Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Life, Emotions, and Writing

What are the predominant emotions in the relationships you have with the main people in your life? What are the conflicts? How are they based in hopes and dreams and fears—yours and the other person’s?

It’s not an idle question. If we understand those hopes and dreams and fears, we can resolve most conflicts—or sidestep them if we choose. Especially if we learn to step back from our own fears long enough to do so.

If we’re writers, well, it’s even more important to be aware of such things. Readers connect to our stories through emotion. That’s true of thrillers and mysteries as well as romance novels.

What do I mean by that? Well, with a thriller, maybe it’s connecting with the emotion of being terrified and the exhilaration of still going on to save the world. With science fiction, it’s often the identification with the sense of being a stranger in a strange land and perhaps rising above challenges as well. With romance, it’s discovering who we are and being loved (not rejected!) anyway. It’s about triumphing over challenges and being the best we are in our own unique way.

What this means is that the quicker the reader is drawn into the emotional lives of the characters and their situation, the more quickly the book becomes a compelling page turner.

This is why two people sitting and chatting usually isn’t helpful—unless whatever they are talking about draws the reader deeply into a compellingly emotional situation.

This is why having to choose between one’s child and another beloved person when there’s only room in the lifeboat for one more in the lifeboat is an instantly compelling situation.

What are the primary emotional tones in your story? How can you highlight them for the reader? What surprise perspective can you bring to a universal emotional challenge?

When I look at my keeper shelf, it’s the emotions I remember from each book even before I begin to remember the characters or the events in the story. I remember the emotions they evoked in me.