Planning the emotional response your novel invokes in its readers

Revision as of 17:43, 23 September 2012 by NewMexicoKid (talk | contribs)

This is for an October 6th workshop (2012)

Novels and the emotions they evoke

  • Just as dialogue differs from conversations, so are novels different from real life. Dialogue is stylized, crafted verbal exchanges of information among characters. Novels are stylized, crafted simulations of life that are written with the intent to tell stories and connect with the emotions of the reader. Are all novels filled with emotions? No; but those with low emotional resonance will tend to feel cold and distant.
  • Emotions pull the reader into the story.
  • Writers do not need to feel an emotion when writing a scene, but they do need to tap into the emotion. They need to know how to convey the emotion to the reader and get them to feel it.

What readers look for

K. Iglesias

  • Fresh characters
  • Unique settings
  • Something that the readers know but presented in a way that moves the readers

Four emotional needs of readers

K. Iglesias

  • A need for new information
  • A need to identify and relate with the main character
  • A need for resolution and completion
  • Emotional impact

Three types of storytelling emotions

K. Iglesias

  • voyeuristic (from curiosity)
  • vicarious (identifying with the main character)
  • visceral (the experienced emotions) -- these are the ones that lead to entertainment of the reader

Techniques to use

  • Write in scenes that show the reader through character action and response rather than in narration that tells what happened. Help the reader step into your characters' shoes and feel what the character feels.
  • Help the reader identify with your characters by making your characters sympathetic. The better the reader gets to know and understand your characters, the more likely they are to identify with them. The tragedies that happen to strangers will not mean as much as tragedies that happen to friends and family.
  • Alternately, make your characters unsympathetic (e.g., show them being cruel and uncaring).
  • Don't take it easy on your characters and those near to them; death, injury, misunderstanding, betrayal, forced choices.
  • Anticipation heightens emotions: tease the reader with hints of what is to come.
  • Your word choices can trigger emotional cues. E.g., having a character use language they do not normally do can shock the reader. You can use words throughout the scene to match the thematic overtunes. Harsh and sharp words go best with harsh emotions, etc.
  • Establish situations that are important (life-altering/life-threatening); set things up so that your protagonist's actions having meaning and consequences.
  • Use time constraints to heighten the tension.
  • Force your character to choose between a bad option and a worse one.
  • Keep the story moving; use the story pacing to keep the tension but remember to leaven this with character development/interaction "breathers" so you do not exhaust your readers. Note that shorter sentences and paragraphs can help to speed the pace; longer phrases and paragraphs slow it down.
  • Keep the story realistic. Unrealistic problems and situations can bring your reader out of your book.
  • Use surprise to keep the reader guessing and off of a sure footing.
  • Interweave conflict into every scene. There are different levels and dimensions to conflict.
  • Reduce focus on unnecessary/unrelated details to keep the reader's attention on one emotion (when you are trying to do that). Stay in the moment.
  • Use the right setting to set up the reader's reaction and heighten their emotional response.

Plotters and Pantsers

People have different preferences about how much preparation they need before they begin writing their novels.

Approaches towards plotting/planning

  • Mindmaps (XMind and Freeplane)
  • index cards and bulletin boards
  • snowflake method

Your Story Idea

K. Iglesias

  • Your character desires something and something/someone opposes your character
  • Conflict and dramatic action
  • Your character's drive for their goal must overcome the obstacles; there must be an unwillingness to compromise
  • Focus on elements that drive the visceral reaction:

Interest, curiosity (what happens next), anticipation, suspense, tension, surprise


Compelling Characters

How to define them

Rita Kuehn, founder of On Point, suggests that all lead characters have at least these four characteristics:

  • admirable (positive characteristics)
  • relatable (so your readers can identify with them)
  • realistic - stay consistency with their personalities
  • problem solver - the character has a truly challenging problem but the readers believe the character can solve it

Primary traits

  • These are 4-5 dominant traits that define your main character and that will exist throughout the novel.
  • You can then place your character in situations to challenge those traits.

Traits to add complexity

  • These are traits that add depth to the primary traits without contradicting them.

Traits to contrast with primary traits

  • These are the 1-2 traits that can make your character move away from the path of their primary traits.
  • These are humanizing traits that add vulnerability to your character


Engaging Plots


Gripping Scenes