Dear Murderby4 friends and fans.
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that you'll enjoy an equally marvelous New Year's Eve. Please help me welcome back writer Joe O'Donnell today with his brand new article on how to evoke genuine emotion from readers. And don't forget to check out his books and movie below!
- Aaron Paul Lazar, USA Today bestselling author
HOW TO INJECT EMOTION INTO YOUR WRITING
One of the most difficult concepts for writers of mystery fiction to master is the art of injecting emotion into their writing. Too often, the description of a scene or passages of dialogue come off as being trite or too familiar and, as a result, the intended emotion completely misses the mark. Even worse, the reader chuckles rather than being touched or moved by the story. Why do so many writers struggle with this concept? The answer is simple: it’s a really hard concept to master.
Fiction editor Beth Hill of the Editor’s Blog (theeditorsblog.net) has written a number of excellent essays that deal with the subject of emotion in fiction writing. These essays are “must” reading for any writer of mystery fiction. In her blog of January 30, 2011, “Creating Emotion in the Reader,” Beth states: “One technique the writer can make use of to create reality out of fiction is to induce emotion in readers, make them feel something of what the characters are experiencing. Writer and reader know the fictional events aren’t real, but the emotion can be. Readers can fear and feel joy and be excited and know grief. They can laugh and cry, shiver and rage. All from reading a story.”
So, how does a writer do this? First of all, don’t just “tell” how one of your characters reacts to an event; make sure you “show” how the character reacts. If, for example, a female character in your novel is being held captive, and you want to convey a feeling of fright and hopelessness, don’t just write, “Susan was frightened and feared that she would never get out of this captivity alive.” Rather, try to show the depth of her fear and create a vivid, emotional image of Susan as follows:
“For Susan, the nights were the most frightening time of all. She struggled to fall asleep. Every sound startled her. She felt a chill as she stared up at the ceiling. Her hand trembled as she reached for her cup of water. She was isolated and alone in this cabin—held captive for six days and too afraid to attempt an escape. She began to sob quietly. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she said to herself, “Will I ever get out of this place alive?”
If you want to elicit emotion in your readers, you need to practice writing about those times in your own life that affected you emotionally. Write a paragraph or two about an event that brought you to tears. Was it a wedding ceremony, a death, your first public speaking event or the break-up with your first love? Describe how you felt. Did you feel overwhelmed? Helpless? Did you swallow hard or did your mouth go dry? Was your body quivering uncontrollably? If you were frightened at some point, did you sweat, stammer, or find it difficult to breathe? Was your heart pounding? Did your knees feel weak? Were you hyperventilating?
All of these descriptive phrases help readers to fully grasp the emotion of your characters. Remember, you are trying to create a clear image in the mind of your readers. Is your character truly feeling joy, pain, fear or despair? You want this image to be impactful and draw them into your story—to feel connected and want to read more.
Love scenes can also pose a difficult challenge. Too often they are formulaic and present a sweaty, X-rated, four-letter-worded anatomy lesson rather than creating a compelling emotional bond between two lovers that will truly inspire a reader. One of the best ways to improve your ability to put emotion into love scenes is to listen to the lyrics of love songs. Take notes on how the words affect you. Do they grab at your heart? Make you look back at a lost love? Recall a special moment in your life? Make you feel regret? Make you appreciate your current relationship more than ever? Put these feelings into writing—don’t hesitate to dig deep into your own emotions—and soon enough you will be creating passages and dialogue that will be full of emotions that will not only affect you, but will bring your reader closer to your characters.
In a passage from Pulse of My Heart: A Gallagher Novel, the once vibrant relationship between my protagonist, Gallagher and his love interest, Kate, had become strained and distant. He struggled to get close to her, but she had pushed him away—both physically and emotionally. See how the following scene ignores the temptation to use hard-core descriptive phrases and, instead, delivers vivid, emotional imagery in order to create a memorable connection—a true bond—between the reader and the characters.
“Then one night, while he slept on the couch, he felt her hand on his face. She leaned over and kissed him.
No words had been spoken. She had rested her head on his chest and caressed his neck. Then she had led him back to the bedroom.
He remembered lying next to her naked body, feeling her smooth warm skin once again.
But that was Kate—always warm.
At times it seemed like a fire burned within her.
After weeks of ice, their bodies had melted together passionately that night. Kate’s body had come alive with a new level of arousal and urgency.
She had pulled him closer, desperate to feel him within her in order to satisfy a deep longing.
Perhaps to create a lasting memory.
An hour later, as they rested quietly on the bed, he had looked at her.
“A chuisle mo chroi,” he had said, reciting again the Irish phrase “pulse of my heart.” Words that always perfectly summed up his feeling for her.
He loved her more than ever.
“Mo chuisle,” she had said softly. But her voice had quivered. Her eyes had filled with tears. She had looked away.
Nothing more had been said, but he had known what was about to happen.
He was powerless to stop her.
The next day she was gone.
And his life had been torn apart.
Similarly, your dialogue can help to create a vivid image of your main character, or even a minor character without the use of descriptive passages. Is he/she clever, sharp-witted, intelligent, or shrewd? These are only a few of the dozens of characteristics that can be demonstrated through good use of dialogue.
Take, for example, this brief encounter in a hospital emergency triage room after Gallagher is attacked by an intruder and suffers a knife wound to his abdomen. For a variety of reasons, Gallagher prefers to keep the police from knowing about the attack.
The triage nurse in the emergency room lifted the towel away from the wound in Gallagher’s side.
“You’re lucky. It’s not too deep, but it’s going to need some stitches,” she said with authority.
“I figured it needed stitches. That’s why I came here,” said Gallagher.
“Who brought you?”
“With a gash like this?”
“Didn’t want to wait for a cab.”
“Cut myself shaving.”
She flashed a skeptical smirk. “Maybe you should try a Norelco.”
He smiled. Her spunky retort had momentarily taken his mind off the pain in his side.
She placed a clean towel over his wound, turned and began to walk out of the cubicle. Then she looked back at Gallagher with a parting shot.
“If you stick to that story about the shaving accident, I’ll tell the doctor to just have you bite on a bullet while he’s placing the stitches.”
Gallagher gave her a thumbs up, acknowledging the good comeback. She winked as she pulled back the curtain and left the cubicle.
Although this scene has no physical description of the triage nurse, her dialogue alone creates a striking, positive image in the reader’s mind. Notice that the lines are short—more like everyday speech. Long lines of dialogue should be used sparingly. Also note that you don’t have to use the dialogue tags, “said” or “replied,” after every line. Pacing is so important in fiction writing. Once you establish the back and forth of the communication exchange, the tags only serve to slow things down and distract the reader.
Always remember: Write to please yourself. If a passage in your novel strikes you emotionally and causes you to well up, it’s likely to do the same to your readers. If you continue writing with this focus, the door to success is clearly within your reach.
JP O’Donnell is the author of Fatal Gamble and DeadlyCodes: A Gallagher Novel. Pulse of My Heart is the latest in JP’s Gallagher series. Pulse of My Heart is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Outskirts Press as a soft cover, hard cover and digital format. An audiobook version will be released in January 2019.The feature length motion picture, Bent (2018) is based on characters created by JP in his Gallagher novels. Bent stars Karl Urban as Gallagher, Sofia Vergara as Rebecca, and Andy Garcia and Grace Byers in supporting roles. Bobby Moresco, Academy Award winner for Crash (Best Picture 2004), is the screenwriter and director of Bent.
For more information, please visit the author’s website: www.jpodonnell.com.