Emotion in Writing

I’ve started to really look forward to a fellow blogger’s posts.  She’s a bird enthusiast, like me, but she’s also a wonderful writer and captures lots of emotion in very few words.  (http://jmgoyder.com/author/jmgoyder/)

It’s made me think about my own writing.  I draw character wheels to get my characters’ hair and eye color right, to understand what motivates them.  I scribble down a sketchy map of plot points to keep the story going in the right direction.  I worry about word choice and commas.  But I belong to Goodreads, and the books that people love the most aren’t always perfectly written.  They’re the ones that elicit a strong emotional reaction.    If the language is lyrical and the twists and turns are exciting, that’s an added plus.  But the emotional impact is the payoff for all of the pages turned.

So how does a writer create emotion?  An often repeated piece of advice comes to mind.  The protagonist’s stakes have be high, almost impossible, to achieve.  He has to work hard and suffer many failures to try to achieve his goal.  And he should never give up.  The goal has to matter.

The characters should be sympathetic.  Not the same as nice or smart or good looking, even though in urban fantasy, that doesn’t hurt.  But come to think of it, protagonists aren’t always nice.  They can be stubborn, frustrating, and flawed.  That actually makes them much more fun to follow, but it’s hard to care about a character who’s petty, selfish, or mean.  I have a problem with whiners.  Or characters who are shallow.  Why would we care if he/she achieves what he wants or needs?  But he might SEEM petty or act selfish sometimes, etc., as long as we know he’s actually a decent human being at the core.

The characters need to feel real, not just some personality traits on paper who follow the author’s script and lead the plot from point A to point B.  They have to have their own wants and desires, their own hangups and habits.  And once in a while, their reactions have to be totally honest, not what the author or reader would expect, not the proper way to respond, but something that makes them seem human.  They need to be flawed, to make mistakes, and have regrets.

Anyway, I’ve read lots of articles on POV, pacing, and voice, along with all of the other tools a writer needs in her author belt.  But I think checking our scenes and chapters for emotional impact should be one of the things at the top of the list.  Some people do this naturally, like JMGoyder does.  Some emotions are built into the story conflict.  They come with the territory.  But if we can add emotion to a scene, it makes it stronger.  It’s something to think about.

What are some of your all-time favorite books?  What made you like them?  Remember them?




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