This blog was featured on 07/31/2017
What I Learned About Writing from Alfred Hitchcock

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

I’ve been taking a course on Alfred Hitchcock sponsored by Turner Classic Movies and Ball State University this summer, and an unexpected benefit is that I’ve learned something about my own writing. From interview clips and lectures, Hitchcock said he always wanted his audience to connect emotionally with his main characters. Though I love his movies, I never thought of him that way. He was always, “The Master of Suspense” to me. 

Emotions are what the audience or readers connect with. If they don’t feel an emotional connection to the characters, they’ll walk out on the movie, or refuse to finish the book. This idea was reinforced by a recent guest on Anne Bogel’s podcast, “What Do I Read Next”. The guest said about the books she loved, “I remember most how the books made me feel.”

Each of these bits of information shook up my thoughts about my writing. Sometimes when I’m writing my Sage Woman Chronicles blog posts, I get too intellectual. I have trouble expressing the emotions that I always feel when I make connections between big ideas. I mean, aha moments are emotional as well as intellectual. But I get caught up in the beauty of the connection I’ve made between ideas and forget to share how this insight changed me on an emotional level. 

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. 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 there is a quiz to take to help the reader discover what their top five strengths are. Mine are empathy, intellection, connections, ideation, and strategic. Four of those strengths have to with the way I use my brain. Even though I had a suspicion that empathy would be at the top of the list, I have to admit, I was completely surprised by the last four traits. Never before had I thought about why I love to analyze everything. So, my writing weakness is getting too intellectual and forgetting the emotional. Fiction writing is easier for me in terms of sharing emotions, but even while writing my first novel, I had difficulty with describing the emotional states of my characters.

During the clips of Hitchcock being interviewed, I noticed his expression was often very deadpan. Rarely did he smile. I could relate to that. I do have a very expressive face, however, I learned while working in toxic environments, to play ‘possum. It’s my defense mechanism. So on the outside I can look perfectly calm, while inside my emotions are doing somersaults. 

On the other hand, some of Alfred Hitchcock’s biographers have come to the conclusion that he was an extremely sensitive man. And he was a master at helping his audience connect emotionally with his main character so that it’s as if we are participating in what’s happening. Because that was his goal, all these years later we’re still enjoying and studying his movies. So, even though his facial expressions and body language don’t give away his personal emotional states, he must have been deeply in touch with universal human emotions.

Even though I took this class because I like Alfred Hitchcock movies, I was reminded that writing is about baring one’s soul. That’s sometimes hard to do, especially for those of us who are introverts. But the best works of art move us emotionally, and that’s why they are remembered long after they were created.

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. 

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