This week: Motion and EmotionEdited by: LJPC - the tortoise
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This newsletter is about how to use character emotion to keep the reader glued to the story.
"Writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions."
~ James Michener
“He liked to observe emotions; they were like red lanterns strung along the dark unknown of another's personality, marking vulnerable points.”
~ Ayn Rand
“People don't ask for facts in making up their minds. They would rather have one good, soul-satisfying emotion than a dozen facts.”
~ Robert Keith Leavitt
“The artist is a receptacle for the emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web.”
~ Pablo Picasso
Motion and Emotion
To keep the plotline of a short story or novel in motion, every scene’s action and dialog should be crafted to drive it forward. From the first paragraph, the information given to the readers needs to raise questions in their minds. But you don't want questions like, “What’s going on? I’m so confused.” You want questions like, “Why is the character doing that? Is someone after them? Did someone get killed? Why?” and the all important “What will happen next?”
As long as the reader wants their questions answered, they’ll keep reading. For a while… However, if they don’t find a character they can connect with, all the surprises and plot twists in the world won’t keep them interested in your story.
When we read, we slip into the skin of the main character. What they want, we want. What makes them happy, makes us happy. What scares them, scares us. Emotion is what makes readers care. It sucks them into the story.
If your reader doesn’t feel strong emotions from your main character, they’ll decide that if the character doesn’t really care, why should they? And they’ll be off to read someone else’s story.
How do you make emotional connections with the reader?
Four Ways to Show Emotion in Your Writing
1) Inner Physical Reactions -- A character’s most immediate reaction to stress is physical. The heartbeat can speed up, sweat can pop out on the skin, the muscles can tense, the stomach can lurch, etc. Choose which reaction best fits the situation and write it with creativity (beware of clichés like butterflies in the stomach).
2) Outer Physical Reactions -- Characters can express emotion through actions and body language. Anger might make them stiffen, stand taller, or ball their fists. Embarrassment might make them cringe, stare at the floor or shuffle their feet. You can use the character’s posture, facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, etc., to show their emotions.
3) Memories --Instead of relying on showing physical reactions all the time, you can make the character’s emotions obvious to the reader by using a memory from the character’s past. For instance, to show embarrassment, you could write:
”Anna raised her gaze from the broken glass at her feet and saw everyone staring at her. It felt like that reoccurring nightmare where she was suddenly naked in front of a crowd.”
Or to show unhappiness, you can write:
”Peter threw the letter in the garbage after reading the paragraph that started with I’m so sorry …. It was just like the one he’d gotten from his first wife. He didn’t have to read it all. He got it. He’d been abandoned again.”
In both of these examples, you don’t need to write “Anna flushed with embarrassment” or “Peter hung his head, tears pricking his eyelids.” By the description of the character’s memories, the reader will know exactly what they’re feeling inside.
Think about your character’s backstory and how that affects them in the present, and then you’ll have subjects to insert as emotional reactions.
4) Imagination -- Characters can betray inner feelings through their imaginings. These flashes can show what the character desires or fears even though they’re not real. For instance,
”Tom whipped the stolen artifact behind his back, picturing the look of shock and disgust that would flicker across his father’s face if he saw it.”
Keep the plot moving forward through action and dialog, but focus on the characters’ emotions in order to keep readers glued to your story.
At stressful moments in the narrative, show the characters’ emotions by using inner and/or outer physical reactions.
As an alternative to physical reactions, like “Her heart pounded” (Seriously, how many times have you read that in a story? I’ve read it a lot. ), you can use mental pictures of past experiences/backstory or future hopes or fears to show the characters’ inner emotions.
Until next time: Let the horror bleed onto the pages with every word!
Here are some scary and emotional stories for your reading pleasure!
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Your full time Horror Newsletter Editors:
Brooke - I'm backkkk :) Kate Writes ^_^ billwilcox
and LJPC - the tortoise .
To my delight, some writers took the time to comment on my last newsletter: "Writing Horror for Kids" Thank you!
Comments listed in the order they were received.
Vampyr14 writes: What a fantastic breakdown of the different kids' genres!
Thanks for commenting!
PuppyTales writes: It's been so long since I've written for children. You've inspired me! I must do it again.
Exploring the deliciously creeped-out feelings we had as children can inspire fun story ideas! Thanks for commenting.
BIG BAD WOLF is Feeling Lucky submits "What's Behind Me?" and writes: You have to laugh.
I always enjoy my horror sprinkled with some laughter!
Taniuska writes: Fantastic post on writing for kids, and your were spot on with your Things to Remember. I find voice is the hardest thing to pull off when writing for kids, not to mention it's what all agents and publishers are looking for too. Authentic voice. Loving your posts.
Voice is the hardest part of writing from a child’s point-of-view. It’s not only getting the style of the words/phrasing right, but making sure that the logic (or rather, lack of logic) works with the child’s limited knowledge, experience and maturity level. Some adults find it very difficult to write without using their hard-won experience and cynicism. Thanks for replying!
billwilcox writes: When writing for children or writing for teens one should never make the mistake of 'dumbing down' the content. Kids can sense it. They know what they like and they love to be scared. You don't have to be bloody and show all the gore, but you can refer to it, make them cringe just like you would any adult. The point is to not hold back; a good story holds true to any generation. Write well and your audience will follow you no matter where you lead. That long dark path is just as creepy for a child as it is for an adult, more so.
I sort of agree with you here. However, a story revolving around a guy who murders his wife because he was tired of the marriage or a woman who finds out her boss is a serial killer won’t resonate with children. They want to read about kids their own age having adventures. For more, read: Don’t Dumb Down Kids’ Books
k-9cooper writes: LJPC,
That's some good advice on writing horror for kids. I don't personally have any ideas for this subject. Now that I have read you newsletter I have realized some ideas that come to mind. So maybe someday. To add to your list of kids books or I shall say YA books. James Patterson writes a good series that just recently ended called "Maximum Ride". It's very good. Check it out.
Thanks very much for the comments and for the suggestion. I’m glad you’re enjoying James Patterson. His books are exciting!
Mark Allen Mc Lemore writes: This doesn't have anything to do with this newsletter, but it makes me think of something; I think child antagonists in scary movies are so creepy, especially little girls. I am almost 40 years old and when I see them in movies they give me the chills.
I totally agree! Murderous or possessed children are very scary. It has to do with the juxtaposition of something seemingly harmless and good with what’s deadly and evil.
Catherine Hall writes: Thank you for all the information about writing horror for different age-groups of children. I'm not a huge fan of gore so I didn't put the horror newsletter on my list but I'll check in on it more often now. You've given me a greater understanding of what to consider when writing for children in horror and, I think, in mystery/detective and adventure stories. It's going in my reference folder.
Thanks so much for the comments, Catherine! Writing kids’ adventures -- whether horror, mystery or fantasy -- can be very fun. Go for it!
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