Scratch It Till It Bleeds

The story was good. It flowed well. I didn't see any real writing blunders, but something was missing.
It was a paid critique for a conferee and it needed to be concise and filled with direction. I saved my critique notes and put them away. Maybe tomorrow, I could put my finger on what was wrong with this manuscript. How could you have good writing and flow, no holes, good dialogue, and still have something missing?

I turned off my computer and headed to bed. I thought I was sleeping well, but at 1 a.m. sharp, I sat straight up in the bed with the answer. There was little to no emotion. The story was good, but weak because it lacked emotion.

I owe a lot of my writing lessons to my dear friend Eddie Jones. I’ve told him repeatedly through the years that it was he who took enough interest in my potential, to teach me to write. To this day, I still refer to him as a tough old bird but that toughness taught me a valuable lesson. He believed in my ability when my peers giggled at me behind my back.

We were working on a fiction novel together when he called. I’ll never forget the words. “Cindy, you write well. You have a great description, and good thoughts but it’s like you’re standing out in the left field. You’re nowhere near your story. You need to learn to step into your story and bleed.”

Bleeding onto the page was not a phrase I’d heard at that time but when he explained it, boy did it make sense.

He was right, a story without emotion is flat and I see this frequently in critiques I do. Everything seems to be there but the story has no umph. So I want to teach you what Eddie wisely taught me.

Add emotion to your writing. Find it and insert it but don’t insert it haphazardly. Mean it. The question then becomes how do I find a deep emotion? 

Emotion is not always having your protagonist sobbing on the street corner. Certainly, emotional scenes move the reader but it’s more than a sad, heart-wrenching thing.

Here are some ways to learn to find emotion:

*Emotion comes from the description of the scenery around the story. Learn to look around your fictional space and dig out the breeze that blows and how it feels. Does it send chills or does it feel like a kiss? The emotion is deeper than just seeing the object or feeling the things in the scene. It’s digging into the effects of those things on your character. Ask the question – How does this make my character feel? And if you can’t answer the question, then it’s time to look deeper. The things around us stir emotion be it a baby’s laughter or the touch of a breeze.

*Find the place in your soul that stirs you, moves you to tears, and then, as Eddie said, scratch it until it bleeds. It doesn’t mean you write sad things it means you connect to the things that move you and then you allow that to direct your words. When you grasp doing this, you will write better scenes than ever before be they joyous or sad.

*Don’t be afraid to share your emotion. Readers aren’t going to think you’re silly, instead, they relate to your characters feeling joy or empathy, even anger. Show don’t tell. Show the reader the reaction of the emotion because then, they can draw the picture in their mind.

*Use strong dialogue – Think of those emotional times you’ve shared with friends. Remember the conversation. It’s usually raw and untapped. Share that with your readers. Banter displays deep emotion so learn to utilize it. Allow your characters to talk not just bottle up their emotions.

It takes time to develop good emotion in your writing because it means you must allow yourself to become vulnerable. You must learn to feel deeper than you have before. Once you find that scab in your heart, then scratch it. Let it bleed. You will find the best words you have ever had will flow onto the page.

Photos courtesy of & Anemone123

Image by Alexa from Pixabay 


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