Escapism is often a big part of pleasure reading. It is fun to get away from it all and get caught up in someone else’s story. To suspend disbelief and go on an adventure from the comfort of our chairs. For different genres “adventure” may conjure up images anywhere from epic battles to grisly crime scenes to erotic sex scenes, but is that what really draws us in? What makes us hang on to every word and flip the page? Is it really the blow by blow action of a fight, or is it the excitement, fear, and anticipation as we experience that fight with the character? Is it the detailed gore, or the horror, anger, and urgency we experience as the character investigates the crime? Is it inventive choreography of insert tab A in slot B, or is it the anticipation and passion as the characters we’ve been rooting for take their relationship to the next level.
For most of us, I think we can agree that it is the emotional connection to the story that keeps us riveted to the page. That’s not to say the individual words and beats of the story are unimportant–those beats, if written well, inform us how to feel. I’m sure we’ve all read books where we were so caught up we’ve forgotten we were reading. These weren’t mere words on a page. We were there! We were with the character. We were on the edge of our seats during the tense parts, heartbroken in the sad bits, and grinning like fools as the character fell in love.
But how did the writer do that? How did they make us feel what the character felt?
They felt it as they wrote it, that’s how.
Okay, admittedly that’s not the complete answer. To cover that this post would also have to go into everything from pacing to word-choice, but boiling everything down to where it starts, if the writer can’t feel the emotion, he/she probably can’t write it. You can throw dead bodies on every third page and shoot at anything that moves, but if the writer feels no emotional connection to the actions of the character, it will be hard for the reader to care let alone get caught up. The word-choice won’t have an impact, the beats will fall flat, but even more telling, the character’s actions and reactions just won’t ring true.
So as writers, how can we try to instil every drop of emotion possible? Most of the time, we will probably do it naturally because we will ‘feel’ our scenes. We’ll be excited about what we’re writing and we will get caught up in our own characters and worlds. But, there are always bad days when writing is so very hard, and there are scenes that no matter what we do, just don’t seem to work. Those are the times we need to make a conscious effort to focus on the emotion that is supposed to be in the scene. Not just in choosing the right words that should convey that emotion, but in really, truly feeling the emotional impact.
Sometimes things aren’t working because the emotion rings false or just isn’t there (of course there are other reasons scenes get stuck, but again, that’s a different topic.) It can help to close our eyes and play the scene in our heads and then take stock of our own response. Did what you imagine cause silly, butterfly feelings in your stomach? Did your throat constrict and go raw? Did your thoughts start moving faster as your breathing and heartbeat sped up? Or did scene play out without any kind of emotional response? If it did, close your eyes again and keep imagining different scenarios until your internal reaction matches the emotion you want to convey. The results may surprise you, but the new actions/reactions of your characters will almost certainly draw a stronger response from readers.
Of course, not every scene is a huge emotional production. And even with tension and growing unease or anticipation, there are times we need to ease back our we will pull too tight too fast and the tension will snap in our face like an over-stretched rubber band. But you will know where your emotional ride should be at it’s height and where it is more subtle–adjust accordingly.
Okay, that’s it for me today. Have a happy Thursday everyone. I hope this helps you amp up the emotional response to your writing.