As writers how much attention should we pay to the emotional journey we taking our readers on? Do we have a moral obligation to care about our reader's feelings? Or is the telling of the story paramount and hang the consequences.
I was brought up knowing the story of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his ill fated journey to the South Pole. He was one of the star turns in my Grandpa’s book of heroes and heroines. On TV I watched the 1948 black and white movie ‘Scott of the Antarctic’ starring John Mills.Years later it was the adventures of another explorer, Ernest Shackleton that stirred my imagination as I watched the silent film 'South' accompanied by Neil Brand’s haunting music.
At the moment at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, there is an exhibition of Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic photography. I find this collection of black and white photographs taken in the first part of the 20th century incredibly moving and inspiring but will 21st century children feel the same?
Fellow author Bridget Crowley and I are currently leading creative writing sessions in the gallery for children between the ages of 7-11years. The children respond to selected photographs and we set them a series of writing tasks.
Then we move on to Captain Scott and The British Antarctic Expedition 1910 -1913. Most of the children have not heard about him and there is an awful moment as they gaze at the final photograph and they realise that this group of weary men ‘were destined never to return from the heart of the great alone’
Some children are upset.We move back into the education room and ask them to express their feelings in a letter to Captain Scott. Some children go back in time and rewrite history rescuing him. Others tell him about what is happening in the Antarctic now and thank him for the scientific samples that he sent back. Some just tell him they feel sad.
It just doesn’t feel right to end the session at this point so we tell them about the fate of one of the dogs that was washed overboard and then immediately washed back again!
( Spoiler Alert – if you a bringing a school group PLEASE don’t give any of this away)
These sessions have been a stark reminder to me to pay attention to the emotional journey in my own writing and that strong emotions need to be handled with care and discharged appropriately before the story ends.