Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Beware of the Big Bad “S”: Sentimentality vs. Sentiment
“There is a big difference between sentiment (which is good) and sentimentality (which is not). Sentimentality is unearned emotion. In other words, if, as a writer, I am asking a reader to fill in the story with experience from their own life, or with stock responses, then I am being sentimental. It is my job as a writer to bring energy to the reader, not to take it from the reader.”
Let me provide you with an example in order to prove his point. A story that begins with “Tears flowing like a river,” is sentimental. We don't know the character. We don't know the situation. Tears flowing like a river is a cliché. My mentor told me that “We are being asked for an emotional response that does not fit with anything we know from the story. If you had prepared us, given us a very emotional scene that led, eventually, to a moment of high emotion and conflict that demanded those tears, and if you had prepared us for that particular river, then it would not have been sentimental.”
Some key points that'll help you avoid sentimentality:
1- Use specific images and situations, not general or conceptual ones.
2- Don’t rely on clichés or trite subject matter.
3- Don't rely on adjectives.
4- Use events and images that amaze the reader.
5- Don’t tell the reader what to feel. Instead, let the reader experience feelings along with the character.