Before I started writing 18 months ago, I had a very different perspective on how challenging it is to create fiction that readers will love. In many ways, it is much harder than I thought, but in some ways it’s easier.
Writing with EmotionGuest Blog by David Estes, Author of The Evolution Trilogy
One aspect in particular I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is the use of emotion in a story. These could be any types of emotions, from extreme sadness, to utter happiness, and everything in between. I guess as a reader I always just thought that because I was moved by the characters in the stories of my favorite authors, that it was easy to generate such an emotional attachment to fictional characters. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s not always like that.
Then for a while, I thought it was unbelievably challenging, maybe even impossible, at least for me. Today, I sit somewhere in the middle. Creating strong emotions that move readers, using only words, is hard but very achievable. I’m sure there are a lot of ways to boil it down, but I see creating emotion as a product of doing two very basic things:
1) Create well-developed characters that people will love or hate. Notice I didn’t just say likeable characters. All the time I hear people say that a character in a book wasn’t likeable enough, but I would take it one step further: Your readers need to love your characters if you are going to be able to generate a strong emotional response. On the flip side, they could hate your characters, too, which is an equally strong emotion.
I recently had one of my beta readers point out that they loved three characters in my book and hated another two “but that’s a good thing, because I think I was supposed to hate them.” That’s exactly right. As long as your audience love and hate the characters you intend for them to, then you will be able to control the emotions in the story. The last thing you want (as I have learned the hard way before) is for your readers to hate a character that you hope they’ll grow attached to. If your readers are cheering for someone to die who you desperately want them to root for, you are in a bit of trouble.
I’ve found that the best way to ensure your characters are lovable or hatable, is to utilize independent beta readers from your target audience and just ask them. Most people will be brutally honest if they have to!
2) Move yourself! No, I don’t mean physically move your lazy butt off the couch and go write somewhere else (although you might need to do that if you’re not feeling inspired by your surroundings). I mean that if your words are not generating an emotional response within you, then you’re not really feeling the words. And if you’re not feeling them, your readers are most definitely not going to feel them.
I am not afraid to admit that I find myself chuckling to myself as I am writing. All the time, in fact. Which is good because I love building humor into my writing. On the other hand, just because you think something is funny, doesn’t mean anyone else will. In my case, my wife tells me all the time that I have a bit of a cheesy sense of humor, which sometimes makes my comedy fall flat. So you have to test it. On independent readers of all different types within your target audience. Don’t get so attached to your words that you aren’t open to constructive feedback. (NOTE: this is extremely hard for a lot of writers, including myself!)
Another example is sadness. While writing my latest unpublished manuscript, I made myself cry twice when a main character died. I’m not kidding. In the act of writing, I actually shed a few tears. My vision was a bit blurry so I probably had twice as many typos during those bits, but there was no doubt in my mind, the scene was reaching the emotional level I intended for it. But I didn’t rest on that. I tested it with my beta readers, two of whom admitted to crying during the same parts. And these weren’t the type of people who cry at anything. One of them is a real tough cookie, who told me she never cries at anything! So I know I’ve achieved what I was going for with that scene.
If we consider the emotional scene I was just talking about, what if I didn’t feel any emotion as I was writing? What if my beta readers didn’t mention it, or didn’t feel any emotions when this character died? What should I do then? There is only one answer: You have to rewrite the scene, and potentially the entire character. I would need to obtain feedback from my beta readers as to whether they loved the character and just didn’t feel the words portrayed the true emotion of his death, or whether they were indifferent to the character and therefore it didn’t matter how I wrote the scene. Depending on which it is, will dictate the action I need to take. Either way, it’s going to suck and going to take a lot of work, but it’ll be well worth it in the long run. No pain, no gain!
In any case, for me, generating real, powerful emotion in my writing is my absolute goal and something I strive to do in every chapter. The next time you’re reading a book that makes you feel strong emotions, think about why and appreciate what the author has done.
Title: Angel Evolution
Author: David Estes
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