Emotion is what you're selling. This may sound crude. Aren’t writers with high aspirations working toward delivering truth? Revelations? Insights?
Well, yes. But you can have life changing concepts of deep import and never reach a popular audience. (I’m still waiting for the musical based on the Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica.) So, go for the heart first, and go as if your life depends on it.
- Start by caring. If you do not weep, laugh, ache, or rage, neither will your readers. (I have more on this in a previous post http://howtowritefast.blogspot.com/2012/06/emotions-hook-readers-and-drive.html .)
- Create empathy. Make the situation itself one that deeply touches a reader’s values. Family, love of country, and hunger for justice are some of these. Larry Brooks had an amazing blog entry http://storyfix.com/the-secret-weapon-of-crafting-effective-heroes on this recently. Highly recommended.
- Set things up. Strong emotions do not appear in an instant. They come as a result of a careful journey from the pedestrian to the extraordinary. This means the pacing must be right, without empty phrases and extra words. (I just judge a fiction entry that demonstrated this. I felt the scene had all the right content, but it left me cold. I went in, pulled out extra words, redundant phrases and a few paragraphs that distracted. When I reread the scene, I had tears in my eyes.) Also, it is important to move from one emotion to the other in a natural way. Plutchik http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Plutchik provides guidance on this that is particularly valuable.
- Take a sharp turn. As long as it is justified, surprise is your friend. Life teaches us to guard our emotions. When we see a strong one coming either because of the context or because of a steady deepening of a single emotion, we protect ourselves by using distancing and other coping techniques. Creating contrasts in setting and circumstances catches readers off balance. Laughter at a funeral has more impact than tears because it goes against expectations. Similarly, letting a reader catch his or her breath before an emotional punch will maximize impact. This is why comic relief is so effective.
- Be poetic. Fresh simile and metaphors make our concepts concrete. They engage our imaginations and bring along connotations that connect the scenes with our emotional lives. The sound of the language can help, too. Music touches us in ways that are difficult to explain, and words that are lyrical or harsh, flowing or colliding, provide the soundtracks for fiction.
This does not exhaust the ways you can create emotion with your writing. What are your approaches? How do you bring tears, chills, chuckles, dread, and anguish to your readers?