“It’s just emotion that’s taken me over…” The BeeGees, from the song “Emotion”
Emotion is, well, just about everything when it comes to fiction. Emotion is what engages readers the deepest. Emotion is what makes thereader laugh, cry, cheer, get pissed off, hate, judge. It makes them feel. It makes them forget they’ve fallen into the world of fiction.
Emotion is the one, main element of my writing that’s taken me to a new level the last few years. And it took me awhile to get there. To get how important it is in fiction and to get (or at least somewhat get) how to transfer, infuse, express emotion in my writing.
I recently read a book for writers by Donald Maass called “The Emotional Craft of Fiction”. Maass basically says that while readers are satisfied by plots being resolved and by characters who amuse and entertain us, it’s how the reader feels by the end of the book that makes it truly memorable. And I believe him. It’s not the car chases, the murders being solved, the sex or the bang-bang in books that make me remember them; it’s the characters and how I feel reading about those characters and their journey.
I’m going to go a step further and say that emotion is power. Emotion is the closed fist in your novel or short story, the conquering superhero who is omnipotent. Emotion grabs your reader by the throat and won’t let go, even after they’ve read the last page.
A couple of months ago I wrote a short story for the Writers Community of Simcoe County’s annual Word By Word short fiction contest. And while I’ve had ten novels published (www.bellabooks.com), I’ve only written a handful of short stories before this and had never entered a contest. The word count was fairly stingy, so I knew I needed to write something emotionally gripping, because there were less than 1,500 words to grab the judges’ attention.
“So This Is How It Ends” is about a woman physician (a little irony never hurts!) who’s just learned she is terminally ill and doesn’t have much time left. The subject itself is an emotional one, but that’s not enough. The story needs to bleed emotion. It needs to make the reader feel as though they are in that character’s shoes, or at least, imagine with realistic emotion what it would be like to receive the same dreadful news. Because remember, the power of the story comes from the emotion.
Here’s an excerpt:
His words are still pinballing through her mind—cancer, incurable, inoperable, terminal. They are like the ear-splitting echoes of an iron gate that has crashed down. A gate that says she will go no further. She stands, sits again because her body knows not what to do even as her mind spins like an arcade game.
She closes her eyes for a moment to absorb that she no longer has a say in how her life plays out to its end. Her life’s journey is something she always visualized as a ribbon. Satiny smooth, sometimes straight, sometimes curling and looping around, but always long and spooling out for as far as the eye can see. Who doesn’t think their life will expire like a long, languid sunset slowly sinking into the sea?
The key for me in writing emotion is to start by asking myself a simple question: what would it be like to be somebody else? What would it feel like to be X, Y, or Z and to have A, B or C happen to you? Free your imagination to go to those places. And then let yourself feel the tsunami of emotions that your character would be feeling in whatever circumstance/world you’ve invented for them. Don’t just describe the scene or the feelings. Put the reader there because you, the writer is right there too, feeling every little thing. And yeah it’s not easy, but boy is it worth it.
To read “So This is How it Ends”, which placed second in the 2017 Word By Word contest, go to: http://simcoewriters.ca/