Sparking Emotions in Your Readers

by Kathleen Freeman

You’re writing a scene where the POV character remembers pretending to perform in a circus with her brother.  Aw, that’s sweet…we think. Except for a mere mention of an event tells us nothing about the experience. Was it a good moment or a less than positive time in her life? We know she had a childhood and a brother. We know she was imaginative. Or maybe her brother was the one with the imagination? These are important facts, but as readers, we look to the details to inform us how this memory was relevant to the current situation. If a picture says a thousand words, we need the thousand words and more to paint an effective picture, set a mood, show her feelings and the events shaping those feelings. Without these thousand words, the reader won’t experience the “ah,” the “oh,” and the “yikes” of the scene.

So how do we spark these feelings in readers?

As writers, we gift people with exposition. We educate and edify by giving readers glimpses into the character’s psyche, for better or worse. We get the joy of exposing details. In those details, we help readers feel what our characters feel, for better or worse. Were brother and sister hand-in-hand standing on the backs of two horses? What were the horses like? Did the two children bend their knees as the horses cantered around the ring? Did the horses have wide or narrow backs, plumes of feathers on their heads? Did her brother steady her as she almost fell off the make-believe horse? What items did they pretend were horse backs? Mood—the feelings, the emotion—hides in tiny words and specific images.

This is a loving, supportive and positive scene, designed to make readers nostalgic and perhaps look forward to an upcoming reunion or ready them to miss a brother killed in a car accident.If your character misses her brother, ask her why. What, from the past, can showcase those feelings and help your reader step into your POV character’s shoes?  Ask and no doubt she will tell you.

Small changes in detail can have the opposite effect. What if her brother was a whip-wielding lion-tamer, flicking a willow branch in her face and cutting her lip? Perhaps he locked her in a “cage” for fifteen minutes that felt like hours? Such details set the mood for a different story—one about overcoming anger, or her struggle to forgive a brother who now needs her help.

Either way, these scenarios are powerful mood setters and ones that will help readers step into your main character’s mood—two different moods and, thus, impressions of her brother and childhood.

Is this manipulation? Do writers twist readers’ hearts like play dough, fresh and barrel-shaped from its yellow tub? Everyone has reasons for feeling the way they do—fair and rational reasons, whether they are “good guys” or “bad guys.” If you can find your characters’ motivations, reasons for feeling what they do, and explain these reasons to your readers, they will feel the “Oh.” They will also, likely, side with said characters and be willing to overlook some poor behavior and possibly even…stupidity.


Wonderland Wishes– Once upon a Christmas Starr

Miracles happen when you wish upon a Christmas star.

When Misty discovers Papa wanted to be an astronomy professor and gave it up to raise her, she signs him up for grad school and donates her savings to the cause. Unbeknownst to her, Papa has sold his telescope equipment so Misty can quit her ferry job and go to medical school. It’s love, sweet and simple, though a different kind than she feels toward Jack, the med student she meets on her shift. This “Gift of the Magi” retelling is a disaster unless wishes and prayers really do come true.

Kathleen Freeman – Ferry rides across the beautiful Puget Sound and exploring the rocky beaches of Washington are among Kathleen Freeman’s favorite activities. Always fascinated with physiology and the brain, she was inspired to become a brain surgeon after a Star Trek episode. She never pursued that passion, but does brain surgery of a different kind through her writing.  Once upon a Christmas Star is an unexpected nod toThe Gift of the Magi.

Limbo: The Mood Killer

by Cindy Woodsmall, @cindywoodsmall

To clarify “limbo” for the purpose of this article, I went to Dictionary.com. What I found there seemed quite befitting.

The first definition is: “a region on the border of hell or heaven.”

The fourth definition is: “a place or state of imprisonment or confinement.”

When reading an opening of a chapter, any chapter, I’m definitely in a vexed state of imprisonment if the author has me in limbo concerning the setting the character is in. Readers need to know what the character can see, hear, touch, smell, or taste. If that’s missing, the reader is in limbo.

Most writers incorporate some of that in their stories, especially in the beginning. But beyond the first few chapters, many new writers tend to drop the visual aspect, not realizing that one element causes the book to go from engaging to frustrating.

Because writers see the character and the setting in their imagination, they can forget to write the details into each new scene. When I point out the missing information, new writers often say, “It’s there.”

My response is, “It’s there for you because you’re seeing it in your mind. It’s not there for the readers.” If they still seem adamant, I’ll ask them to find and highlight the words that give readers a visual picture of where the character is. That task is eye opening to them.

Sometimes writers will wait several paragraphs before sharing the setting of a scene. With rare exceptions, that is too late to give the reader a visual.

Books should play out in a person’s head much like a movie plays out on a screen. Almost every new scene in all movies start by showing things we need to know to fully immerge into that world. Anything less puts readers in state of limbo.

A character may be confused and unsure as to where she is. But she is somewhere, taking in information through at least a few of the five main senses—seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting.

Once past the first few chapters, writers are often tempted to open a scene by rushing into some type of emotional or action payoff. And while immediate intrigue is important, readers still need a visual of where the character is.

Our writing goal shouldn’t be to mimic a movie. However, research has shown that over 90 percent of the USpopulation are movie watchers—whether at home or in a theater. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 million people, ranging from young children to seniors. That statistic tells us that a story playing out through visualization is satisfying. As writers, we have the power to give that kind of satisfaction to our readers.

Around 63 percent of all movie watchers also enjoy reading fiction, and avid movie buffs are more likely to be readers than non-moviegoers.

Starting a scene with several lines or paragraphs that leave readers in a state of limbo as to the location is like a movie screen going black for several minutes, and we can only hear voices. We’re in limbo until the visuals return.

Pause for a moment and think about where you are physically right now. What can you see? feel? smell? hear? taste?

What would it do to your mind and emotions if you could not decipher where youare—even if for less than five minutes? That’s what happens to readers when we don’t give them enough information to immediately see the character and his or her surroundings. They become confused and bewildered.

Go to the start of each new scene in your current manuscript and read the first paragraph. Can the reader see where your character is? Do you share two or more details of what the character can see, feel, taste, hear, and smell? Do you give at least a hint of the time of day and the season? Have you given an approximation of how much time has passed since the last scene (e.g., “mere hours ago” or “it’d been three weeks since” or “Thanksgiving was right around the corner”)?

Help your readers visualize the events as if they were playing on the screen of their minds. Then readers won’t enter into the mood killer of limbo.

When I’m mulling overaspects of writing, I always appreciate an example, so I grabbed the opening lines of three random books and chapters.

Morning light filtered through the bedroom windows as Hannah made her and Sarah’s bed. Careful not to wake her two youngest sisters, Hannah slipped into her day clothes. — When the Heart Cries,first lines of chapter ten

The aroma of fresh-baked bread, shepherd’s pie, and steamed vegetables filled Lizzy’s house, mingling with the sweet smell of baked desserts. In the hearth a bank of embers kept a small fire burning, removing the nip that clung to the early-April air. —The Sound of Sleigh Bells,first lines of chapter one

Music vibrated the crisp fall air as Ariana sat on the grassy seats of the amphitheater and watched the stage. Nicholas’s hands moved effortlessly across the piano keys as he accompanied a singer. —Fraying at the Edge, first lines of chapter nineteen


Gathering the Threads

Finally back in the Old Order Amish world she loves, will Ariana’s new perspectives draw her family closer together—or completely rip them apart?
After months away in the Englisch world, Ariana Brenneman is overjoyed to be in the Old Order Amish home where she was raised. Yet her excitement is mixed with an unexpected apprehension as she reconciles all she’s learned from her biological parents with the uncompromising teachings of her Plain community. Although her childhood friend, ex-Amish Quill Schlabach, hopes to help her navigate her new role amongst her people, Ariana’s Daed doesn’t understand why his sweet daughter is suddenly questioning his authority. What will happen if she sows seeds of unrest and rebellion in the entire family?
Meanwhile, Skylar Nash has finally found her place among the large Brenneman family, but Ariana’s arrival threatens to unravel Skylar’s new identity—and her sobriety. Both Ariana and Skylar must discover the true cords that bind a family and community together and grasp tight the One who holds their authentic identities close to His heart.

Cindy Woodsmall is an award-winning New York Times and CBA best-selling author who has written 20 works of fiction, including her most recent series, Amish of Summer Grove. Her connection with the Amish community has been widely featured in national media outlets, including ABC’s Nightline. The Wall Street Journal listed Woodsmall as one of the top three most popular authors of Amish fiction. RT Book Reviews recently presented her with a Career Achievement Award and gave her latest release, Gathering the Threads,a Top Pick review. Woodsmall and her husband reside near the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains. Learn more about Woodsmall and her books at www.cindywoodsmall.com. She is also active on Facebook (@authorcindywoodsmall).

In the Mood! by DiAnn Mills

In the Mood!
DiAnn Mills

A writer friend and I were catching up over a lengthy phone conversation. After we covered a multitude of topics, personal and business, I asked about the progress of her next book.

“Oh, I’m not writing,” she said. “Haven’t been in the mood.”

This writer was one of my heroes in the industry. “What happened? You’ve always been excited to delve into the next project.”

“Creativity hasn’t moved me to begin a new novel.”

“Do you need to brainstorm?” I said.

The writing muse hasn’t hit me.

“No. I’m good.” She sighed. “Dry spells come and go.” 
    
Her obscure tone bothered me, but I didn’t pursue the topic further. Later on in the day I was at the dentist’s office. I’d lost a filling, and the tooth throbbed. As I waited in the patient’s chair, I thought back over the conversation with my writer friend. A twinge of pain shot up from my tooth. How would I feel if the dentist wasn’t in the mood? Ouch!

I left the dentist’s office under the effects of Novocain and stopped to fill up my empty gas tank. When I reached for the pump and selected the type of fuel needed, the same thought struck me again. What if the driver who delivered gasoline to the station wasn’t in the mood? I’d be walking.

Before heading home to finish my word count for the day, I stopped at the grocery to buy salad fixings. While I stood in line to pay for my food, it occurred to me one more time. What if the grocer’s employees weren’t in the mood to work today? My husband wouldn’t have a grilled chicken salad for dinner.

The difference between my friend’s approach to writing and mine boiled down to work ethics. I write whether the words are framed in my mind, or I have to dig them up like precious stones. Everyday. No matter what my mood.
 
If I procrastinated to when I felt like creating, not only would the contracts stop but I believe the quality of the manuscript would slip. Other tasks fall under writing: responding to emails, social media, reading the how-to books, keeping up to date on the publishing industry, marketing and promotion, and arranging to attend quality conferences. Some areas are more enjoyable than others, but my work ethic says to complete the task to the best of my ability.

I received my work ethic model from my dad. I don’t remember his ever missing a day of work. He welded in a factory, rain or shine, in sickness and in health, whether he felt like it or not. 

What about you?
 

That’s my advice to every writer. Put your rear in gear and get the job done. Write, edit, submit, promote, and begin again. The satisfaction of a well-crafted piece is worth the disillusion of waiting to create when in the mood. In the midst of discovering the perfect idea or word is a wealth of satisfaction of a job well done.
    
DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.
Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers; the 2015 president of the Romance Writers of America’s Faith, Hope, & Love chapter; a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and International Thriller Writers. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at www.diannmills.com.