Hey writers, Annette here. I’m reading a book right now where there is all kinds of potential for the heroine to feel something—many things: the deep wound of betrayal; the desolation of rejection; the ache of loneliness. And though the writer describes these emotions, showing us how the heroine is suffering (in the sense of showing us her tears, etc.), I don’t feel a thing.
Now, two elements could lead to that: 1) I have no emotions; I was born without them. (ha ha) or 2) the author is showing the characters actions, but not giving us a relatable anchor for feeling them ourselves.
Let me give you an example. A little while ago, our dear McCritter and fellow hostess here on SW, Ocieanna, had written about her cardiac arrest in a non-fiction manuscript she was working on. As she described her family’s journey through that agonizing night, we cried. That McCritter table was awash in tears. Pass the tissues! As a mom, I related as she relayed how her oldest child had described the life-and-death events from his own perspective. Wow. Intense. Emotional. And presented in deep POV. We felt it!
That’s what readers want. We want to feel what’s being described.
So, here’s the deal: we writers are no longer safe.
In order to write in a such a way as to elicit that kind of response, Ocieanna had to give us an emotional anchor (mother-child love) and take us into the pain. There was no skirting around it. She didn’t avoid the conflict/tension/pain. She grabbed our hands and dragged (you get the idea) us right in there with her dear family. Wow. Very impactful. Very emotional. Very unsafe.
The other night, we McCritters got together and one of us was playing it safe. Uh-oh. Can’t do that. For our writing to be impactful, life-changing, satisfying for the reader, we must be vulnerable. We must go into the deep emotional places we spend our lives trying to avoid and take readers there with us. Then, we give them a satisfying read. Thing is, those dark places only highlight the glory of God’s light in our lives.
So, grab some courage, and repeat after me: I will no longer play it safe. Now, find an intense scene in your manuscript and milk it for tension and conflict, then drag us into the true emotional center of it. Remember, sometimes less is more, and keep the balance believable (i.e., if the heroine has a hangnail, don’t let her have a nervous breakdown over it). Be believable. Be relatable. Don’t be safe.