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?
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