Put your heart into it! As diligent writers, we’re all seeking to write stories that grab the heart and don’t let go. Yet over and over, in student work and sometimes my own, the gut-grabber is missing. What gives?
Writing Tip for Today: Not all emotions are created equal. We can go through sadness, loss, reversals and angry determination, yet we don’t want to feed the reader a diet of only anger or bitterness. We must have a least a ray of hope and redemption by the story’s end. What are some symptoms that your fiction needs CPR in the emotion department?
- Emotional Distance. I’ve met several writers whose intent was to write in a disaffected way, as if the character is watching herself in the story. While it’s true that those in high-risk occupations–those who work with at-risk populations, PTSD patients or other situations–can and must often adopt emotional distance in order to survive, this treatment of a story character is very difficult to convey. That’s because readers always look for ways to connect emotionally. A flat or disaffected narrator is problematic in all but the most skilled writer’s hands. Sometimes writers are so worried the story will be melodramatic that they go to extremes to avoid showing the reader deep emotion. I’d rather write melodrama and then dial it back than try to pump life into an unfeeling character.
- Thinly-veiled Autobiography. Other times, the writer is telling their own story through the veil of fiction. Nothing wrong with this–most first novels have a good bit of auto-bio in them. It only becomes a problem when the writer forces the reader to experience rage or bitterness without balancing it with hope or redemption, or when the author is so terrified of their own emotions that they create that same emotional distance mentioned above. That’s why writers are advised to be sure you have processed a traumatic event, gained some perspective, before you write about it.
- Care about the Subject. Writers who try to write to trends in fiction but who don’t care about the subject as much as they could often find themselves lacking in emotional connections.. Old advice, but wise: Write not only what you know, write what you are passionate about. Give your characters the same dark night of the soul as in real life, but don’t leave them there. Unlike life, the most satisfying fiction ends on some kind of hopeful note, even if all is lost at the end. Readers want redemption of some kind. In all but the most skilled hands, the novel which withholds it is in danger of losing readers.