Friday, February 17, 2012

Write Like the Masters, by William Cane (3) Honore de Balzac

The first master writer that Cane discusses is Honore de Balzac. Cane points out that Balzac is an expert in the use of emotional tags ("little references to the feelings of his characters"). However Balzac does not tag just any emotion; he tags the deeper emotions. To get a first-hand view of this, I read Balzac's Eugenie Grandet, paying especial attention to Balzac's use of tags. There were quite a few times that he used them, and he actually didn't seem to use tags for any other reason than for emotions. He didn't use them for descriptions of sunsets, or clothes, or much of anything else.

The first use of such a tag that I noticed was when Eugenie falls in love with her cousin (Charles), whom her father doesn't like, and she realizes her father disapproves of him.
The distant hopes in her heart bloomed suddenly, became real, tangible, like a cluster of flowers, and she saw them cut down and wilting on the earth.

Mr. Grandet is an extreme miser. This is how Balzac describes Mrs. Grandet's feelings after her husband tells her they will have their discussion in the morning concerning her spending too much money.

The poor woman went to sleep like a schoolboy who, not having learned his lessons, knows  he will see his master's angry face on the morrow.

Mr. Grandet has given Eugenie a great many gold coins as a savings for her future, perhaps a dowry, but she has given the money to her cousin, Charles, whom she loves, to help him recover his reputation and settle his dead father's debts. When Mr. Grandet finds out, Balzac writes:

"You have not got your gold!" cried Grandet, starting up erect, like a horse that hears a cannon fired beside him.

There were others, but these are enough to get the idea. The tags are clever and reflect the emotions of the characters. They are very visual and contain the element Balzac is trying to convey: in the first one, Eugenie's new-found love dying just after it blooms; the second suggests the trepidation and fear of what will happen; and the last describes the shock Mr. Grandet feels.

This use of tags was very revealing to me, showing me a more powerful way of using tags than just describing everyday things. Perhaps this will be useful to you.

Do you already use tags this way? Do you think it would strengthen you writing if you used them in this fashion?


KLo said...

You have to be one of the most interesting bloggers out there ... seriously, I learn so much from your posts (and I don't tell you nearly enough, but I do :-)). Hope all is well!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Richard, this is a very interesting post. I don't use the tags this way. I will keep them in mind for future.

Clarissa Draper said...

We are told to keep our tags simple by the publishing industry but sometimes I just love it when the author so poetically describes something. Great post.

Sandi said...

Reading this post, and actually rereading again, has me thinking about the use of tags. The examples you gave were very visual/emotional for me. I hadn't thought about the term "tags" much before, but your post will cause me to be reading for them in the future!

Misha Gericke said...

Hmm I love reading tags like that, but my writing style doesn't really allow for a lot of emotional tags.

J.L. Campbell said...

I like visuals, so it's always refreshing to see things described in unique ways or see lovely word pictures painted by writers.

J.C. Martin said...

Very descriptive. Definitely something we could all aspire to.

Emily R. King said...

I appreciate a well-placed tag. It can stay so much in so little words.
Thanks for sharing, Richard! You got my brain humming this morning. : )

Arlee Bird said...

This is a good example of poetry in prose. So much writing now is closer to a journalistic approach, but sometimes it's good to let the scenes and emotions soak into us as we read. I don't think a lot of readers these days have the patience for the leisure of deeper layers of thinking.

Oh, I can see this word verification is going to be a challenge to decipher. Wonder if I'll get it on the first try?

Lee (#126 on the Campaign Challenge List)
An A to Z Co-Host
Tossing It Out
Twitter: @AprilA2Z

Ciara said...

Beautiful prose. It is an inspiration to most writers when they read such creativity.

Mark Noce said...

Props for mentioning Balzac:)

Tanya Reimer said...

Yes. There is no right or wrong way to do this. I was reflecting on this not long ago because every writer seems to bring a unique style to the table and it's in the tags like this that we can really appreciate the voice. Magic.