By Still Moments Publishing’s
Senior Editor, AJ Nuest
Ask yourself this question: Of the stories you’ve read, which ones remain fixed in your memory? The mediocre plot where the hero and heroine overcame some small obstacle before magically encountering their happily-ever-after? Or perhaps the one that wrenched your heart? The one that had you chewing a thumbnail, or made you so angry at the villain you wanted to reach inside the book and throttle his neck!
Emotional response is KEY if you’re looking to sell a manuscript, build a following, and in turn, be a successful writer.
If you write in the romance genre, eliciting an emotional response from your editor – and subsequently your readers – ranks right next to character development on the accept/reject chart. It also works in direct tandem with how well you know your characters (reference last week’s post). I do NOT mean to imply that show vs. tell problems, writing with passive voice instead of active, or continuous POV shifts aren’t troublesome for an editor. They most definitely ARE troublesome – and will undoubtedly need to be addressed before your manuscript goes to print. However, if your story makes your editor laugh, cry, get nervous or even angry, chances are favorable he or she will look past the problematic technical issues because they became emotionally invested in the story.
And before the whole lot of you stand up and shout, “Now, wait just a second! That sounds like a big ol’ pile of hooey!” Go ahead and stay seated. I know this for a fact because it happened to me. My first manuscript was a technical nightmare. And the editor wept all over the pages before she mailed me the contract.
So, how does one write from an emotional standpoint? It’s not as easy as following a simple set of rules. Right up front, I’m warning ya, things are about to get messy. If you’re not wearing a comfy pair of sweats, go change now. I can wait…
Back? Okay. The first step an author must achieve in order to write emotionally is to submerse themselves in the character. And let’s face facts. Unless you’re a wealthy heiress whose countryside estate is oft times visited by a devilishly handsome vampire, chances are good this submersion process will be a stretch of the imagination. But remember, no matter what the environmental circumstances, the emotional thread remains the same.
I want you to try this exercise: Close your eyes. Now live (yes, LIVE) the moment you are trying to create by envisioning a time when you experienced the exact same emotion you hope to relay through your character. Turn off the editorial stop gaps in your brain and write! Don’t think about what you’re writing. Don’t worry about punctuation or phrasing. If you’re fingers stumble do NOT go back and fix your errors. JUST WRITE! Every single thing you’re feeling, every thought, every detail, the physical responses, all of it. I want you to vomit those words on the page. I’m giving you free rein to SPEAK YOUR PEACE! Let go the fear that you might hurt someone’s feelings or say something inappropriate. If you need to, go ahead and get mad! Get upset! FEEL FREE TO BEAT THAT DEAD HORSE!
When you’re done, only after you’ve got absolutelnothing left inside, THEN sit back from the keyboard, and see what you’ve got.
BOTTOM LINE TIME: To create an emotional response, you gotta get emotional. You need to locate a specific moment when you were either scared out of your wits, or overjoyed, or madder than kicked hornet’s nest, and THEN fine tune the thoughts and physical responses you experienced in that moment.
How will you know if you were successful? If you didn’t laugh, cry, grit your teeth or have some sort of visceral response during that writing session, the words aren’t right. Sorry. But they’re not right. Take a break, walk around for a bit, then go back and try again.
Sidebar: We have a saying at our house, “If Mom isn’t crying (or laughing, or mad, etc.) the story is crap.”
If YOU are not experiencing an emotional response to your OWN writing, neither will the reader. If you craft a heroine who starts to cry during a scene and YOU ARE NOT CRYING WHILE WRITING IT, the scene is missing that emotional thread.
I recently put the finishing touches on an edgy inspirational, entitled Flicker. I mention this for two reasons. First, to remind everyone that apart from being an editor, I am also a writer. And second, so you all know I completely “get” how difficult it is to write for an emotional response.
After finishing the story, I sent an email to my editor asking if she would mind giving Flicker a read. Even though the manuscript fell outside the guidelines of her house due to length (Flicker topped out at over 190K, just under 700 pages), she still agreed to read it because she is so incredibly awesome. I attached the file to an email and sent it off late on a Monday afternoon. The following Tuesday morning I received this response: Oh, AJ. You didn't warn me I'd have to read it all in one sitting. I read all night til 5 a.m. and I am so wasted. My stack of soaked hankies fills a laundry basket. I think I'll reread maybe next week and send you comments and reactions when my head stops spinning. For now just know...your writing is gut-wrenching. In a good way. In recovery.
I could demur here and say I’m sharing this email as proof that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to crafting an emotional story. But the simple truth is, this response really cranked my knob. That a person who spends most of her days reading submissions would stay awake all night to finish my story…well, the closest I can come to explaining how it felt was like I’d just won an Emmy.
Here’s the important part. I SOBBED while writing that story. There were times I spontaneously burst into tears at the mere thought of it. I submersed myself so deeply into the heroine that I became Jillian Parkes.
If you want to craft an emotional story, you must let go of the fear that you may get caught up in the story. You have to be prepared to step on some toes. You’ve got to break down the barriers of what society deems “proper” and get it all out there. If need be, you can always pull back once you get into the editing phase of your story.
Until next time…
© 2011 AJ Nuest
All Rights Reserved
Award winning author and editor, AJ Nuest, lives in NW Indiana with her loving husband, two beautiful children, two dogs and a cat that can do no wrong. Her guilty pleasures include big gaudy rings, movie marathons, cuddling and chocolate. To view the latest hub-bub related to all things AJ please visit: http://ajbooks.blogspot.com