Friday, July 8, 2016

Becoming Emotionally Involved

A popular post from April 2010

By Julie Wright

Some people tell me they don’t read fiction because they get nothing out of it, but if they aren’t getting anything out of it, they aren’t reading the right books. I read for the emotional experience and there is lots of emotion to be found in fiction—at least . . . there is lots of emotion to be found in good fiction.

The emotion readers get from a book (and this absolutely goes for non-fiction as well) is what stays with them, and is the most important byproduct of your writing. It is what will keep them looking for your books. If your readers don't feel much of anything, that lack of emotion will make them forget you. They definitely won’t be looking for your next book, and they definitely won’t be recommending your book to anyone else. Ultimately readers have to care.

My good friend and mentor Jeff Savage, teaches that you should always come to the scene late and leave the scene early. So basically he’s saying you should come to the scene when there is some action going on. Action doesn’t necessarily mean a fight scene or a battle, action means your characters are doing something. Your opening scene needs to introduce characters and make us care about them. you do not want your readers thinking, "And why do I care about this?"

It's a good idea for writers to pay attention to the emotion they want the readers to feel. what do you want the reader to feel in the beginning? What do you want them to feel for each specific scene? what do you want them to feel when they shut your book at the very end?

My best advice to authors looking to infuse emotion into their writing is to write from the heart. Write what you are passionate about. If you aren’t passionate about your story, you end up with a manuscript that lacks emotion, or is dissatisfying because of unfulfilled emotion, or the wrong emotion. Write from the heart.

If you are madly in love with your hero, your reader will be too. If you really hate your antagonist, your reader will too. If you have a hard time shutting out the lights to go to bed after a night of writing because you know those monsters in your pages are looking for a way out, your reader will too.

Because the question you must ask yourself, as a writer, is: Why do I care? And if you find you don’t, your reader doesn’t either.


Lindzee said...

This is such good advice!

Cheri Chesley said...

Great advice. Thanks!

Curtis said...

Julie, I would be interested to hear some examples of emotionally potent writing. Writing that spoke to your heart, or your mind, or your soul. I realize preferences are subjective, but it would be interesting to compare notes just to see if there are writers that make everyone's list, or if everyone is touched by something different. For me, I'm always attracted to what feels to me to be honest writing. Examples include Hemingway (of course), Nelson Demille, Stephen King, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Richard Yeates, and Norman Maclean.

L.T. Elliot said...

Will you mentor me? Seriously. Because you're incredible at emotion, Julie. I don't cry often while reading but I always do when reading your stuff.

Kairos said...

Great advice. I was just thinking about how to re-write the beginning of a short story today, and then I read this. Thanks!

Krista said...

Emotion can make or break a book for me. If I like the book, but not LOVE the book, and then a scene comes that gets me choked up, or my leg starts bouncing and I shush the kids who are trying to talk to me (I'm not the only one who does this, right?), then the story goes up a notch or two on my likey scale.
I LOVE writing emotion. It's the tapping into it that is the trick.

Amy said...

Thanks for the advice, especially for the quote by Mr. Savage. I'm going to really take that to heart.

CL Beck, author said...

Good advice, to ask ourselves if we care about the characters. If we, as the authors don't, how can we ask our readers to care?

Julie Wright said...

Curtis, I will post some of my favorite examples next week and I'll talk a little more about emotions and writing. I love how you called it honest writing.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I need a character I can root for, one who makes me laugh or think, or really great, do both.

I read Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels for Spenser's laugh-out-loud replies that I wish I had thought up, for the banter between his best friend, Hawk, and for the bond between Susan, the love of his life, and Spenser. The mystery was secondary, oddly enough.

Hope your weekend is productive, Roland

Wendy Swore said...

Julie, Excellent advice. I've been searching for your blog to follow; is this the one that you update most frequently?

I need to read the other posts here-- looks like great ideas.


Anonymous said...

The only problem with advising writers to "write from the heart" or to fill their novel "with emotion" is that they will, nearly always, begin listing emotions that their character is feeling (he was angry, she was sad, he was upset, she felt betrayed). Which, obviously, is not what you're talking about.

An author following this advice may resort to endless paragraphs of internal dialogue, bearing the soul of each and every character, opening their heart and placing every emotion detail on the page for the reader to "see". That doesn't work either.

So what do you do if you want your reader to have an emotional experience? If you can connect the reader to some experience they've had, and let the reader bring those emotions to your writing, you never have to tell them that the character is sad or betrayed or frustrated or maligned. And you don't have to write reams of interior dialogue, effectively cutting open the heart of the character and "showing" us their emotions like a dissected frog in earth science class.

You simply create a setting and an event that has elements the reader can connect to something in their experience and bam, the will bring all their emotions to the scene and you've created precisely what you set out to do by collaborating with the reader. Even if your novel takes place thousands of years in the future on a world where the characters have wings and there is no gravity, you can still create situations which the reader can connect with their own experience.

Hence the advice: don't tell us the emotions, show us the emotions. In other words, collaborate with the reader, let them bring their experience to the scene and it will be filled with emotions without you ever having to mention a single emotion or describe a single feeling or use any of the "emotive" words in your lexicon.

Let the setting and the events of your scene do all the emotional heavy lifting. And your reader will do the rest.

Have faith in your reader. They have emotions. They really do. And they'll make the connections.

Janette Rallison said...

Awesome post, Julie! Right now I'm going through the sequel to My Fair Godmother and my editor requested that I change one character to lighten the tone of his scenes. Emotion is certainly something that editors pay attention to.