Emotional Impact

emotion-in-storyIn the last of this series comparing writing with the work of a theatre director, let us look at emotional impact. What does this mean? Essentially, it is involving the reader in the character’s story and allowing them to experience that person’s emotional life.

When you tell a story from within your main character’s head, and tell it moment by moment, that is exactly what you are doing. You invite the reader to see with the person’s eyes, hear with his ears and share his reactions. The reader then identifies closely with that character and the story becomes his for the duration.

You see this with actors who are able to draw the audience’s attention and hold it. It’s not simply charisma. It’s a combination of focus, timing, atmosphere and mood, and reaction to what is going on. That is what develops a character for the audience, and if each moment of the play is given the weight it deserves, your attention will be riveted upon the stage.

This is just what you want with your reader. We call it PTQ – page turning quality. Our example hero Jack is built up so clearly moment by moment that we are with him all the way. We experience the action from his point of view, we feel and sense along with him and thus we are emotionally involved in his life.

The writer’s job is to invite the reader to share the character’s emotional life and we do that by showing his experience rather than telling it. That’s the difference between fiction and non-fiction.

In this series, we have looked at the various ways you can do that:
Focus reader attention on what the character is looking at.
Use timing to vary the pace: speed up or slow down the action.
Let your words imply the mood.
Weave description into the action only enough to create the atmosphere.
Demonstrate character by letting us see how your characters act and react.
Use moment by moment to move the action along.

All these tricks add up to building emotional impact. Get into the character’s head and stay there. Give us the subtext of his thoughts as he moves through the action. Give us his emotions as reactions to what is going on.

One way to help kids write like this is to have them write as if they are the character (in first person), thus:

“Out of the corner of my eye I caught the glint of steel. The man had a gun. I hit the deck and rolled, heading for the dark space behind the shelving.
A bullet whined above me. It thudded into the wall. My heart banged against my ribs.
‘I’ll get you, Malone. There’s no escape.’
Yeah, right, you cocky bastard. I wasn’t about to waste my breath saying it aloud.”

It can help to imagine themselves in the action, because it becomes just like playing games. These days, perhaps one should suggest they imagine themselves in one of their computer games and write what’s happening as they go along. That ought to produce more action-packed and exciting stories!

If you want to write page-turning stories, take the director’s way. Moment by moment, using all the tricks that keep the audience riveted. You’ll have your reader totally immersed and riding the waves with your character.

Guest Blog by Elizabeth Bailey

Coming from professional theatre, Elizabeth Bailey taught drama for many years alongside her writing career. Multi-published, she now writes full time, both her own novels and ghostwriting, as well as critiquing for other writers. Find out more at www.elizabethbailey.co.uk

Music and Fireworks

amazing-fireworksHandel’s Fireworks Music, performed at his Grace the Duke of Richmond at Whitehall and on the River Thames on Monday 15 May 1749. A hand-coloured etching.

As the dark nights draw in, our thoughts go to celebrating Bonfire Night and its attendant fireworks.

The familiar explosions of light and sound that go along with bonfires and firework displays have inspired many generations of musicians and artists since the first bonfires were lit around London in the months following the discovery of the infamous gunpowder plot in 1605. We are all familiar with the story – barrels of gunpowder waiting to be lit under the House of Lords, the capture of Guy Fawkes and his fellow plotters, King James I and Parliament rescued from a constitutional disaster. Continue reading

Walk A Mile In Their Shoes

walking-shoesI am not sure whether or not, now that we are adults, we pause to consider what it was once like when we were a child. As a teacher or parent our expectations of children are often at odds with each other. In the first instance we don’t want them to grow up too fast because we want them to ‘enjoy their childhood’. But in the second instance we want them to buy into adult values and codes of conduct.

The world of a child is very different to ours in the way they view it. A story I once read concerned a child who was accused of stealing some coins but from his point of view he had seen the shiny coin as symbol of his mother’s heart and he wanted to keep her heart close to him. The adults applying their codes of conduct punished him for stealing but to the child a great injustice had been done to him. Continue reading

Blogs Are For Use!

spellingI sometimes wonder how many people actually use what they read in these blogs! Yet that is what I intend. They are for use. They are all based on actual experience and the ideas do really work!

I am prompted to write this because yesterday I suddenly found myself in at the deep-end using ideas from one of my earliest blogs and it worked like a dream. While helping the young person concerned I hardly realised it, but afterwards it struck me – almost step for step – I had used what I recommended in a blog about helping your child with a learning task. Continue reading

Creating A Character

directing-sceneStill working here with our directing analogy and the moment by moment scenario, let’s look at characterisation.

In a script, a director will look for what a character says about himself, what others say about him and how he reacts to others. These things dictate who he is and how he will act.

In a story, the reader should be able to recognise who the character is by what he says and does and how others react to him. The difference in writing is the need to let the reader know what is happening during any interaction. Continue reading


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) – the greatest composer of all time?

Of all classical composers, Mozart is almost certainly the most universally popular composer. His music appeals to young and old. It can be appreciated on a superficial ‘easy listening’ level, but those seeking emotional depth, technical brilliance and sheer musical grandeur will not be disappointed.

Mozart’s prodigious childhood is well known. Continue reading

Children Should Be Heard

child-attentionThere is an old saying that children should be seen and notheard, but I would like to update that into just this; children should be heard. When you talk to someone you expect him or her in some way to indicate that they have indeed heard you, it’s the civilised thing to do. You probably would be upset if they looked as if they had not paid any attention to what you said. Many marital arguments have probably started in exactly this way. Continue reading

Tuning In To Poetry

quill-penMany young people tend to shy away from poetry and that is a terrible shame because they miss out on so many wonderful experiences and a pleasure that lasts for a lifetime.

There has never been an easier time for a parent to give their child the gift of loving poetry. There have never before been so many funny poems published with an appeal for children of all ages. There have never been so many ways that poetry can be accessed and enjoyed.

Let’s look at how you can give your child the key to this magical door! Continue reading

Atmosphere and Mood

scary-outsideThe director in theatre has control of atmosphere and mood, working with the actors to create a particular feeling in the audience at any given moment.

This is helped by lighting and sound, along with set design. For example, a dim light and scary music produces an eerie feeling even before the actors speak, and they intensify the mood in the delivery of lines.

As the writer, you have to do everything yourself. You need to show the atmosphere by the way you use words. And we should be able to recognise the mood of the dialogue without being told what it is. Continue reading

Listen To Your Child

listening-to-childThere are a number of things we can do to make our children’s lives happier, whether a parent or teacher small changes in how we behave can have a big effect.

One of the most important things is being able to listen. We all instinctively know this but perhaps neglect it when it’s our own kids. As a parent you will probably be hit by a barrage of communication all day and it is very tempting to just switch off. If you are busy or trying to concentrate on something then again you won’t be inclined to listen to what your child wants to say. Continue reading