Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Writing Hitchcockian—the Three Emotional States of Writing

The darkened corner of The Writer’s Lens is void of living beings—or human anyway, as you quickly discover when you step through a cobweb you failed to notice. The clingy film of the web sticks to your nose, across your eyes and in your hair. You wipe and pull the web loose, hoping you are free and the eight legged predator who spun it was long gone and not crawling across your flesh. Wind blows as if seeking escape from the crumbling walls—all crumbling except a portion that looks nearly new. On the earthly floor you find a small mound with a shovel reaching out of the freshly dug grave. As you turn, you find on the ground a rope with a frayed end as if it once held something only to lose its strength and release its heavy burden.

As you travel deeper into the corner you see the statue of a man, at its base is a plaque. You light a candle and try to approach to read it, but the smell of rotting escapes from the cement. You cover your nose and breathe through your mouth as you find the courage to approach again. The candle’s flickering light dances upon the plaque and you read the word “Naysayer” carved in an angry hand.

A distant scrapping sound whispers ghost like to you. You pause, trying not to gag on the rotting stench. Your eyes narrow as you search the darkness for the source of the sound. It is a scrape-rock-scrape sound. As you move in the darkness, your single candlelight pushing against the shadows, the sound gets louder with each step. Finally it is loud and no longer a whisper. You look to your right and then to your left. You turn like a dancer to search the shadows around you. But there is nothing to see.

“Hum-hum,” a voice from above coughs to get your attention.

You look up to see a body, wrapped as spiders prey with rope, swinging like a slow moving pendulum back and forth. You hold the candle up into the air and can see two light colored eyes staring down at you.

“I dare say,” the voice from above says, “would be so kind as to cut me down? Life and my bill paying job has left me tied up, but I sure would like to get back to our discussions on writing Hitchcockian. Wouldn’t you?”

It has been a while since we last discussed the elements that the Master of Suspense used in his movies and how we might be able to apply them to our writing. If you have forgotten our conversations, they are:

On May 23, 2012 I had promised that our next conversation on Writing Hitchcockain would be to explore the three emotional states, that Alfred Hitchkcock used to lure his audience into his movies and how we can use it to lure our readers into our books. Hitchcock would spend relentless time with his screenwriters to get the movie down right before the shooting ever began. What are the three emotional states that Alfred Hitchcock used in his screenplays and the movies he made from them?
How many of my readers, if they will admit it, said, “Terror, Fear and Suspense?” I know I would have and did when I first started studying Hitchcock for writing purposes. The answer actually is a lot simpler, applicable to every genre of fiction writing, and much more complex to pull off. The three emotional states are:
  1. Empathy
  2. Sympathy; and
  3. Identification.

While in future entries on The Writers’ Lens, we will explore each of the emotions and how to use them, let us now just touch on what they are and what a writer wants to succeed in doing by using them.

Empathy: The author wants the reader to feel the emotions that the character or characters feel, or sometimes feel the opposite effect. Sometimes the author wants the reader to feel the emotion but then in a comedic effect feel the opposite on purpose. For example, a character is sad. The author may want the reader to empathize with the sadness and feel it as well. On the other hand, the author may purposefully allow the reader to feel sad with the character and then laugh at the character for their sadness as the reason for it is ridiculous.
Sympathy: The author wants the reader to sympathize with the character and their struggle. This is an internalization of the struggle, striking upon psychological needs that caused the reader to turn the pages even after their bedtime.
Identification: The ultimate achievement of an author is to have their reader identify with each of their characters.

Thank you for reading and please visit and You can also follow me on twitter @Owlkenpowriter and the Writer’s Lens @TheWritersLens. Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.

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