listener, a counselor and therapist. You champion them, you don’t let them take the easy way out, you keep pressing them for more. (And trust me, they’ll push you, too.) You spend a lot of time letting them express themselves, letting them breathe through the hard stuff, letting them take breaks when it cuts too deep, and you listen, listen, listen. (Yes, I know, you’ve heard me say it before. You’ll hear me say it again. It’s the most important skill a writer can have.)
What all of this is doing is allowing you to receive the story. Not create it. Not make it up. Receive it.
It’s fully formed, out there. Your characters know it, though they may not reveal it right off the bat (that’s what the real work of revision is – digging deeper). You receive the story. And because you’ve received a more powerful, authentic story in the first place, you have the emotions you need to guide the story to its most powerful expression.
Manage Emotions on the Page
Managing those emotions on the page comes down to managing which scenes to use in the story. Which dialogue. It’s as much about what not to include as it is about what must be on the page. It’s a judgement call. One you need to seek guidance on from the characters. You have to trust what you know is the heart and soul of the story. Emotion comes from what one longs to express, but doesn’t. It’s not about animating character’s expressions, but knowing what’s in their heart and what they aren’t allowing themselves to reveal. That’s what you put down.
Emotion runs the risk of being too tampered with during revision. Again, you have to know going in what is sacred and untouchable to the core of your story. There are scenes that if changed will change the entire story. It’s like surgery. You cut out the heart, brain, lungs or liver and your patient may be “cured,” but it will also be dead. If you’re collaborating with your characters, they’ll tell you what’s sacred. They’ll work with you to come up with the best way to get the point across. They’ll keep it authentic because they’ll be authentic and you’ll be trusting them for what the story needs.
Manage Emotions in Your Heart
There are tons of books on how to get emotions across to audiences. None of them will help as much as listening to your characters. Let them reveal their story to you first before it ever gets on the page. Which leads me back to Sue’s story of feeling as if she’d fallen in love with a character. We get close to characters. We spend a lot of time with them. We care about them. They trust us with their vulnerabilities. They can have a powerful affect on our emotions. Relationships with them are no less real than any other. They’re simply governed by different laws of dynamics, different realms, different purposes, limitations. Managing those relationships is like any other in our lives.
What can be harder to manage is how character’s emotions affect us. It’s not easy to be a witness to trauma, pain, suffering, heartache. It’s not easy to walk through tough scenes with characters over and over. It’s not easy to know that you’re pushing a character for more than they may be ready to face. That you’re asking them to trust you with their emotional and physical safety. Don’t get me wrong. The stories we write should touch us. They should be hard to get through emotionally. But we serve no one if we fail to take care of ourselves.
Remember What’s Yours and What Isn’t
The lines get blurred. Story. Character. Your life. Loved ones. Past. Present. What hurts. Who hurts. We live in the Seen and Unseen worlds. We feel the emotions of both. We need to remember to differentiate emotions that belong to us from those that don’t. We are not our characters. Our characters are not us. Their pain is theirs. Ours is ours. Empathy is not becoming the vessel of another’s pain. It is honoring their pain while holding them to the truth of their power in Source. We need to let our characters and their stories touch us deeply, but we also need to be touched just as deeply by our own lives in all their beauty, grace and potential.
Ultimately, emotion on the page and screen comes down to letting Story be what is it: a way to engage with what’s in our own hearts.
A reminder that we are, like characters, Spirit.