What I Learned from Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock

“I’m full of fears and I do my best to avoid difficulties and any kind of complications. I like everything around me to be clear as crystal and completely calm.” ~ Alfred Hitchcock

“Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” ~ Alfred Hitchcock

“The only way to get rid of my fears is to make films about them.” ~ Alfred Hitchcock

I’m a little slow on the uptake, or maybe it’s just that now I fully understand, on all levels, that key ingredient that makes great writing endure. It’s emotion. You have to engage the reader, or audience member emotionally, or they won’t remember your work. “I remember most how the books made me feel.” A recent guest said on the “What Do I Read Next” podcast by Anne Bogel, that I have recently subscribed to.

I’m also taking a course through Turner Classic Movies about Alfred Hitchcock. An interesting thing I’ve learned about his style was that he always wanted his audience to connect emotionally with his main characters.

Then I felt chagrin when I realized, my last two posts, which got no likes or comments, were too intellectual. They didn’t express the emotion that I always feel when I make connections between big ideas. I often feel a sinking or rising feeling in my solar plexus. What I feel physically confirms what I think I know intellectually. But now I see that I have not done a good job expressing those emotion so you, my readers can connect to my excitement, or dismay, or whatever the heck I’m feeling. In a way, I’m just following my strengths.

I don’t mean to play “The Devil made me do it,” card. Let me explain before I go on. When I was teaching high school, someone recommended that I read the book Teach With Your Strengths, by Rosanne Liesveld and Jo Ann Miller. I love finding out more about my personality traits, so I bought the book. At the end you take the quiz to discover what your top five strengths are. Mine are empathy, intellection, connectedness, ideation, and strategic. Four of those strengths have to with the way I use my brain. Even though empathy is at the top of the list, I have to admit, I was completely surprised by the last four traits. Never before had I even thought about why I love to analyze everything. But when I watched the interview segments last week with Alfred Hitchcock, I got it. I’m a little bit like him, deadpan on the outside, swirling with emotions on the inside.

When something happens to me, lots of emotions are churning around inside me. But over the years through lots of moves, and toxic school, and work environments, I’ve learned to play ‘possum. It’s my defense mechanism to keep myself from getting ridiculed. So on the outside I look perfectly calm, while inside my emotions are doing somersaults. Alfred Hitchcock was the same way during the interview we watched in class. He was so deadpan. Yet what his many biographers, the instructor, and many movie critics have said is that, what makes his movies endure is how they make us feel. So, he must have been in touch with universal human emotions on some level.

That’s something I need to keep working on as a writer, especially when I’m working on these blog posts and other non-fiction work. Because the best non-fiction books I’ve read tell personal stories that engage my emotions as a reader. I can relate to the feelings expressed by the author.

This insight couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve begun working on a new book titled, Inner Life of a Late Bloomer Baby Boomer, and even though it’s not a memoir, the essays do express my personal viewpoint about life. Each piece needs to reveal my emotions about the ideas I’m sharing. I think this will be easier now that I’m older and have been more open about expressing how I really feel instead of keeping silent. No more playing ‘possum for me.

Just now as I write this post, I know why I didn’t continue on with a higher degree in religion. It’s because theater grasped my emotions and taught me many of the same things that were expressed in my religion classes. But, theology is too academic. I honestly don’t remember many of the concepts I learned during those years of studying religion. What I do remember was how excited my instructors were to share the subjects they loved. Their excitement rubbed off on me and my world view was expanded, but the details of the concepts are gone.

So, I feel I must apologize to all of you. I’m going to work on infusing my work with more emotion, even while sharing the interesting ideas that spark my imagination. It’s a goal that should keep me busy for the next twenty or thirty years, and I hope will improve my writing.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, a historical, time-travel, magical realism novel. It’s available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and will soon be available in a print-on-demand version at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

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Writing Emotions

Henri Matisse - Blue Pot and Lemon
Henri Matisse – Blue Pot and Lemon

“I do not literally paint that table, but the emotion it produces upon me.” ~ Henri Matisse

“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” ~ James A. Michener

“The best and most beautiful thing in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” ~ Helen Keller

I love books that move me to tears, or laughter, or foreboding. That’s how I want to write, but often, like this morning, I wake up with the certain knowledge that I’ve failed on a certain scene and must go back to rework it.

When I’m trying to write the physicality of emotions, how my body would feel if I were in the character’s situation, I find myself in a quandary. As an actor/director I know about body language and facial expressions. They convey our inner states of being, but an actor doesn’t necessarily need to experience the bodily reactions when they are supposed to be demonstrating strong emotion.

I’ll tell one short story to illustrate what I mean. The first play I directed as a public school drama teacher was Our Town. The actor playing George Gibbs could not cry in the crucial scene near the end of the play. So, I told him to lay over his wife’s grave on his forearms, head down, and move his shoulders as if he were weeping with the appropriate crying sounds to go with the action. It worked! We cried during rehearsals and the audience did during performances.

But you can’t fake emotions in a novel and describing them is something I struggle with as I’m sure many authors do. I’m going to include a portion of the scene here that I was thinking about this morning. I made a few changes but it will undoubtedly need more work. You can tell me what you think.

* * * * *

Once Jenna had read those words something was pulling her into a vortex of swirling energy. Panic overtook her but no matter how hard she struggled, she could not free herself. Her mind was paralyzed with fear. Though her present life was a mess, it was familiar.

As her vision cleared, the calming voice of the woman came to her, All is well. “Fine for you to say!” She was not prepared for this experience but she was trapped. The one thing that came to her paralyzed mind was something her father used to say, “The only way out iss through.” She would have to trust. That was difficult for her. However it was her only option. She took a deep figurative breath, and allowed the mists to engulf her.

When they cleared, She was standing in an old style kitchen. There were three women working there wearing Civil War era dresses like her apparition’s. Somehow Jenna knew this was Morgan’s home and who these women were. It was the day of Morgan’s father’s funeral. Jenna’s writer’s curiosity supplanted the panic of only moments before. Looking up from her task, Morgan’s best friend Emma said, eyes dancing, “We’re here if you need us.”

Jenna had only a moment to comprehend that her consciousness had merged with Morgan’s as she said, “Thanks.” Emma’s motto was, “Why put off until tomorrow what you can do this minute.” Morgan knew she was right. She couldn’t put off the confrontation any longer. She walked to the door of the small sitting room where her aunt sat fuming.

Looking at Veronica’s stoney face at the funeral, she was glad her father had decided to keep his illness from her. They’d sent the telegram informing Veronica of Thomas’ death the day before the funeral. When she arrived just in time for the service, storm clouds filled her eyes and each word she spoke was covered in ice crystals.

Morgan paused outside the sitting room to gather her thoughts with sweaty palms and a roiling stomach, before facing the ogre. Veronica was nothing like Morgan’s mother Julia who had been loving, open minded, fair and generous. Morgan always thought of her mother as the perfect representation of pink, lavender and green, caring and restful.

Veronica was made of different colors. She was gold, silver and shimmering diamond. Lovely to look at, but cold and hard-hearted. She wanted riches, power and position. That’s what she got when she married into Boston’s highest echelons.

Morgan took a deep breath hoping to regain her ability to think as she opened the sliding doors of the sitting room.

“So, you and your father decided to deceive me,” Veronica said with malice. “How do you think this will look when my friends back in Boston hear that you did not tell me of Thomas illness? Don’t you think I had a right to know? After all, I am family.”

Morgan felt a shiver run down her spine. Jenna understood very well how she felt. It had been the same for her when interacting with Fletcher and Mr. Dayton, but they weren’t family, and she didn’t have to associate with them any longer.

Morgan squared her shoulders. “Father wanted us to be left in peace, to spend what time we had together uninterrupted by fussing nurses, which you no doubt would have insisted upon.”

Veronica sniffed. “Your father never knew what was best for you. I’m sure he did this to spite me because I wanted to take you away and give you every advantage he couldn’t.”

Morgan crossed the room and stood in front of her aunt. “Aunt Veronica, father was a good and kind man who loved me very deeply. He knew that I’d be just another bobble for you to polish and have admired.”

At this statement Veronica bristled and lost control of herself. “Morgan, you are too independent by half. I see now that your father has taught you too much and not had a thought for your future. If he’d cared about you, he never would have raised you to think like a man nor would he have involved you in this underground railroad nonsense.”

Morgan gasped. How had her aunt found out about that?

A malicious smile spread across Veronica’s face. “Ah, you’re surprised I knew about that. Your father exposed you to filthy, shiftless slaves who ran away shirking their duty to their masters. Any number of terrible things could have happened to you because of your father’s thoughtlessness. I intend to change your foolish notions by taking you back to Boston with me and see that you’re properly looked after by marrying the right sort of man. I will brook no refusals. You’re not getting any younger, you know. Go upstairs this instant and pack your things. We’re leaving on the evening train.”

Deep calm swept over Morgan. Ignoring the bait her aunt wanted to distract her with, she spoke softly. “No, Aunt Veronica. I am not going with you.”

* * * * *

Thanks for reading and sharing with friends. Feel free to leave a comment from a reader’s point of view.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016