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.
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