Emote, I say!

Last week I explored writing with specificity, the flip side of vaguity.  Speaking of which, soon we’ll have to discuss neologisms and solecisms – but not this week.

Not only is it desirable for your writing to be definitive and precise, it must also evoke emotion in the reader.  Emotion is what makes your readers give a flying fig what happens to your characters.  When your words pour into the brains and hearts of readers, you want them to bite their nails, worry their bottom lips with their teeth, create Botox-resistant creases between their eyebrows and have to put the story down while they laugh, imagining themselves as the protag.

We can’t just tell them a character was happy, but show them how happy so they feel it too.  I feel a bit like a voyeur sometimes when I watch people read my stories.  It’s heady stuff to see physical signs they’re invested in the story.  If they laugh, “Awww,” or look worried, as long as there’s no pause in their reading, I’m ecstatic.  I’m like a junkie with a fix, a kid on Christmas morning, a dog with a new bone.  That’s what I’m talking about.

I have to work at this myself.  If I don’t, my writing tends to be sweet and boring.  One of my critiquers told me some of the dialogue in a short story was kinda Hallmark-y.  Nothing against Hallmark cards or the Hallmark Channel, but that isn’t what I was going for.  I took the same piece to a critique group.  After their critiques, I mentioned what the other critiquer had  said about my dialog being Hallmark-y, and they all nodded.  Uh-huh.  They had pointed out the same weakness in the dialog, they had just used different words.

So that particular short story is back on the drawing board.  While I decide exactly what I’m going to do with it, I need to work on writing and evoking emotions.  I know the only way to keep getting better is to practice.  Who knew when I blew off the advice of my grade-school piano teacher that I’d be spouting the very same thing myself?  Practice, practice, practice writing forever and ever, amen.  That last part was my addition, but now I am a believer.

Another layer in the business of conveying emotion is creating a situation where it has to happen.  Shake things up.  Create conflict.  At heart, I’m a peaceful let’s-all-get-along kind of person.  When I read, I want murder, mayhem and non-stop action.  Hoo-yah!  Go figure.  When I write, I need to work at creating situations where emotion is built-in and all I have to do is let it happen.  Let’s  say our protag is on her way to the store and she runs into her former best friend whom she hasn’t seen since they both left for different colleges many years ago.  That’s a big ho-hum.  Now say this is the ex-friend who was seen kissing our protag’s soul mate just before they both disappeared without a trace?  Can  you imagine that run-in sans emotion?  Not so much.  It would boil off the page.

All this makes me want to get at it.  You too?  So practice already.


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