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Monday, February 04, 2008

Evoking emotional memory

The charm he exuded almost overwhelmed her.

Anger surged through him, burning behind his eyes.

Nervousness settled in her knees, making them wobble.


I read these sentences, but I don't feel what the characters felt. The sentences distance me from the characters.

One thing the first page has to do is grab your reader and rivet them to the story. One way is to pull the reader into the character's skin.

The reader becomes the character, feeling and thinking as if they are that person. They feel what the character feels.

This calls for more subtlety and vivid word choices.

Describe physical sensations so that your reader will feel it too. There are certain words, turns of phrase, cadences that trigger a similar physical reaction in your reader so they actually almost physically feel what the character feels.

I popped the lemon slice in my mouth, biting down hard on the soft fruit flesh, feeling the liquid squirt throughout my mouth, zapping my tongue.

Now confess, didn't your mouth pucker just a little? Didn't you start salivating a bit?

There were certain words in that sentence that triggered the physical reaction:
Lemon slice
Biting
Squirt
Zapping

I always start to salivate from just reading those words, because they're so powerful. They evoke a physical reaction from the reader because they trigger an emotional memory of biting into a lemon.

You want your physical descriptions of what the character feels to trigger emotional memory in the same way.

My favorite books on this are:
Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins
Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias

Brandilyn is an excellent writer when it comes to evoking emotional memory and physical reactions from her readers. For example:

Her nerves were on edge, her scalp prickling.

The bright sunlight faded. For no reason, goose pimples skittered down her arms.

Smells of rich dirt filtered up between gnarled roots.


--From Eyes of Elisha by Brandilyn Collins

The words she uses and the sentence cadences evoke emotional memory in the reader, so the reader becomes the character walking through the woods.

Look at your own sentences describing the character's emotions. Do you have good trigger words to evoke specific emotional memory in your reader?

Here's where you can put a list of sentences on a page and give it to your critique partner to ask them to give their reactions to the sentences. Their input will help you know if you're triggering emotional reactions in your reader.

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