How to avoid sentimentality in writing.
I have recently been working on a novel in which I have found it hard to avoid slipping into rather cringe-makingly sentimental writing. After completing the first draft I googled this problem and discovered what I think is useful advice on the blog Storm Writing School https://blog.stormwritingschool.com/avoid-sentimentality/
I like the sensible and practical approach taken by the author T.D. Storm. Using the distinction between sentiment and sentimentality, he emphasises the fact that successful story telling inevitably involves conveying emotion and engaging the emotions of the reader.
‘In order to imply true emotion, a writer needs to hit a sweet spot between supplying enough detail and overdoing it.’
He provides amusing examples of two types of ‘distortion’ of emotion that can occur in writing: ‘distortion by excess’ – too much melodrama, cliché, telling rather than showing, tear-jerking; and ‘distortion by lack’ – a complete deficit of emotion.
In addition, he offers 7 remedies for the avoidance of sentimental writing, which I’ll try and summarise below:
1. Know and develop your characters fully, so that their reactions and idiosyncrasies will make their emotional responses more authentic and less like stock reactions.
2. Include interiority and past. Show how the character thinks and how the past impinges on the present scene.
3. Include speculation and prediction. Characters thinking about the future is an authentic human reaction, but beware of daydreams as plot devices
4. Include sensory detail. Use settings and objects to reveal a character’s sensory experience and show what he/she perceives.
5. Get rid of your own feelings. An imagined scene can be very highly emotionally charged. Putting your writing aside for a while and asking the opinion of trusted readers will help create distance between imagining and reading.
6. Earn your sentiment situationally. The interior experience of the character has to have a context. You need a situation that leads to the emotion.
7. Risk sentimentality. You need to make readers feel, so take the risk of being sentimental.
He follows this up with an invitation for people to write a scene using the two types of distortion he has illustrated, and then write another piece that hits ‘the sweet spot.’
I must try this, but first I’ll go back to my draft and check out all the scenes where sentimentality has crept in!
Storm Writing School also has a wide range of other useful sources of advice, information and support for writers. https://www.stormwritingschool.com/