So, of course, I wondered what had caused it? I checked the work for signs of superior craftsmanship. They were everywhere -- cunning word choice, a certian delicacy of phrase -- but didn't seem to be the direct cause. No, the parts that excited me the most were just pure, intoxicating emotion.
At the time the lesson slipped past me. Until today, when I was beta-reading a story for Bill Ledbetter and it happened again. A woman's husband dies, and then BOOM, I'm in a different world. It is her grief and her rage, subtly and convincingly expressed, that makes the story real. Because I've felt that grief, that anger. I know her. I am her.
This, in my opinion, is why Romance is the most popular genre. Because by default it deals with emotion. It HAS to deal with emotions, almost in a pure state.
And emotions are what connect the reader to you. What ties them to you so they can't look away. What forces their eyes to drink down your dark potions and then wish there was more.
If you do not provide emotion -- be it either clumsy and brute-force (think: daytime TV melodrama), or elegantly crafted and understated (think: most of the best books of the century) -- the reader will not follow.
The more real, the more convincing, and the more vivid you make those emotions then the more likely you are to make that connection -- that magical leap from mere story to all-encompassing vision.
So, of course, I'm studying my arse off on this, but as yet all I have are a list of possible techniques, of which you can use all or none and still get a good story:
1) Make accessible characters
- I have ambiguous feelings toward this techniques because every now and again I just like a good anti-hero.
2) Shade every sentence with emotion
- This is the art of word choice and the technical aspect of writing
3) Make the emotional stakes drive your characters
- The stakes of the story have to be something the main character wants. Even if it's just a boy scout who wants to sit on the corner and eat an ice cream cone with his dad, the more he wants this then the more is at stake, and the more the emotional payoff when it comes true (or the tragedy when it doesn't)
4) Keep the emotional logic rolling
- Unfortunately characters in stories can't be easily get away with being as random and mercurial as real-world moods. They can, it just takes a lot of work. But typically jumps from one emotion to the next must be logical transitions. It must happen on the right emotional beat, to the right emotional rhythm. This is where instinct is your only guide.
5) Make the emotional stakes central to the story
- If your main character really hates pistachios and that is his only defining trait, then you will, unfortunately, probably have a story about pistachios on your hands. Unless you're really clever ;)
6) Always remember that emotional reality is the reality of the story -- that conflicts should feed emotions
- Whether they know it or not, the emotions are the drug that your readers are looking for. Feed them. Come back to the emotions. Keep them rumbling, tumbling, changing, and -- most importantly -- tasty. This is why conflict is so important. This is what keeps your characters FEELING.
Anyway, this is a new study for me, one I am only now delving into with intensity. I've always done this by instinct. Now I want to know why what I do works or doesn't work. I'm sure you'll hear more on it in the future.
All comments and thoughts welcome.