Emotional Emphasis 

So, I’m puzzling over this quote from Araki’s book on writing manga.

In Western comic storyboards, panels are laid out with the most importance placed on good drawing composition, and the sketches focus on the characters’ actions. Japanese mangaka, on the other hand, place emphasis on characters’ internal thoughts and emotional reactions. This focus on the internal is what sets Japanese mangaka apart.

First, I think this idea is brilliant. It’s a really interesting take on comic composition.

But, beyond that, because I’m a writer, I have to wonder if there’s a way to apply this to prose writing. Does this just mean putting in emphasis on the characters’ feelings and expressing emotion over describing the action is it happening? Or, would this mean doing something like being more poetic and emotional in your language, or trying to find a balance between the two?

Or, does it mean digging deeper into how your characters are reacting and dealing with the situation?

Still thinking about it.

Rob

6 thoughts on “Emotional Emphasis 

  1. >I have to wonder if there’s a way to apply this to prose writing.

    You CAN…. I think it works better for a visual medium ‘cos you have more stimulus to play with. I can adjust the lighting, angle, go for a more expressive (rather than literal) background, change the character’s expression…. That’s easier to do with comics, movies, tv. Of course, it’s also necessary in those media. Not only do you have the advantage of increased stimulus for the audience; you have a REQUIREMENT of increased stimulus.

    With straight prose it can be tricky ‘cos throwing in the necessary details to pull this sort of sharpening effect can throw the narrative flow off. You’d have to establish the components REAL early in the scene, and then use small cues that draw attention to them, eventually building up enough of them that it reaches critical mass and completes the effect in the mind of the reader.

    Don C.

    • Yes, that was my concern too. I think layering in too much emotional content would produce something that wouldn’t flow well. Then again, I’ve noticed that Romance Novels do this quite a bit. The ones I’ve read are packed with characters introspecting about their emotions, their situations, and of course reactions to their romantic partner. In fact, from my perspective, it’s exactly why I don’t enjoy romance novels, because they inundate me with introspection when I want action instead.

      Then again, I am a guy, which is likely the main source of the issue. I guess from a female point of view, watching that emotional interplay and conflict IS part of the point of the story, and so they want that layer emphasized and explained. Still, I wonder about doing it in a more male-centered narrative, or in a way which doesn’t conflict with the needs of pacing. Maybe horror writers like King are actually good at this, and I should be looking to them for examples.

      I like your idea of building in key emotional cues from the start of a scene and playing on them as the scene develops. That’s a cool subtextual idea, and it would be fun to experiment with to see what effects it can achieve.

      • >The ones I’ve read are packed with characters introspecting about their emotions, their situations, and of course reactions to their romantic partner. In fact, from my perspective, it’s exactly why I don’t enjoy romance novels, because they inundate me with introspection when I want action instead.

        I think another aspect here is that writing for such a focussed genre means you don’t have to rehash a lot of what’s going on in the character’s heads, or prime a lot of ideas before hand…. the audience knows them already. It’s just a matter of picking the tropes you want and running with them. Sorta how a superhero story doesn’t have to explain why a domino mask hides your identity: it’s such a part of the genre nobody questions it. Even when they DO (like the “Watchmen” did) they really don’t. Those preconceptions are part of the expectations of the audience.

        Don C.

  2. I struggle with emotional aspects in characters. How much is too much? Does your character look like they are wallowing if they keep reflecting on their needs and desires and not the tasks ahead? Reading Bakumon is a lot like that for me. I feel the consistent “Am I really good enough?” like a massive stone dropped in the book and ever page ripples those waves.
    Maybe it’s me but I like the books that identify these elements but then keep them very hidden under the surface. Like hiding good dialogue, I’d rather see the choices or non-choices identify what’s going on with the character’s emotional state.

    • This is something I was struggling with as well, Jack. Pulling off “show don’t tell” with emotions is tricky, and we’re used to interpreting the character’s actions for emotional cues. All I can think of is trying to master the different ways that characters can express emotion and then use that to paint the story with body language for the audience to interpret and follow.

      I too love your description of Bakuman, it’s perfectly Zen. 🙂

  3. >How much is too much? Does your character look like they are wallowing if they keep reflecting on their needs and desires and not the tasks ahead?

    I think part of that issue comes from the idea of any story having three main components (plot, setting and characters) and which of those you want to put the focus on. Something like…. say, an American superhero comic tends to be plot focussed. Superheroes are all about the action, and the usually comes from plot. But they add some character stuff in…. especially post Marvel…. to spice that up. But if they add TOO much, then the characters seem whiney and the book gets all melodramatic. (A-la 80’s Titans.)

    Of course, the format affects the feel too. So, an American comic was meant to be read once a month, when it came out. So the constant recaps and really hitting the character beats hard isn’t as noticeable every 30 days as it is if you sit down and read them all at once.

    >I feel the consistent “Am I really good enough?” like a massive stone dropped in the book and ever page ripples those waves.

    That is probably the most poetic review of anything I’ve ever read….

    But that feel comes from the idea that Bakuman is almost entirely character driven. There really isn’t a plot…. it’s more like a plot point; but the focus is on the characters…. much like the quote from Araki at the beginning of this article eludes to.

    >I’d rather see the choices or non-choices identify what’s going on with the character’s emotional state.

    I would suspect that’s ‘cos of the style of story we all grew up with around here. What you describe is much more akin to old school superhero comics, or tv shows.

    Don C.

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