I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Monday, July 11, 2011

How Does that Make You Feel?


While working on my doctorate degree, the notorious question I was taught to ask my mental health clients was, "How does that make you feel?" Professors drilled into my head that the traumatic event was not really the focus. I needed to peel back the layers to find out how the event emotionally impacted the client.

Little did I know that training was preparing me to be a novelist. That training taught me that even if I write the most suspenseful scene, if the reader is not emotionally connecting with what they're reading, they won't turn the page.

I've learned to pose that question to my characters while writing them into a scene. As the bullets are flying around them or they're kicking their cheating bo to the curb, I stop and have a conversation with them.

"So tell me, how does that make you feel?"

Know what? They'll tell you! Your characters are just itching to spew out all manner of emotional reactions to the mess you just got them in. They might even hurl insults at you. After all, you could have written them into a wonderful vacation on the beach in Mexico. Instead, you put them in this horrible situation.

In those times when I cannot provoke an emotional response from my characters, I know immediately the event really isn't that important to them. I need to reconsider. Did I miss something? Do I really need this scene? If it is necessary, what could I change to push my character's buttons?

That one question we used to joke about in college has forced me to emotionally hook my characters and my readers into what's happening with my plot. The emotion causes them to turn page after page, to connect with the characters, and to get to the last page without wanting to hurl the story against the wall.

You can do that too. So, how does that make you feel?

Reba J. Hoffman


photo by theswedish/stockxchng.com

8 comments:

  1. I had to smile because in my second book in my series (coming out very soon!), the main character sits in a clinical psychologist's office. The good doctor asks, "How does that make you feel, Marc?" Thanks for this great post, Reebs. Very insightful! Blessings.

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  2. Wow, this may be your best post yet, so valuable (as are you.) Thanks! (Delores)

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  3. Love this post, Reba! When I'm having trouble nailing a scene, it's usually because I don't know what my character is feeling at that moment. When I know what's going on with them emotionally, I can do my job as a writer and craft the scene from that. Thanks for highlighting such an essential step in the writing process!

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  4. Love it, Reebs! We did an emotional layering exercise at Deep Thinkers that really helped nail this for me. I think one of the best things I learned from that exercise was to not let my character off the hook with their first answer to "how does that make you feel?" Because often, their first answer is only the first layer...there's more behind "angry" or "upset" or "sad."

    Also, love this: "They might even hurl insults at you." Yes, it's happened. Something I'm not sure non-writers can understand...the fact that characters do have voices! ('Course, if those voices turn audible, that might mean a slight problem...)

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  5. Reebs, thanks for this practical post. I know I need to work on the emotional aspects of my characters. I will definitely be applying this in my writing! I need to get to know my characters better!

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  6. I agree--this may be one of your best posts ever, Reebs!
    Digging into my characters' emotions--I know the value of that. I'm still learning how long it may take to really uncover their true feelings. Just when I think I know what they're feeling . . . surprise! They finally tell me what they're really thinking/feeling.

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  7. Reebs, as I read this post, I could hear your voice loud and clear. Love it!

    This is my favorite part:

    In those times when I cannot provoke an emotional response from my characters, I know immediately the event really isn't that important to them. I need to reconsider. Did I miss something? Do I really need this scene? If it is necessary, what could I change to push my character's buttons?

    I never thought about the event being important to my characters. I will keep that in mind as I write my scenes from now on.

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  8. As I start my new book, this is one post that'll definitely help me nail my character. Thanks, Reba!

    I've never asked my character how something makes them feel. But now I will!

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