Thursday, June 20, 2013

Writer Tips - Words: The Emotional Journey

by Terry Wright

How many times have I seen it, in submissions to TWB Press and contest entries I’ve judged, a character experiences an event without reacting to it emotionally? Shots are fired. The character ducks for cover, pulls a gun, and fires back. No visceral reaction. No emotional reaction. No internal dialogue. Just a bunch of action happening. This flaw in an author’s writing craft stems from an incorrect approach to storytelling.

Many new writers envision a scene playing out in their head, and they write down what they see happening, much like a blow by blow description of a movie on the big screen. They haven’t yet learned the difference between a book and a movie. In movies, emotions are acted out and enhanced with background music. Books don’t have that luxury. Emotion must be written on the page. Those words must travel from the paper to the reader’s brain AND on to the reader’s heart. This last leg of the journey is too often ignored, thus leaving your reader flat and far removed from your cardboard characters.

I’ve harped on this time and time again. Write for the sake of the reader, not for the sake of the story. Your job as a writer is to evoke emotion in your reader. Examine every word, every sentence, every paragraph, every scene and ask yourself this question: “How is my reader going to FEEL about this?”

Your readers may not remember all the details in your story, but they will remember how your story made them FEEL.


Giles Hash said...

That's why my last book failed to get anyone's attention. Emotion can be difficult to write, especially when I'm excited about a story and I want to get to "The End!" It's a great reminder. Thanks :D

Kim McMahill said...

Great post. Thanks for the reminder. It is easy to get so caught up in the action that you forget the emotion.

Karen Duvall said...

This is a great reminder for all fiction writers, Terry. I've learned to always ask myself "why?" as I'm writing. Why is he running away? Why is she crying in her soup? Why did he hang up on her? The emotion is in the answer to "why."

Laura Eno said...

Yes! I think that's the biggest snag a writer faces when translating the "movie in the head" into words on paper. We see it but forget to describe it - sometimes so afraid of being accused of exposition and backstory we skim it on purpose.

Mary Gillgannon said...

You make an excellent point, Terry. Good reminder for all of us.