If you follow me on Facebook you know I'm the Queen of Pinterest (and if you don't, why not? Beauty pics, cat memes, inspirational quotes, odd Victorian photos — COFFEE! It's a sea of happy in a chaotic world. LauraDrakeAuthor). When I saw this the other day, the photo caught my eye first. Then the message slammed into my writer's soul. Yes! This!
We get so wrapped up in the structure of writing — we take classes, go to conventions. We own about a zillion craft books (or maybe that's just me) and we're always looking for the next tool to make writing less effort. Scrivener! Mind Mapping! The W plot! The Snowflake Method! Don't get me wrong, all that is great. Lots of it even works.
But all of that won't help you write a book that readers fall in love with. You have to connect with them on a deeper level to do that. They have to care. It doesn't matter what you write — fiction, poetry, action/adventure, or even non-fiction — if you don't grab them by the heart, they'll put the book down.
How do you do that? Well, you don't have to run out and buy anything. Just:
You can't 'show' anything in your writing that you're not feeling. Readers are smart; they ferret out non-genuine in a heartbeat. That doesn't mean you can only write about what you've experienced. I've never lost a child (thank God), but I was able to write a woman who had, in my RITA winner, The Sweet Spot, because I've lost someone close to me. I know what that feels like. And even if you haven't lost a loved one, grief is a human condition, so we have empathy — especially as writers. We wouldn't do this if we weren't fascinated by people, right? I was writing yesterday, crying over an orphaned baby I created in my head (wow, that does sound crazy. I wouldn't admit that outside a group of writers!).
I do my most poignant writing when I'm not thinking. When I immerse myself in the character to the point that I AM the character; seeing, smelling, feeling what they are, with their backstory and their unique take on the world. Then I dig deeper. The brilliant Donald Maass taught me about layering emotion. He said (paraphrased):
Think about it; how often in your life have you felt pure joy? Pure sadness? Pure any emotion. My guess is, not often. Much more often, our emotions are mingled. At a funeral, you will feel sadness, but you also feel gratitude, for having known the deceased, right? On your wedding day, the happiest day of your life, I’ll wager you felt more than happiness. You were nervous. Will I trip in the aisle? He won’t shove the cake in my face, will he? Will my new brother-in-law drink too much and bring up that kiss he we shared, two years ago?
See what I mean?
Better yet, dig deeper and show an unexpected emotion. We all feel things we don't talk about. The stuff we're not proud of. For example, imagine a woman who served as caregiver for her mother in her ignoble, downward spiral to an awful death. The daughter was at the bedside at the very end. What would she feel? Grief, of course, loss, and sadness. But wouldn't she also feel relieved? For her mother, but also for herself. She's put her life on hold for six months, and now she's free. Then what would she feel? Guilt and shame would hit, right?
Now, your reader may never have experienced anything like this, but I guarantee, if you pull out a deep, honest emotion like this and lay it on the page, your reader is going to immediately empathize with your character. You've grabbed them by the heart.
I love it when I get to that deep place. I close my eyes, and my fingers fly over the keyboard, trying to keep pace with my feelings.
Effortless writing. We all need more of that, right?
So that's my writing resolution. 4 words. What could be simpler?
P.S. I said it was simple, not easy.
Getting out of your own way never is.
* * * * *
In all her glorious dorkiness, Laura did a live video, reading the opening to her December release, The Last True Cowboy.
Check it out HERE.
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Excellent post Laura. And timely for me, since I began teaching my fall creative writing classes this month, and I urge my students: "Don't Think." So difficult for almost everyone, but I find that when I put pen to paper, the less I think, the better I write. I'm going to share your words with my class. Many thanks.
Thank YOU, roughwighting!
Thanks for this, especially now. I'm working my way through another edit/rewite of my first novel. Sometimes I get to that place where if I read that scene one more time I'll flip out. Then, I get to that sentence or two where the Feels live and I gasp, or sob, or grin, and The story takes me back and gives me the strength to go on. It's all about those emotional responses, the writing and the reading.
So with you, Deborah. I rewrote my first novel 2,384 times (or maybe it just felt like it). If it gets too bad, just start another until you can stand to look at it again.
Three years and 245K words in and it just keeps getting better. Of course it's three books now, according to conventional publishing wisdom. I'm (almost) ready, coach. Put me in!
Excellent advice, Laura. For me, it's all about the characters, and what they're feeling. I think this goes hand in hand with writing from Deep POV.
Just the other day I was writing a rather poignant scene and I was crying. I had gone that deep into the feelings my characters were experiencing. Whether that ultimately translated to the page, I'm not quite sure yet (I'm sure I could still go deeper -- it was only first-ish draft), but *I* certainly got caught up in "feeling more." As always, excellent advice!
Good for you, Justine. If you felt it that deeply, I'm sure some got on the page.
Laura: Interesting how many bloggers refer to Mr. Maass and his wise advice. Thank you for reminding me.
His workshops are great, jagrout, but so are his books. I LOVE 20th Century Fiction
That's because The Donald is the shiz. 🙂 🙂
Thank you for the encouragement! Your summary is a reminder of how layered we are: simple, not easy.
And that's what keeps us all riveted as readers, right?
Laura, your post is timely for me too. I'm procrastinating writing the next chapter in my book as it is about a fire backed by wind that sweeps through a gully and destroys everything in its path. Land. Trees. Home. Nothing left but ash. I lived through it, but I'll never get over it. Hopefully, my words will not only touch the reader but soothe my soul as well. I do follow you on FB and love the photos and messages. I'm a tea drinker, but take no offense.
So sorry you had to live through that. But YOU are the person to write that scene! Sit down and close your eyes and remember...did you feel anxious, driving the road, wondering if your house could somehow been spared? What did you feel when you saw it? What loss was the greatest? And I'll bet it wasn't something expensive.
Don't forget to look for hidden emotions...at one point did you feel free of something?
I'm the king of overthinking, but I agree that sometimes that part of my brain needs to be switched off. I like the idea of becoming the character to get to the emotion. I use that quite often. If I'm writing in 3rd person and having trouble with the feelings of a specific character, I'll open another document, become that character, and free-write the scene in 1st person from their POV. That gets me closer to the character and gives me what I need to communicate the emotions in the original piece.
What a fantastic idea, Eldred! Thanks for sharing - I'm going to try that!
Great post, Laura! A needed reminder of the heart and soul of story.
I'm always thrilled when you comment, Tiffany!
Feel more Think less. I want to remember. My best way to remember is to write it down myself. Thank you, Laura. You are more than the queen of pinterist. You da bomb.
Aw, thank you, Evelyn, but if you watched my video at the end, you know I'm a dork- bomb!
Excellent post, Laura. I know this is a reminder for sure, especially the layering of emotion. Thanks!
Glad to see you here, Joyce - hope that means you're feeling better!
I love this! Plotting is important . . . but not what my main focus should be. I think it's awesome that you are able to deeply tap into your emotions and transfer them to the page. That's what it's all about.
(Roll Tide - we are coming for you Saturday. 😉
Yeah, that gives me emotions, right there. Alpha Dog is hoping to lose by only 21 points. Y'all need to suck for a few years, and give someone else a shot....this is getting ridiculous.
Hahahaha. I love you ladies.
So true...our brains are fickle...
I blame my muse for that.... Thanks for commenting!
[…] If you follow me on Facebook you know I’m the Queen of Pinterest (and if you don’t, why not? Beauty pics, cat memes, inspirational quotes, odd Victorian photos — COFFEE! It’s a sea of happy in a chaotic world. LauraDrakeAuthor). When I saw this the other day, the photo caught my eye first. Then the message slammed […] Source link […]
Overthink every stinking word. That's me. Another great post! Thanks, Laura!
So now you can work on over-feeling, Barb! Hey, if you're going to go overboard, this is the direction to go! Miss you.
Perfect. A great post, and one that I needed to read right now. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to feel the puzzle piece click into place, and that's usually because we are feeling along with our characters. Thank you Laura!
Thanks, James. I think men have a harder time (a generality, I know) with this than women. We're used to listening to our emotions. Which is why I think all those political thrillers don't work for me. Bravo to you for going there!
That generality is true, Laura. Also, men of my age. I remember a high school class, something like "How to Get Along" saying "don't wear your heart on your sleeve." I think there was a cartoon, too. Just a top for those of us writing about older men.
Spectacular post, Laura. A great reminder to dig deep. 🙂 Looking forward to saying hello next week in ABQ!!
My favorite writing gig, every year! There will be squees!
I've had nothing BUT emotion while I'm writing this memoir and it worries me that it will be too mushy. But I'm just letting it all hang out in the first draft to see where it takes me.
p.s. For anyone who wants/needs to write memoir, or just really hard stories, I highly recommend WRITING HARD STORIES by Melanie Brooks. Whenever I've gotten stuck during this process (daily), I pull that out and it gets me back inside the story.
The promise is that you will feel better after you drag that emotion onto the page. I'm still waiting for that part, since it's supposed to come at the end of the book, but that promise is keeping my butt in the chair.
Yes, this is what I needed. Thank you!
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