The Emotional Connection | Author Toolbox Blog Hop

Posted by on Apr 18, 2017 in #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, Creativity and the Writing Process, Uncategorized | 17 comments

The Emotional Connection | Author Toolbox Blog Hop

I am knee deep in the revisions of my current WiP—a sequel to my debut fantasy novel The Healer’s Rune—and I’ve come upon a problem. Although my plot is technically correct, the story itself lacks the spark of life. This is not an uncommon problem among authors, so I turned to two Internet-based writer’s groups that I belong to for help. In the course of the discussion, I was introduced to The Emotional Craft of Fiction by literary agent Donald Maass.

In the opening pages of this writing resource, Maass states: “The most useful question is not how can I get across what characters are going through? The better question is how can I get readers to go on emotional journeys of their own?” (2).

Maass goes on to argue that, although a manuscript can be well written and technically correct in every aspect of plot, those characteristics don’t guarantee that readers will be caught up and carried away by the story. He proposes that what is lacking in this instance is an emotional connection.

Ah ha! I thought. This sounds like exactly the problem my manuscript is suffering from.

My guess is, I’m not the only one. If Maass is right when he states, “Emotional impact is not an extra. It’s as fundamental to a novel’s purpose and structure as its plot. The emotional craft of fiction underlies the creation of character arcs, plot turns, beginnings, midpoints, endings, and strong scenes. It is the basis of voice” (4), then the emotional impact of our stories is something all authors should look at more closely. But where to begin?

In The Emotional Craft of Fiction Maass proposes three primary paths to producing emotion in readers. He calls them “inner mode,” “outer mode,” and “other mode.”

  • Inner mode involves the telling of emotions – authors repot what characters are feeling so effectively that readers feel something, too.
  • Outer mode involves the showing of emotions – authors provoke in readers what characters may be feeling by implying their inner state through external action.
  • Other mode involves causing readers to feel something that a story’s characters do not feel themselves.

Maass does not spend a lot of time on inner mode and outer mode. While he discusses them in sufficient detail in chapter two, and includes advice on how to wield them most effectively, he postulates that writers are already most familiar with these two modes. With this in mind, he devotes the rest of the book expounding upon what he calls other mode, which he says is not a single technique or principle, but a “vast array of elements tuned like the instruments in an orchestra to create a soaring emotional effect” (30). He spends the remainder of the book detailing these elements and includes writing exercises to help authors develop or enrich the emotional levels of their current works in progress.

As I write this blog, I am half-way through Maass’ book. Working through each of the writing exercises has helped me discover and develop the missing spark that my work lacked, and I am once again excited about my current WiP.

How about you? How important do you think developing an emotional connection is to the full development of a novel? How easy or difficult is it for you to include/develop the emotional layer of your work?

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  1. Emotion is absolutely needed for every novel. If there is no emotion, why should the reader care!!

    Thanks for Sharing Maas’s thoughts on this subject and find that I agree!!

  2. Emotion is so important to a novel. If the reader doesn’t feel it, she doesn’t care. thanks for the tips.

  3. I read a post yesterday on the StoryFix blog which made a similar point, but from a different perspective. An actor was saying his favourite roles to play were the ones where the character had an emotional journey. He went on to say that as many movies are based on novels, novelists need to include that emotional journey.

    But easier said than done … I must check out Donald Maass’s book! Thanks for the heads-up.

  4. This is one the most useful posts I’ve come across on the hop so far, and there have been some really brilliant posts! I haven’t read any Maass yet but I’ve come across his name lots, this is something I really want to get right in my current WIP, the emotional connection between the text and the reader. I’ll be checking out more of Maass’s writing advice after this, thanks so much for sharing 😀

  5. So many aha moments while reading your post, Lauricia. I’m going to go to bed dreaming about if and where I’ve created “the other.” Donald Maass: read an article by him this morning, no yesterday morning (the days are blending: not a good sign), and I heard his name mentioned in a podcast recently as well. He’s a great resource for all kinds of writerly advice. Thank you so much for introducing me to this book *adds to to read list*, and thank you for participating in the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop! I’m definitely going to share this post further. 🙂

  6. Interesting post 🙂
    I always find it easier to develop an emotional layer to my work when I’ve experienced similar things to my characters myself. Writing fantasy is always harder: I can only imagine what it’s like to be chased by a dragon and hope that I convey the emotions just right!

    • I agree. I also find that it’s helpful to imagine what emotions I have experienced that are useful in my fantasy scenarios. I have never been chased by a dragon, but I did almost get hit by a car that spun out of a collision as I as crossing the highway along Malibu beach. The fear and sense of seeing my doom flying at me would transfer nicely to the dragon scene. 🙂

  7. I have 2 WIPs that are interconnected. The first one is nearing publication-ready, and I managed to invoke some great emotional connections right from the start in the first draft. The second WIP is a 2nd draft now, but it still lacks the emotional depth and vibrancy of the first story. In a few months, I need to get to work on fixing that somehow. You’ve given me some ideas on where to start!

    I wonder if it’s common for a sequel to initially lack some of what made the first story take off and fly.

    • I am so glad to hear that someone else is experiencing the same thing. Perhaps it is a regular occurrence, which gives me hope because if others have gone this way before, then someone else has figured out the solution to the problem. 🙂

  8. Emotional connection is one of the most important aspects of keeping a reader engaged. Thanks for reminding my about the Donald Maas books. I’ve read 2 of them, but not The Emotional Craft of Fiction. That’s now next on my list.

    • My pleasure! I was so thrilled to find this discovery that I had to share. I’m pleased it is helpful.

  9. Developing an emotional connection is simply key. Agents and readers alike won’t care about a book they can’t connect to. This need to connect is why show vs. tell is a thing, and why filter words are bad! That said, of course it’s tough to do. After all, your readers can’t possibly be going through the same thing as your MC (in most genres, anyway). So you have to convert your MC’s struggle to a similar, if perhaps less dangerous, struggle or emotion in your reader.

    • Yes, exactly!

  10. Emotional investment in the characters is so important! I agree with Maass, a book could be perfect in every other way, but if I’m not feeling the characters, odds are I’m not feeling the book either! Great points, thanks for sharing! 😀

    • My pleasure! Thanks for stopping by.

  11. I think forming an emotional connection with the reader is critical. Thanks for giving me insight into Maas’s book on the subject. I have just started delving into craft books and will definitely add this one to the list. Another great book on helping draw in readers is Story Genius by Lisa Cron. Good luck editing your WIP and I am thrilled your excitement in it has been renewed.

    • Thank you! And thanks for the information about Story Genius. I’ll check it out next.

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