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How to Effectively “Tell” Emotions in Fiction

This post originally, drawn from material in my Emotional Mastery course, ran on Larry Brooks’s blog in the summer. Reprinted here for your edification!

Many amateur writers ineffectively tell or name what a character’s emotions are. That’s often because they haven’t learned masterful ways to get the emotion across.

Telling an emotion doesn’t make readers feel or experience the emotion. It often creates more problems: the writing gets burdened with lists of emotions, and in the writer’s attempt to push harder in the hope of conveying emotion, she overdoes it. Adding to that, she might throw in all those body sensations for good measure, cramming the prose with so much “emotion” that the only thing readers feel is irritation.

Yet, there may be times when telling emotion is masterfully done. You can find plenty of excellent novels in which characters name the emotions they’re feeling. Continue Reading…

Entice Your Readers with “Surprisingness”

This post originally ran on Helping Writers to Become Authors in August, 2019.

Have you ever read a book for a second, third, even tenth time—all to experience the emotion the story evokes? Clearly the elements of the story aren’t a surprise. You know exactly what to expect.

Literary agent Donald Maass says that emotions are most effectively evoked by trickery—when readers aren’t noticing we are manipulating them. He says “Artful fiction surprises readers with their own feelings.”

I can honestly say that, as a reader, the best novels do just that. They evoke such emotions from me—unexpected emotions—that I am stunned by my own reactions.

This doesn’t mean a writer’s key objective with any novel is to accomplish this at every turn. This is a masterful thing to do, but we writers want to evoke emotion throughout our novels—big, small, expected, and unexpected. Even when we know what emotion is being stirred in us, when we see what’s coming, it doesn’t reduce the impact. Continue Reading…

Why Writers Should Trust Their Intuition

Awhile back, I shared a number of quotes from famous authors on writing. These were quotes I came across that I disagreed with. Some I felt were just plain bad advice, and I gave my reasons.

But so as not to sound utterly haughty, I am happy to admit there is a lot of great writing advice out there. Only you can decide what is “truth” for you. My aim at sharing my thoughts like this is to help writers listen more intuitively to suggestions or critiques.

Elizabeth George, in her writing craft book Write Away, writes about listening to our bodies, paying attention to how a scene feels to us. I relate to this intuitive method strongly. Here are some things she says: Continue Reading…