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.

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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.

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