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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Emotions and the Writer

Feeling and emotion is the basis for every good story.

Think about it. The stories you remember are not the intellectually-stimulating ones, but the ones that made your heart race or your eyes tear up.

Your job as a writer is to make your reader feel emotion. But it's very hard to make your readers care if you don't feel for you write about. You will write your best pieces when you care about the topic or the characters.

Now, don't go overboard and start preaching. Readers are turned off by writers on their soapboxes.

But do write about what interests you. Find a topic, theme, character or plot that makes you excited. Do certain song lyrics make you cry? Was there an intriguing event in yesterday's news? Do you have a character talking in your head?

Technical skills:

A good writer writes with emotion, but EDITS with solid technical skills.

You don't want to be misunderstood or to turn out a piece that doesn't accurately reflect what you're feeling. Writing with emotions surging through you will get the words on paper, but it's not guaranteed to be communicated clearly to someone reading it.

Knowledge of writing technique will point out flaws or errors. Then, your writing will be both emotional and clear in communicating that emotion.

Future articles will focus on writing technique. Remember that the "rules" are guidelines, not the Ten Commandments. But most of the time, the guidelines make your piece stronger, so that it packs more whallop to your reader.

Each writer writes in a different way--slow, fast, organized, organic. Adapt the techniques to your own way of writing.

Practice makes perfect.

The ONLY way to learn and master these techniques is by writing. Be willing to make mistakes on your first try. Be willing to learn and improve, and you will.

Learning writing techniques is like learning to drive a car. There are lots of different steps: turn on the ignition, step on the brake, shift into gear, etc. But after you drive a lot, the steps become second nature and you don't have to think about them.

When you first start writing, you might try to remember all the different techniques and rules. But as you write more, the rules will become second nature. After a while, you'll write without consciously thinking about action verbs, passive voice, point of view, etc. (more on those in future articles).

Exercise:

Find something you're emotional about. Write an article, poem, short story, or devotional. Don’t worry about technique--just get the words on paper. Practice writing emotionally.

Next: Choosing Understandable Words

NOTE: Information in this article is taken from the classic "Techniques of the Selling Writer" by Dwight V. Swain.

Back to Articles from Swain

4 comments:

  1. You said:

    "Think about it. The stories you remember are not the intellectually-stimulating ones, but the ones that made your heart race or your eyes tear up."

    I don't wish to be impolite, but I have to say that this statement is simply inaccurate. I am primarily a reader of science fiction, and although emotion is not unknown in that genre, especially in some of the more recent work, the genre has always been one where the intellectual "puzzle" quality of the story plays a dominant role in the reader's pleasure. This is sometimes referred to as "plot as hero". Perhaps THE classic example of this is Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy. Asimov was criticized at the time for one-dimensional characterization - and this was probably accurate. Who cared? The readers loved it and these books have rarely been out of print during the ensuing years. They are enduring classics.

    Although science fiction is perhaps the most prominent example of the intellectuually centered novel, there are others. The classic mystery genre comes to mind, although it is not one of my personal favorites. I myself enjoy the related genre of the police procedural. Michael Connelley's Harry Bosch novels are a good contemporary example of this. Now, in Connelley's case, his characters do have emotional depth, and we do relate to them and care about what they are going through. But these emotonally based elements are subplots at best. The heart of the story is the "chess game" between Bosch and his unknown oponent as Harry works to put the pieces together.

    I'm certainly not saying there is no place in literature for the emotionally-centered novel. But I think it;s a mistake to suggest that this is the only sort that a reader will find enjoyable or memorable.

    Just a thought,
    -Steve

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Steve,
    You're certainly entitled to your opinion, but I believe that the "emotional subplot" you talk about is actually what makes the book the bestseller that it is for today's reader. Asimov's stories are classic--but they were written for the readers of his generation. In general, readers today are more attracted to stories that not only have that chess game, but also the emotional component. A story that's purely a chess game wouldn't appeal to as many people as the book does with the emotional component in it, and in today's world, the publishing business is more about appealing to a larger audience than being content with only appealing to a smaller subset of readers.

    Also, the idea of emotional writing is not new. This is taken from Dwight Swain's book Techniques of the Selling Writer which was written in 1965. Swain was also a science fiction writer (although many have said he was a better writing teacher than author).

    Camy

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think you're right in saying that Asimov's appeal was to an earlier generation. I suppose I'm biased because I am of that generation, and Asimov's fiction was formative for me and left a lasting impression.

    I also must admit that Michael Connelly's view of his own work is much closer to yours than it is to mine. I discovered this after I posted, as I had Googled his website to check the spelling of his name and stayed to read some of his discussion of his writing. He definitely starts from the idea of putting his characters through changes to explore their depths and he sees this as the heart of his work.

    I suppose that just goes to show that we are all different in how we see these things. I am surely not against the idea of emotion in fiction and I know it adds "spice" even to intellectually-centered stories. I just wanted to make the point that to me, intellectually centered fiction is entertaining in its own right, and I don't think I'm the only one.

    Thanks for listening,

    -Steve

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Steve,
    You're definitely not the only one who enjoys intellectually centered fiction. I tend to like them, too, but one thing I've discovered since I started working with publishing house editors is that the readership for popular fiction tends to be around the 6-7th grade reading level. Sad but true. The publishing houses spend a lot of money to figure this out (somehow) so I'm tempted to trust their research into this. Many romance houses actually have found that a large percentage of their readership averages a 4th grade reading level. In order to accommodate as many readers as possible, they tend to aim for the 4th grade reading level, because even more intellectual readers will read a book if it's entertaining, no matter what the reading level.

    Don't get me wrong, there will ALWAYS be a readership for more intellectual novels, but this is just another thing to think about.
    Camy

    ReplyDelete

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