Fiction That Costs the Writer

Great writing exacts a high price from the writer. The more truth contained in a story, the dearer the cost to its creator. Fiction that goes straight to the heart is what readers are always searching for, but writers can be reluctant to pay the emotional price. How can a writer solve this problem?
Writing Tip for Today: If your scene doesn’t feel as if it cost you anything, it probably needs some deepening. Here are some thoughts about writing fiction that appeals to readers on an emotional level:

  • Draw from Your Experiences. On the first draft, a writer may only brush the surface of deep, honest but painful events. Even in a novel, it’s the rare author who can successfully write about painful things without some direct personal experience. It’s OK, though. You have plenty of revisions to get it right. It’s more problematic to write something with which you have no direct experience. Not impossible, just harder.
  • Crack it Open. Even those writers who’ve lived through the things they write about may not plumb the depths of that experience on the first draft. Bill Roorbach, author of Writing Life Stories, advises writers to “crack open” the first draft upon rewriting, and get at the deeper issues. I’ve found that many times, the really important things are in between the lines–things the writer didn’t even mention. This is very understandable–nobody likes pain. But readers need to be able to validate their own experiences with genuine emotions in order to feel understood.
  • Aim for Complex Characters. If your antagonist is all bad or your protagonist is too good, they become caricatures of real people. Give your “bad guys” a redeeming quality and your protagonist some vulnerability or flaw.
  • Portray Emotions through Showing. To readers, telling about an emotion (i.e., I was so angry) is a poor substitute for showing them. By showing (Nausea swept over me; I clenched my fists.) you invite the reader to re-experience the emotion and live it vicariously through your character. Resist the Urge to Explain.
  • Allow Readers to Decide. Many novelists make the mistake of forcing a conclusion upon the reader. If the novel’s stepmother is wicked, it’s far more satisfying to readers if they make up their own minds about her. The stepmother just acts like herself (again, through SHOWING) and the reader decides if she’s wicked or simply needs a good therapist.

Try This! Using a draft of a scene, look for spots in it where you can deepen the character’s emotional responses by showing, not telling. Be careful not to slow the scene by adding too much emotional reaction in one place. Weave “beats” of emotional reactions into the action for best results.

Monday, November 15, don’t miss Edgy Inspirational novelist Michelle Sutton’s guest post, “Creating the Envelope.” Michelle has some great tips she’s learned about scene writing. A must-read.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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