Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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November 1, 2017

What IS a Writer's Job? - Part Two

Last Wednesday my post suggested several possibilities for a job description for writers. If you missed it, you can read it here.

Today I was going to share ideas on how to incorporate those bullet points in your writing. Only four days have passed, but I've moved from very specific items to a much broader view in the interim. 

I've been thinking about all the people who re-read their favorite books, who have shelves filled with "keepers" that they regularly revisit—or just look at the cover and sigh with fond memories. I must admit, I have a big selection of  keeper books, but I don't re-read them. Ever. Why would I do that, because I know the plot by the time I finish the book.

Years ago, in the days when we had WITS throwdowns, I took the side of plot-driven stories versus Laura Drake, who chose those that are character driven. (Did you know that Shakespeare is commonly described as a plot-driven author by scholars? Nice for my ego!)

After a week-end plus two days of re-reading my favorite keepers, I've got to admit a shocking fact. I picked my all-time favorites, but when I began reading I found that I didn't remember the plot. In some cases I remembered almost nothing of the plot, in others I remembered the big stuff, but I forgot the smaller, more intimate details. In every case, I remembered how I felt while reading the book, the rollercoaster ride of emotions from anticipation, fear, wonder, relief, and joy. Now I understand why I enjoy genres besides science fiction. Now, I read for emotion, not plot. 

Sacrilege! All four of the books I've written began as plot-driven stories. In the revisions—at times, painful revisions—the emotions my characters felt finally made it to the pages. I remember one of my first critique partners, Marie Sparks, asking, "But what are they feeling?" on every single page. Well, those feelings are on every single page now. And as I'm beginning to write PRISM 2, the characters' emotions are a driving force. Instead of thinking of "outside" factors being turning points, for the first time I'm considering making my characters' emotions, their "inner lives," front-and-center from the get-go. (This will save me a boatload of time in revisions!) 

Think about the highlight of your last vacation. Maybe you were camping by a stream, or hiking on a mountain, or eating an amazing meal, or wandering a museum when you saw something that wowed you. If that experience wasn't in the last couple of years, I challenge you to come up with the specifics-the name of the stream or trail, the exact menu, the artist. But I'll bet you remember how you felt at your epiphany. Joy, wonder, or happiness might describe your emotion at the time.

Our bodies feel—and remember—emotion. We have that felt sense of awe, fear, anxiety, love, and the whole range of emotions because that's how we stored emotions before we had words. And our emotions—or the memory of them—often saved our lives. That's why emotions are so powerful. That's why readers read fiction—for the emotion. We have genre fiction so readers can easily find a book that has the emotion they want to feel, whether it's terror (horror), fear (suspense), love (romance), surprise (science fiction), tension (mystery)...You can finish the list.

The cool thing is, we can feel more than one emotion at a time, which amps up the power of our reaction and our memory of the event. You've probably walked into a room that a child or pet has "destroyed" only to find the child or pet sleeping in the midst of the mess. The anger you feel is immediately mitigated by the love you have for the sweet "innocent" sleeping so peacefully—before you start screaming. Those two emotions are melded together in your memory of the event. You won't be able to recall the memory without feeling both emotions. That's some powerful juice.

So, the job of a fiction writer is simply-defined: Write a story that forces your reader to feel emotions.

Easy to define, not so easy to accomplish. 

Those fifteen bullet-points in Part One can serve as starting points if you're boarding the NaNoWriMo train today. The first Wednesday in December, I'll finish our exploration of a writer's job with specific writing craft tips and examples to give your readers an emotional response, a felt-sense response, that makes them run for more of the same in your next book.

Can you share an example or a way you convey a specific emotion without naming that emotion in your manuscript? What emotion do you have trouble getting on the page?


Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.

A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.

P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, lies, and love.

When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com  or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen

13 comments on “What IS a Writer's Job? - Part Two”

  1. Fay, I would go even further and say that emotion IS life. We live to experience, and experience is emotion. I really hope I am capturing it in my WIP. Thank you for reminding us.

  2. This is so totally opposite what you thought when I first met you - wow. I'm so proud of you, that you put in the sweat equity - and your debut book shows it!

    Here's one from the last chapter I wrote:

    I look up at her, blinking back the surge of happiness. “What I thought was the worst thing ever, has turned out to be the absolute best.”

    It does name the emotion, but it doesn't use the dreaded 'tears'!

    1. The quote "quantifies" the happiness. If you hadn't included it, you would have just been telling what he was doing.

  3. Love this, Fae! And you know, they say this is a big part of romantic attraction: Not that we remember all the details, but how this person makes us feel. (Which makes me feel better that my husband got it wrong on where we were when we first kissed, but he does recall how he felt.) I also don't re-read books, but I do remember characters and how I felt reading the novel. Good stuff here!

    1. Thanks for the smile, Julie. Don't feel bad. We'd been married FIVE YEARS, and my husband still couldn't get our wedding date right. Once he missed it by a whole month!

    2. You ladies crack me up! Am I the only one here who loves to re-read certain books. I've got to visit "my friends" when I get to missing them. 🙂

  4. NIce article. My first novel "The Expanding Seas of Earth" was, from inception, plot driven. I knew where it started and must end. Most events were driven by logic, and many scenes were included because I felt they were needed to support the forward progress of the plot.
    But meeting with other writers, and getting feedback, led me to return to and flesh out my character's personal lives and emotions. It is definitely difficult to go back after and flesh out these characters, but I found it rewarding. You do wind up with a better story, but I'm sure it would be easier – and would offer better results – it that detail to character is incorporated from the beginning. I hope to achieve a better balanced approach when writing my second novel (a logical sequel to the first).

  5. Don't worry, Jerold, you will. Every book will be better, just from the writing practice, but you're also learning, by reading blogs like this. Best of luck to you!

  6. You are a great teacher,Tiffany! I was so hard-core about the plot being everything; after critiques I went back and put in what I thought was tons of emotion. Ha! It wasn't. I can't wait to start PRISM 2 with a new perspective on what's important to the story! Thank you!

  7. Okay, I'm late. what can I say? I had to work launching Crashpad & Buzzkill, my two short novels set in the '60s. But, Fae, what a great pair of posts! I reread constantly; my wife says it's like visiting old friends, and you are right -- it is the emotion the characters feel. Thank you for articulating that so well.

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