Friday, April 7, 2017

F is for Falling in Love With Your Manuscript - Why an Emotional Connection is Vital #AtoZChallenge

The #AtoZChallenge 2017 Theme at Operation Awesome is the Publishing Journey.

At Operation Awesome, we strive to provide writers and readers with the resources they need to succeed, at every stage of the journey. With that in mind, let's discuss the importance of writing the manuscript that's close to your heart.

Can you tell when a novel you're reading just isn't working for you? The writing is good, the plot is interesting, and the setting is lifelike... but when you put the book down at night, you're not counting the seconds until you can pick it up again. This happens to all of us, both when reading and when writing. I can count on both hands the number of works-in-progress I've shelved because *something* just wasn't working. It's a sharp contrast to those manuscripts I can't wait to work on, the ones that keep me awake at night, the ones that invariably get the best reactions from beta readers.

So what is that nebulous *something* novels need? More often than not, it's an emotional connection. Meaning, there's something about the way the characters are written, the way they experience their lives, the way they interact with the other characters, that touches readers on a more visceral level than an intellectual one. I cried my eyes out at the end of The Fault in Our Stars. My heart pounded during the last chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, wondering how in the world Harry and his friends would get out of their latest mess. And I couldn't keep a smile off my face while reading The Hating Game, hoping the two main characters would realize their animosity for each other would be better expressed as romance.

Why do these novels succeed in invoking emotional reactions from readers when so many others fail? There are a lot of possibilities (and check out the book below if you want to explore further), but the one I'll discuss here is creating investment in characters. In real life, we might hear about a plane crash in a foreign country that killed hundreds, and it doesn't affect us emotionally. But if a friend or family member passes away, it hits us like a ton of bricks. That's because, at least in part, we have familiarity with the people we're close too, and we're invested in them.

It's the same for fictional characters. Show the reader your characters' backstory, how that backstory impacts how they see the world and interact with others, how your character talks, thinks, and acts. Sprinkle in details about your characters' hopes, wishes, dreams, and fears. Put them in terrible situations and have them use their strengths or wits to get out of them... or have them fail. Make them unique, and make them relatable, and in the eternal words of James Earl Jones' character, Terrence Mann, in Field of Dreams... "people will come." If readers care about your characters, if they feel an emotional connection to them, then readers will flock to your books, wanting to experience that emotion again and again.

Another suggestion: Draw from your own life experiences to create scenarios that ring with authenticity, so the reader will feel the emotional connection is tied to something real. Once, in my early 20s, I ran out of gas on a highway in the middle of nowhere, no cell phone, over thirty miles from the nearest gas station. I can draw on that experience to describe a character's desperation, hopelessness, and fear when placed in a similar situation. Because I've experienced it (everything turned out fine in the end), the reader will sense that authenticity of both the situation and the character's reactions, and believe the emotions that scene might evoke.

This book, Donald Maass's most recent, has been invaluable to me as I've worked through my latest manuscript revision. It's got dozens of exercises to help you incorporate emotion into your writing, and contains lots of excerpts from published books so you can learn to recognize 'writing with emotion' firsthand. Here's the Amazon link.

How do you incorporate emotion into your writing?


  1. I've been wracking my brain for years trying to figure out why voice worked. (As You Know, Bob, voice is what hooks a reader first.)

    It was only two weeks ago while reading a book that had hooked me hard that the voice worked for me because it let me in to an honest and deep emotional vision of the main character.

    Now, to figure out if I can replicate that kind of resonance.

    --Her Grace at Romance Spinners

  2. I have not written any novel yet but short stories yes. I remember reading John Grisham s The Chamber and i cried a lot after closing the book.

  3. Thanks for the Donald Maass link. And it's Kindle Unlimited, too.
    The most effective way I add emotion to a story is to close my eyes, put on my writing music, and go with the flow. If I worry about word choice, composition or structure, I lose the intimacy I have with my characters. Leave the details to the edit process.

  4. Absolutely spot on. If you don't connect emotionally with the story and the characters, you'll feel like you're writing a text book--and the readers will be able to tell.

    26 Things To Hate About Writing: F is for Fantasy Worlds

  5. Great post. And thanks for the book recommendation :-) Happy A-to-Z-ing.

  6. Off to check out this Maas book. I've read one of his others too but this topic is one I could use help on right now!

  7. I guess it is easier to do this in first person because you are right inside your character's head. But it can be done in third person too. As long as you are making sure your characters are reacting emotionally to what's happening, hopefully that carries over to the reader.

  8. Think I'm gonna have to get this book as I have a completed manuscript with a heroine I can't stand!

    Impromptu Promptlings
    A to Z Challenge Letter F

  9. This is a wonderful theme. I took a squizz at your other posts...very interesting.
    I like the sound of the Donald Maas book. It sounds like a must-have.
    Thank you for dropping by my blog!
    Happy A to Zee'ing!

    Writer In Transit

  10. Some really good tips here! A story without an emotional connection is like reading the plot structure that writers make: bland, boring and of no use to the reader at all!

  11. Thank you for this post. I know a weakness in my writing, which I guess is half the battle toward fixing it. Now that I know what it is -- okay, okay, adding more EMOTION to the ms -- I have to dive in and fix it. But how? Well, thanks for pointing me in the right direction.

  12. You could be qualified to receive a $1,000 Amazon Gift Card.


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