No offense to the Rejectionist, whom I adore, but sentimentality is, I feel, essential. Well, I’ll qualify that: Risking sentimentality is essential.
Yesterday would have been my dad’s birthday. Had he survived to this day he would be 61. (Shhh…I didn’t say that!) I’m not overly sentimental, I don’t think, but there are occasions which cause me to reflect on the past. Not every memory is a sunshine or rainbow. I’ve hinted once before at a couple of things from my past that aren’t all happiness. My mom and I went to his grave to lay flowers. Now, we don’t lay flowers for Dad. It’s not in our personal beliefs that he’s tied to his grave in any way. Nor do we think that he really cares whether we do this or not.
It’s like in the Fox television show Bones when (SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW BECAUSE YOU MIGHT WATCH THIS SHOW, SKIP THIS PART!) Booth takes her to her mother’s grave. She completely doesn’t understand why she should be visiting the grave. She knows what’s down there, how long it will take for what’s in the grave to fade away to dust (all that they ever found of her mother was her skeleton and some decayed pieces of fabric), etc. Bones is totally not religious, she views all religions as equally inane, etc. Booth is a fairly devout Catholic. Sure he’s got some conflicts (worked as a sniper with the Army Rangers), but he’s far more religious than Bones. He encouraged her in this scene to talk to her mother. Her protest was that it wasn’t her mother.
I have a point to make, I promise. (OK, now I feel like Elle in Legally Blonde when she’s interviewing a witness in the trial at the end.
When we go to my dad’s grave, it’s more for us. Just to say to ourselves that while the days may pass with very little pain or sorrow, 9 years after his death, we still haven’t forgotten. And we never will forget.
Now, my point is this: We should always be risking sentimentality in our writing. My mentor in grad school used to quote this. But I don’t remember who he attributed it to. In Sunstone Trilogy, my other WiP that I haven’t been working on lately, I’m not going to lie in saying that characters die. One already happens in the first book. When I wrote the chapter originally, about 3 years ago or maybe 4, I dredged up all those emotions I felt the night my dad died, the week between his death and funeral, the day of his funeral, the day after, and two days after (which was Father’s Day), and put those in the book.
Now, a definition here will be helpful:
1a. an attitude, thought, or judgment prompted by feeling
1b. a specific view or notion
2b. refined feeling, delicate sensibility especially as expressed in a work of art
2c. emotional idealism
2d. a romantic or nostalgic feeling verging on sentimentality
3a. an idea colored by emotion
3b. the emotional significance of a passage or expression as distinguished from its verbal context
1. the quality or state of being sentimental, especially to excesses or in affectation
2. a sentimental idea or its expression
1a. (obsolete) disturbance
1b. (obsolete) excitement
2a. the affective aspect of consciousness
2b. a state of feeling
2c. a conscious mental reaction (as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physical and behavioral changes in the body
Now, why all these definitions? Because they point to something. We want to convey sentiments in our writing, not just emotions. Sure, there are instances where pure emotion, not sentiment, will prevail and should prevail. But we should risk sentimentality in order to get those sentiments across.
To my way of thinking, sentiment is emotion amped up a couple notches. Sentimentality is where we cross the line and have gone the way of purple prose. We need to toy with emotions and toe the line of sentiment to elicit a response we desire of the reader.
Back to my book. When I re-read this passage early in the summer, prior to beginning my complete re-write and prior to forging onward with what had never been written, I felt the emotions again. I cried the whole time I read the passage. I knew what was coming. I knew who died and how it affected my character in that moment. And I still cried. I felt what my character was going through.
I felt it because I risked sentimentality.