Note: My apologies to Cindy and all--I completely forgot I was supposed to post this while Cindy was on vacation!
by C.L. Phillips
In my current rewrite, I'm checking each scene for emotional content, making sure my characters are feeling, thinking and acting in a way that propels the story forward. For some writers, I'm sure this is a natural talent. For me, not so much. In my quest to improve, I've been watching movies and documentaries, looking at the faces of the actors and asking “What do I feel as I watch this scene?”, and “What does the speaker feel as he speaks?” , “Do I feel this too?”
I had my big ah-ha moment recently while watching the documentary, In the Shadow of the Moon, a 2006 film about the men who journeyed to the moon. Several astronauts, in their late seventies or early eighties at the time of the filming, spoke at length about their experiences in the Apollo program. After forty years, these men finally revealed their feelings as well as their thoughts and actions.
Their recollections, stories, and words were as epic as their actions. For me, it seemed that finally, at this point in their lives, they let their professonal mask slide away from their souls as they spoke the great truths each came to believe as they soared in space, so far away from the oasis called Earth.
Their economical use of words, coupled with the widening of their eyes, the directness of their gaze and the meter of their speech communicated deep emotion to me. Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon spoke eloquently about vibrating masses of molecules, the odds of actually completing the mission. Michael Collins, the sole remaining astronaut in the Command Model spoke of the acute awareness of being the only one on the dark side of the moon. As he said, “Six billion over there, two down there, and one up here.”, referring to the mass of humanity on Earth, Aldrin and Armstrong on the lunar surface and himself. The words might seem matter of fact. But when coupled with his eyes, the measured meter of the words, I felt the enormity of isolation and the wonder of the accomplishment in a way I never did from reading other sources.
I came away from this documentary with a new respect for the power of words, tone, cadence, pause, and facial expression. These men are not actors. Their facial expressions compounded even the unspoken words. “Houston, we have a problem”, took on a whole new meaning with the unvarnished honesty that comes with time.
Imagine an entire nation working toward a single goal. Now imagine the entire world watching the goal come to fruition. And then, watch the men who made it happen share their feelings. The emotions of the entire world transferred to these men. In the Shadow of the Moon for me, is really, In the Shadow of Emotions. Excitement. Hope. Fear. Isolation. Wonder. Gratitude. Peace.
I wonder if the world will ever come together again in search of noble exploration, and when it does, how many sands of times will be needed to complete the story, to show the emotion of the moment? I came away with a deeper understanding of the power of a single word. Each. Word. Matters. That's what the astronauts taught me.