Monday, February 22, 2010

Getting Emotional on Purpose

Even though I sometimes get emotional, and my children are reduced to quivering masses of emotion on a regular basis, temper tantrums, attacks on siblings, or blubbering through a touching story while speaking to a group of people (that would be what I did yesterday) isn't what I'm talking about. Today I'm going to muse on getting emotional on purpose, or, for those who like writer-jargon, emotional arcs.

If you've been at writing fiction for very long, chances are you've heard about character arcs, plot arcs, subplot arcs, and just about any other arc you can think of. But, if you're like me, you may not have considered Emotion Arcs.

People read fiction for a lot of reasons--a good story, to be scared, for entertainment, to revisit the rush of romance, etc.--but ultimately they read a story for the emotion it makes them feel. And, conversely, they will quit reading a book for the same reason. I have tried to read some books that were so disturbing to me emotionally that I had to quit. I'm sure the writing was good, the characters well-done, and the plot put together in all the right ways, but I couldn't read it because of how it made me feel.

The emotion readers get from a book (and this absolutely goes for non-fiction as well) is what stays with them, and is the most important byproduct of your writing. It is what will keep them looking for your books. It's also what make them throw your book across the room and vow to never crack open anything with your name on it ever again. If they don't feel much of anything, that lack of emotion will make them forget you. Ultimately readers have to care. And if you make them care enough, then they just might become fans big enough to camp out all night and have release parties when your next book is unveiled and dress up as your characters or name proms after them.

So it's a good idea for writers to pay attention to the emotion they want the readers to feel. There's an overall emotional arc you want through the entire book. Maybe you want admiration for your heroine, followed by sympathy for her plight, then the tingly twitterpated feelings when it looks like she and the dashing hero might get together, and then horror when you find out he's the murderer your heroine has been investigating, and frantic anxiety when he has her hostage, and then vengeful satisfaction when she pretends to succumb to his seduction, only to push him off the edge of the Empire State Building.

The entire book has an emotional arc, but it's also important to make sure that each scene has one as well. Figure out what you want your reader to feel for each scene, then determine what elements will get you that emotion. There's a good chance that what plague scenes in your story that don't seem to work but you can't figure out why is either a lack of emotion, unfulfilled emotion, or the wrong emotion.

Something to think about.

Today's writing advice: Get Emotional--On Purpose.


Danyelle said...

Very nice post! I love books that deepen my feeling for the characters. And you're right, the emotional arcs are very, very important to the story, and sometimes overlooked. :)

ali said...

This is a GREAT post. I don't think I've consciously looked at an emotional arc in my stories at all. I've thought about emotion, but not, perhaps, the overall arc that I would want readers to take away from my stories.

Gonna have to give this some thoughts. Thanks Jaime!

MT said...

AMEN. Thanks for the reminder - and you stated it so well! I was going to say you put it down on paper so well, but you put it down on blog just doesn't roll off the tongue.
Michelle Teacress

Elana Johnson said...

This is so true! And one of the things I struggle with the most. Lots to think about for sure.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Sooo true! Emotion does stay with the reader. In fact, many times I'll forget a writer's name, but I'll remember his/her story. Emotional arcs are very important and something I'm always striving to put in my writing. Great post!

Julie Wright said...

brilliant insights! and amen to getting emotional on purpose :)

Carolyn V. said...

It's so true. That's why I read, for the emotion of it. Putting into my writing is something I have thought about for a long time. I feel like it needs to be there. Thanks for the reminder. =)

L.T. Elliot said...

Emotion is one of the chief reasons I enjoy a book. Another EXCELLENT post, Jaime!

kanishk said...

the emotional arcs are very, very important to the story, and sometimes overlooked.

Work from home India

Brendon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.