Thursday, August 23, 2012

Safety First?

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.  

Write on!


  1. Safe is ... well, safe, isn't it? It's so hard to intentionally wound yourself for your writing. But I sometimes think that the reason the Lord allows bad things to happen to us -- in addition to personal growth -- is so that we can minister to others through our pain. But that requires that we live through that pain again, doesn't it?

    You've given us lots to think about, Annette. Thanks to you and the McCritters. :)

    1. Thanks, Angie. And not just the hard stuff, but the funny stuff too! But I think it's also cathartic as well. Oh, the sacrifices we make for our readers!

  2. Great post. If we cry when we write, we're doing it right. :)


    1. Great slogan, Danie! :D We should post that beside our computer monitors/screens.

  3. I guess it's a good sign then, that the Puffs box next to my laptop is almost empty. Actually, it's the second or third box through this current manuscript—a historical novel based on an actual battle during the American Revolution, told from the POV of the 18-year-old daughter. I am in emotional pain writing this...and so glad it's a few chapters shy of being complete! Before I started writing novels, I never knew how emotional this job could be. It was a lot less intense when I was doing simple feature stories for newspapers and magazines! Not many tears there. ;-)

    Thanks for a great post.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Elaine. Yes, a lot more emotional, huh? I didn't address this in the post, but make sure you take time to recharge. Pouring out that much emotion can be a real drain. But, I also believe your story is going to be stronger for all the sacrifice you're throwing in. Write on!


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