Monday, August 9, 2010

Are You Feelin' Me by Ocieanna Fleiss

One of the trickiest parts of writing is eliciting emotion from your readers. This new series from our good friend and critique partner, Ocieanna Fleiss, provides some great tips for helping infuse those stories with emotional payout.

Are Ya Feelin’ Me?
Fire up Emotions for Stronger Stories
* (Part One)
by Ocieanna Fleiss

We writers can learn a lot from movies. Take the two DVDs I watched recently. The first, Fantastic Four, was cartoonish, verging on outlandish, but I couldn’t stop watching (past bedtime even!). The characters’ universal emotions—loneliness, insecurity, abandonment, fear—captured me.

I snoozed through the second Mr. and Mrs. Smith—boring! Despite the fast-paced suspense and A-list actors, the characters’ lackluster relationship left me uninterested, so their predicaments didn’t matter.

What can we do to prevent such audience disconnection? Stirring our readers’ fear, anxiety, compassion, empathy, or joy not only wards off boredom—it keeps ‘em reading. Follow these pointers to tap into those deepest emotions.

What’s at Stake?

In You’ve Got Mail, when Kathleen Kelly’s children’s bookstore goes out of business, my eyes moisten as I mourn along with her. But why?

Because it’s not just a bookstore.

By the time her competition ruthlessly runs it out of business, I’ve totally bought into why The Shop Around the Corner means so much. The aisles are filled with childhood memories of sweet times with Kathleen’s mother who has passed away. When it shuts down, it’s like “losing her all over again.” Because the emotional stakes have been established, when the “closed” sign turns for the last time, I experience Kathleen’s disappointment.

Takeaway: Build the stakes early by thinking first about what you want the emotional climax to be, and then go backwards from there.

Feel This Way

In the movie In the Name of the Father, the protagonist’s father has been imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. His fellow inmates come to love him, and when he dies, these hardened criminals each release small scraps of flaming paper from their windows, lighting the night in a heartrending memorial. Consider the power of this display versus a more obvious scene: “I miss him so much,” one inmate could’ve sobbed. “He was such a great guy.” Yuck.

Takeaway: Show don’t tell. I know. You’ve heard it before, but building a sensory scene rather than littering a story with intricately explained emotions reaps a big payoff.

Next week, more on how to elicit an emotional connection and response from your readers.

*This article appeared in Northwest Christian Author Newsletter and Fiction Fix.


Ocieanna Fleiss has cowritten two novels with Tricia Goyer—both for Summerside press. The most recent, Love Finds You in Victory Heights, Washington, released July, 2010. Ocieanna has also written several articles for national publications and a bi-monthy column for Northwest Christian Writers Association. Homeschool mom of four little ones, she, along with her husband, stay busy at her home in the Seattle area.


Love Finds You in Victory Heights, Washington released in July, 2010.

The Second World War has stolen Rosalie's fiancé from her. But rather than wallow, Rosalie throws herself into her work at the Boeing plant in Victory Heights, shooting rivets into the B-17 bombers that will destroy the enemy. A local reporter dubs her Seattle's Own Rosie the Riveter, and her story lends inspiration to women across the country. While Rosalie's strong arms can bear the weight of this new responsibility, her heart cannot handle the intense feelings that begin to surface for Kenny, the handsome reporter. Fear of a second heartbreak is a powerful opponent - but will it claim victory over love?

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