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Packing Emotional Punch: Connecting with Readers

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Packing Emotional Punch Connecting with Readers Emotional Writing - Novel Conclusions Literary Blog - Christina Gerstle

Children’s Concert by George Iakovidis via Wikimedia Commons

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The stories that stick out the most in my memory tend to be stories where I related to the characters somehow, really felt for them.  Creating this feeling for your readers is not just about putting your characters through some tough times on their way to triumph (although that’s generally a key ingredient in plot).  We pack emotional punch by helping the reader to connect with what the main characters are going through.  If the reader doesn’t care a lick about what happens to the characters, your story is dead in the water.

How do we pack emotional punch?  How do we connect with readers?

Build tension bit by bit.  The main characters’ reactions to and actions within crisis situations must build up through the story.  In The Shining, wife Wendy at first treats husband Jack with kid gloves when he starts to lose his marbles.  If we didn’t have these build-up scenes of gradually growing tension, it wouldn’t be quite so scary when Jack (inevitably) starts running around the empty hotel with an ax.  Because the tension has been building, piece by piece like a little Jenga game, we’re all the more scared by the time Jack is chasing wife and kid with an ax and a look of glee.

Have a “Save the Cat” moment early in your story.  Blake Snyder’s fantastic screenwriting book Save the Cat describes this more in detail, but the gist of the idea is that your main character(s) must have a moment early on in the story that gives us a reason to care about them.  They must do something that, essentially, reminds us that they are human.  In Hunger Games, Katniss volunteered to take little sister Prim’s place.  In Matilda, little Matilda has a very sweet conversation with the local librarian exposing her innocence and insatiable curiosity.

Include humanizing details.  The Save the Cat moment will go a long way to create this, as well as character tags and general details about your character.  In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood does a beautiful job of both creating curiosity and building a relatable character by, early on, hinting at how much the narrator is afraid to think about.  We get bare hints of the narrator’s past, and, in addition to building curiosity, it helps make the narrator more human than the robot the book’s society is trying to create.

Give the characters a clear goal (or goals).  In addition to being nearly vital to plot, this gives readers something to root for.  If the main character is working toward a clear goal, this gives the character an opportunity to grow and – you guessed it – be more relatable.  You can up the ante even further by giving a secondary character a goal in direct conflict with the main character’s goal.  Sparks fly and create more opportunities to grow and be eminently relatable.  Fun times.

Don’t be overly dramatic.  Melodrama causes us to laugh at characters rather than laugh with them.  If you want to be like Voltaire or Alexander Pope, have at it.  Otherwise, we should all try to remember to temper the dramatic scenes with action or humor scenes in between; action and humor, done properly, can tell us just as much or more about a character as dramatic bits.

Keep it moving.  Time frame (or the perception of time frame) keeps us involved in the story.  If every event is happening one after the other, it matters more than if there’s lots of lag time between important events.  Exposition creates the perception of lag time, whether time is actually lagging or not.  Relevant action keeps the story moving.  If that action is years apart, sum up the intervening years in a few sentences.  Relevant action keeps us involved in the story.

How else can we pack an emotional punch or help our characters be more relatable?  What’s a great story you’ve read that packed an emotional punch?

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5 Everyday Ways to Spark Your Creativity

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Crayon Logs by Chris Metcalf via Wikimedia Commons

Crayon Logs by Chris Metcalf via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes the muse is hanging out on our shoulder, and the words just pour onto the page.  And sometimes, the muse has taken a lunch break … or maybe a long vacation.  How do you spark creativity in those situations?

First of all, let’s define creativity.  Dictionary.com says creativity is “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.”  Creativity is not just limited to the arts.  It also has to do with invention and the sciences and the way you live your life every day.  Being more creative in your artistic life can help you innovate in other areas of life as well by expanding the way you think.  So how can we expand or shift the way we think?

(Disclaimer: try not to use these things to put off actually writing)

  1. Change your routine.  It doesn’t have to be something major; it could be as small as going to a different grocery store, taking a new route to work or school, or making a new recipe for dinner.
  2. Read.  If you’re writing, you probably read more than the average person already, but reading new stories almost always gives you a different perspective, at least briefly.  Read in your genre to see what others are writing about.  Read outside your comfort zone in genres you’d never write in – they will have a different feel than the genres you’re comfortable with.  Read nonfiction; I’ve found some of my best inspiration has come from nonfiction that helps me to look at the world in a different way, especially books about how the world works, like Outliers, Freakonomics, and most recently, The New Geography of Jobs (one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read in years).  Books on writing are always a great source, too, like Writing Irresistible Kidlit, Save the Cat, and On Writing.
  3. Do something new.  Novelty helps your brain create new neural pathways.  Go on a little adventure – take a class, go to a new restaurant, go on a trip, learn something new.
  4. Journal.  Observe what’s going on around you.  Observing things in detail and/or organizing them into an order of events makes you look at them more closely than you normally would.  Free write in your journal; this is also called stream of consciousness writing.  It acts like a warm up for your brain.  You can set a timer, maybe 5 minutes, and don’t let your pen off the paper (or your fingers off the keyboard) until the timer goes up.  This might result in a little babble, but there may be some gems in there, too.
  5. Change your associations.  Associate with people who have similar goals, who work in the same field; these type of associations foster innovation and creativity (there’s a whole section on this in The New Geography of Jobs that I mentioned above – such a great read!).  This might mean joining a writing group, going to book signings and book festivals, and going to literary events and conferences.  This might mean blogging and visiting blogs of people with similar interests and goals.  You could also read books written by writers, agents, and others in the publishing business (this includes listening to audiobooks in the car – such a great use of traffic time).

How do you spark creativity?  What have I left off this list?

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