After looking at my last post, I realized that I’m reading a lot of writing books. It must be the new year and the desire to write better. Except it might not be that as I’m always looking for ways to improve. My latest read is Donald Maass’ The Emotional Craft Of Fiction: How To Write The Story Beneath The Surface.
I had the pleasure of meeting him when I sat at his dinner table during my first writer’s conference. He’s a very nice man and I cold-pitched my first manuscript without realizing I had until he called me out on it. Needless to say I was embarrassed and elated after he requested fifty pages. Ultimately, he passed on it, and rightly so, but his letter is one I’ve kept over the years because he was so honest with me about why he rejected my manuscript. Two paragraphs of all the things he did not like with one sentence of what he liked. Did I cry? You bet, but his remarks were accurate. Isn’t 20/20 hindsight awesome.
At the same conference, I also attended a workshop where he spoke about putting the fire in the fiction. It was helpful and insightful. Since then, I’ve always bought his books because I want his guidance still, even if it is only in the written form. His most recent one is about putting emotion in the story and I think anyone can benefit from it.
Here are a few of my favorite tidbits:
“Great storytellers…make the emotional life of characters the focus rather than the sideshow. They make familiar emotions fresh and small feelings large.”
“True emotional engagement happens when a reader isn’t just enjoying a character’s patter, but when she cannot avoid self reflection, whether she’s aware of it happening or not.”
“Skillful authors play against expected feelings. They go down several emotional layers in order to bring up emotions that will catch readers by surprise.”
“What gets readers going are feelings that are fresh and unexpected.”
“The first is to report what characters are feeling so effectively that readers feel something too. This is inner mode, the telling of emotions….The second is to provoke in readers what characters may be feeling by implying their inner state through external action. This is outer mode, the showing of emotions….The third method is to cause readers to feel something that a story’s characters do not themselves feel. This is the other mode, an emotional dialogue between author and reader.”
Aren’t they wonderful? I’m sure if you read it, you’ll find even more helpful tips and writing exercises.