Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.
Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the emotional life of my main character and more important, what I need to do to make the reader feel something, too.
I want to reach the heart of the reader. I want them to feel more. I want to write a book that unsettles the reader or makes her or him cry. That’s because my favorite books are books that make me emotional. When they reach my heart and make me feel more, I am not just hooked–I become more invested and even changed. As readers, aren’t we all looking for that rare and beautiful moment when we feel like we’ve just felt something new?
So: how can we give them that experience, given that they come to every book with different needs, history, emotions, etc., the emotional experience they yearn for?
In his book, The Emotional Craft of Writing, Donald Maas breaks down the tools for getting emotional. We’ve got the inner mode–or what the character is feeling. And we’ve got the outer mode, or what the character does. He also describes an “other mode.” He describes this as an emotional dialogue between the author and the reader.
If outer mode is showing and inner mode is telling, what is this other??? Since I just started reading, I’m not sure what he thinks.
Here’s my first idea:
This “other” stuff is not just one thing. It’s the narrative. It’s the order of the events. It’s the contract you make with the reader on page one.
The “other mode” helps create excitement in the reader. Energy. Curiosity. It’s not just style–although a great voice can do a lot toward engaging the reader. Emotion is about contact. I think it’s about connection. It’s about taking the chance that the reader might reject you. They challenge the heart. With irony. With confidence. The story takes chances. The writer takes chances.
Think of it from the reader’s POV: When I am guessing what will happen next in a book, I am also engaged emotionally. When I am cheering for one character over another, I am engaged emotionally. When I notice the setting or the ticking clock or I’m wondering what those secondary characters are up to….I am engaged.
What kind of writing dredges up old, buried emotions? What kind of writing makes a reader feel something?
So are you ready to get emotional????
Journal time: What was the most emotional day of your life? A day you cried? Or got angry? Don’t worry about beautiful writing. Make a list. Look around. Delve into what you felt and why you felt it. Write down EVERY DETAIL from that emotional moment. Every sense.
Then turn to an emotional scene in your WIP. Analyze it. Are there signs in your book (leading up to this moment) that something big is about to happen? How have you encouraged the reader to anticipate this big moment? Is there some struggle going on, perhaps against your character’s own misbeliefs??? Or other characters? In that moment, is your character doing anything? What does he/she feel? Look at your journaling and see if you can add details. This is about more than showing and telling. This is about the reader and you. Make this emotional moment worth your readers’ time.
Have a great writing week!