Tuesday, June 16, 2009


There have been a few posts lately about emotions in writing. More to the point: emotional impact or, as I like to put it scenes that make me grab a box of Kleenex!

Stephanie Kallos' Broken for You - do not read this book, at least the last 1/3 without at least two boxes of Kleenex nearby, and maybe a third for good measure. I cried my ass (well, not technically, but . . . ) off when reading the last 1/3 of this book. I called my friend who loaned me the book and said couldn't you give a guy some warning. The author - Stephanie Kallos in case you missed it the first time - somehow drew me so totally into the story, that by the time the last 1/3 of the book came around, there wasn't a chance in Hades of a dry eye. Not a chance, people. The characters were so well written, the plot so crafted, the inner demons of the characters so well portrayed, that the tears flowed easily . . . and naturally. The pain, the love, the emotional impact were out of this world.

I love that kind of emotional impact.

The best thing I've read about such emotional impact (sorry, don't know where, one of the blogs I follow) was not to put tears in your characters eyes, but to put the tears in your readers' eyes. Stephanie Kallos accomplished this big time.

Now, I make myself cry with my writing all the time . . . in a good way, people, though there was that one time . . . My current project is full of emotional impact . . .well, at least for me. I don't aim for the tears, the chance to make a reader cry, I just aim for the depth of emotions my characters need in a certain place/time. Without that depth of emotion, the scene is most likely going to fall flat.

In my current WIP, the emotions are flowing. Perhaps it is because I'm drawing so much on my past and changing events through the what if game, or perhaps it is because I have invested these characters with enough emotions that they are visible in the scenes I write.

Now, the big question: will the emotional impact remain when somebody else reads the rough draft? Hopefully . . . YES! If not, back to the drawing board.

My main point is: I don't sit down and say I'm going to write this really great emotional scene that is going to make my multitude of readers cry. I sit down and write. I write to the best of my ability and don't focus on whether a reader will cry or not, or whether the reader might laugh or not. I cannot do that. I can only write to the best of my ability and hope that the emotions that are conveyed to me in a particular scene are also conveyed to a reader.

Lastly, some ideas about emotional impact. Confrontation - anger, rage, the past rushing forward to the present, the insecurities of childhood brought to the forefront in an argument, and so much more. Two siblings - grown adults - fighting over something. Two people, desperately in love, unable to work things out and realizing that they're better off apart than together. A young woman fighting with her mother over something stupid and saying horrible things that can never, never be taken back. The mother, smiling at her daughter and saying I love you. An epileptic young man, has a seizure and knocks his mother across the room - later, after the seizure is over, the man consumed by guilt, and the mother smiles and says It's all right! Unconditional love right there! Emotional Impact!

So, how do you deal with emotional impact in your writing? Do you plan out the scenes? Do you outline the emotional moments of your manuscript? Do you just let those scenes happen?



Marybeth Poppins said...

I have one scene where I was really trying to draw the emotions from my readers. I'm not sure if it worked...but it got to me at the very least. I think I need to have a few more people read and tell me their thoughts after that one scene.

Great post!!!

Suzanne said...

Thanks for this post Scott. I have had more than one reader get angry (yes angry) with me for making them so sad. For making my characters do things that the reader doesn't want them to do. I have even considered taking out a particularly rough murder suicide scene... but leave it in, obstinately... because I believe that if you can make a reader feel something that deeply, than you have done something right.

beth said...

I try to use brutal honesty in order to create an emotional scene. In a fight scene, I take out a lot of the character's emotions (i.e. this hurts!) and just show what physically is happening--I hope this leads the reader to inject his own emotions into the scene.

PJ Hoover said...

The best writing I've done as far as emotion goes has been the unplanned type that I let take me where it wants.

Davin Malasarn said...

Emotion is the most important part of the story for me. I love it when that invisible thing is floating among the concrete details of what I am describing. Sometimes I will be conscious of rearranging the scene to make it emotional, but from my experience the most emotional scenes just happen. They are sloppy. They occur at the wrong times and in the wrong places. That's when they're the best.

Scott said...

Marybeth - I hope your scene works.

Suzanne - I wrote a particularly violent scene from the aftermath, rather than the actual scene and had other characters have the initial reaction to the bruises, etc., before delving into the mind of the actual character who had been attacked. In subsequent scenes, I interplayed moments of the violence resurfacing in the attacked characters mind. For me, at least, his provided greater impact. Still, like you, I don't necessarily pull away from the brutal scenes, the thoughts of suicide, or whatever. It's all about impact!

Beth - I'm with you about removing the character's emotions. I want their pain/anger/whatever felt through their words, more so than tears streaming down their faces.

PJ & Davin - I think the unplanned moments are the best of all because they come from deep within the writer.

Davin -

Sarah Jensen said...

I have a really hard time outlining anything. The emotional impacts happen as they happen. Life isn't always happy, and books shouldn't be either. My poor characters go through it all, and I'm right there with them. I let them dictate what will happen, and they have to live with the consequences, and sometimes, I hate what happens, but oh well, such is life.

Oh, btw, you won our contest at giveagirlapen.com

Angie Ledbetter said...

Hopefully, like yours, my emotional moments come about organically vs. wedged in mechanically by a heavy hand.

Ah...writing as thearpy. Ain't it great?! :)