One of the many advantages of a writing team is that you always have someone to talk books with. While we tend to read the same types of books, we don’t always read the same authors, so our chats are a great way to discover the-book-you-didn’t-know-you-needed-to-read.
Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova
During one of our hours-long book conversations, the topic of award-winning books came up. There was one book that we had both recently read, that we agreed was really well written, had a great plot, good twist, interesting characters, but left us. . . .unfulfilled. After a deep dive into what we loved about it, we realized that neither of us had become one hundred percent invested in any of the main characters. Anita likes to call that “imprinting.” By that, she means the character whose emotional story is being told is firmly impressed into her mind in a way that she strongly connects with them.
Don’t misunderstand, that bestseller, award-winning book we were discussing it’s NOT a bad book. We’re still talking about it. We’re just talking about the plot twists and the great writing. But for us, it wasn’t a book that either of us devoured, willing to stay up all night to finish knowing we’d be blurry-eyed, and sleep-deprived the next day. So why not?
The conversation turned to an excellent craft book (who doesn’t love a great book on writing?)
by our dear friend, Cheryl St. John, called Writing With Emotion, Tension, and Conflict: Techniques for Crafting an Expressive and Compelling Novel. If you’re a writer and have not read this book, read it. It will change the way you write. One of the many amazing takeaways from Cheryl’s book is found on the first page of the introduction. Cheryl writes, “Probably the most important concept I’ve taken away from any book on writing is from Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer: A story is feelings.”
So much power in four words. A. Story. Is. Feelings.
Emotions come from the inner conflict, the fight within the characters themselves. When done well, those feeling are strategically woven throughout the story in a way that the reader can “imprint” on the character. As the reader we must know what happens next because we’re emotionally invested in the characters—good, bad, or fatally flawed—and the story those characters are telling.
That’s what we were missing. We didn’t know which character to imprint on, so we didn’t connect to any of the characters on a deeper level. A great lesson for us to apply to our writing. Also, it reminded us that it’s probably time to reread Writing With Emotion, Tension, and Conflict.
If you’ve recently read a book that kept you up all night, tell us about it in the comments. We want to know!
Sparkle Abbey is actually two people, Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mystery series. They are friends as well as neighbors so they often get together and plot ways to commit murder. (But don't tell the other neighbors.)
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