Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Make Me Feel It!

My crit partners tremble when they see those words in a comment, and I leave them often. But what do they mean?

In any situation of strong emotion, as a reader, I want to be so closely bonded with a character that, in moments of peril, I find myself scrunched up in a ball, laboring for breath and gripping my Kindle so tight I fear it'll break. During a love scene I want to feel the "awww".

But it's not just the emotional climax that earns the MMFI seal of approval. It doesn't matter how well you write the heart-wrenching moment of poor Jenny losing Grandma on page eighty, if the reader didn't bond with Jenny and gave up reading on page thirty.

How do you create such a bond, you ask? By making the character human, and putting us so closely in their world that we ARE them. They can be a total jackass, and unlovable on the surface, but with the gentle caress of the right words, you'll pull readers in.

Part of "make me feel it" starts with the environment. Where are they? Does the story take place in winter, summer, spring or fall? While I don't like twenty pages of exposition about the ornate scrollwork on the staircase, you can work details in that help me to identify with the character and his/her surroundings.

One of my biggest disappointments as a reader was a book I picked up a few years back, in which the characters made a trip to France. France? Woot! I've never been to France, and couldn't wait to visit through this book. But...

The characters got off a plane, stayed at a hotel, and visited a few buildings. Then they got back on the plane and went home. Do what? They could have been in my own home town for all the description I was given. And I have no idea why they even went to Paris except for it looking good on the blurb, and the brief trip enabled additonal search tags.

Where was the historic architecture? The cute cafes? No one even spoke French or had an accent that I could see. They all spoke English like most Americans of my acquaintance. Why did they even go to Paris at all? And while the Eiffel tower is a bit overdone in fiction, even that cultural icon was missing. And I have no idea as to the climate, what they ate, etcetera. Don't take me to Paris and then not let me see!

Another way to let me feel it is to give adequate descriptions. "He had a large apartment." Now, in my neck of the woods, a "large apartment" could be about 1700 square feet. Are apartments in NY city that large, typically? So "large apartment" is up to the reader's experience, as is "small".

Someone wrote about a wide bridge. The story had four characters crossing the bridge. "They crossed the wide bridge". Are you picturing something like Golden Gate? Turns out this was a footbridge. "The bridge's width allowed them to walk four abreast" provides a better, and more accurate, visual that I can put into context as I follow the characters across the river.

Another way to help a reader to fully experience a story is to reduce the use of lazy words. You know about lazy words, I've griped about them before.

Jeff walked into the room. Ho-hum. This tells me Jeff physically moved from one place to another.

Now:

Jeff sauntered into the room gives me a full visual of a guy that is confident, or maybe over-confident, or even putting on a show for his ex that he isn't hurting.

How about:

Jeff swaggered into the room. What does that show you? Or: Jeff slipped into the room, hiding behind Bill. Oh ho! Is Jeff shy perhaps, or hiding from a cheating ex who broke his heart?

Jeff slipped into the room, heart pounding in his chest. Oh shit. There the man was, big as life. With... with... him. Mr. Perfect. Everything Jeff would never be. The big house, all the memories he'd planned to make, the children he'd hope they would raise together. His dreams belonged to someone else now.

Uncertainty twisted through Jeff's insides. Was it too late to turn around and go home?

In a "make me feel it scene", unlike the Paris encounter, you want to limit details. In times of great stress or "fight or flight", tunnel vision is common. Jeff sees no one else but his ex lover and the new love interest. His heart is pounding, he may get light-headed, but his entire focus is on what he's seeing and how he feels.

When a good guy is running from the drug dealers, the blood will pound in his ears. Sentences are short and choppy, and thoughts may be incomplete.

Oh fuck! Run! But where? A light! There! Down the alley. Blood roared like thunder in his ears. Jeff ran.

Avoid -ing words. Keep to -ed words to keep the action tight.

I work with a lot of authors on techniques to pull readers into the action, and do a lot of studying on the subject. While I am by no means an expert, if you have any questions, feel free to ask.

And above all...make me feel it.

2 comments:

  1. I'm a grateful student! I remember a conversation in Starbucks:
    Eden: Is Bangkok hot?
    Z.: OMFG SOOOO Hot! You need a shower just walking a 1/2 block.
    Eden: How was the food?
    Z.: Delicious best basil chicken I've ever had...
    Eden: Z.?
    Z.: (swallowing hard) Yeah?
    Eden: Show me. Make me feel it. Bring me to Thailand. Don't you want me to visit Bangkok too?
    Z.: (nodding)
    My sweet Southern Belle had me rewrite the first 6 chapters of Illusions & Dreams 8X!!! 8X... She taught me how to layer sights, scents, sounds until she shook most of the experiences and memories out of my head and on to the pages of Illusions & Dreams. I'm eternally GRATEFUL!!!!
    Hugs, Z.
    Eden ROCKS!!!!

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