Monday, October 1, 2012

Step one, two...Cry, one, two. Step one, two....

Editor Sol Stein says the only job of the fiction author is to produce emotion in the reader.

Oh, that clears it up.

But after working through Margie Lawson's module on character emotion, I finally understand why editors decry long stretches of exposition (or as I call it, explaniation). No matter how well-written, pure narrative cannot be experienced. The more I 'explaniate' (as opposed to having my characters experience the pain/joy/terror of the moment) the longer the reader endures a story devoid of emotion.

Which explains why, on rainy days, I don't curl up with a mug of Hazelnut coffee and my treasured edition of the Maytag dryer operator's manual.

But Ms. Lawson goes many steps further. In her lesson, she shows HOW to produce emotion in the reader, and how to keep from spoiling our work with too much exposition. Using examples from writers like Harlen Coben, Lisa Gardner, and C.J. Box (who is in line to be my next literary crush), Margie points out what works...and then shows how removing key elements destroys the emotional impact of a passage without affecting the meaning.

With. Without. Read it again. Now read it aloud.

"See the difference?" she asks.

Oh yeah.

I've written scenes that 'felt' strong (and plenty that didn't), but never understood what made them effective. Ms. Lawson has shown me how to intentionally replicate what works and eliminate what doesn't. The key, according to Ms. Lawson, is to show the POV character's physiologic response: Dry mouth, racing pulse, feet frozen to the floor by panic.

But it's more than flooding the story with adrenaline. Creating authentic emotion is a complicated dance of body language, dialogue, description, cadence, and fresh writing. And she takes the writer through a systematic process to identify each element and address deficiencies. After a few lessons, I'm feeling the rhythm.

If (like me) you have two left feet when it comes to writing emotion, perhaps Ms. Lawson can help.

Cheers...and Happy Writing!



  1. My mantra from the first time I ever critiqued was "more emotion." I know it's possible to go too far into melodrama, but most of us tend to err on the side of caution. Emotion will keep me reading if I've seen the plot a thousand times, if I know exactly what's going to happen, and often if I don't even like the characters. I love feeling!

  2. Wish I could be sure I'm not gumming up the works with melodrama!

    We'll see, I guess.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!


  3. There's that quote: If your writing won't keep you up at night, it won't keep anyone else up at night. There's a corollary: If you don't weep writing sad scenes, your readers won't either. Neither are original. Listening to good storytellers is a good way to learn how to effectively convey emotions with words.

    Jackson Burnett


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