Back in December I received a wonderful (if devastating) review of my manuscript, Dragon Scales, by traditionally published author Kim Long, who is on her way to becoming a full-fledged book coach.
While I thought I'd nailed this latest version of the story, she picked it apart. Among her most valuable critique was that she gave me permission to "write emotions." And I quote:
"…Gracie’s internal arc did not make it on the page due in part to your hesitancy to break the “show don’t tell” rule. From this point forward, you have my permission to ignore that rule when it comes to Gracie’s internal struggle, desires, and thoughts! We, as the Reader, want Gracie to tell us what she is thinking and why she is making the decisions she is. This is not bad telling. This is good telling, this is the telling your story needs in order for your Reader to connect with Gracie. Let us into Gracie’s world where we can see and feel what matters so we can see her struggle..."
I had to step away from the MS for a bit to analyze how I'd gotten to this point. To a large extent, Kim Long's assessment was spot-on. There is good telling, mostly that which revolves around emotions.
But, after an early critique by a beta reader who thought my MC Gracie was melodramatic, I had spent a lot of time eradicating it in the MS, watching Ellen Brock's YouTube episodes (she has one about melodrama, which actually is quite good) and using The Emotion Thesaurus for alternatives, even when my gut told me to leave those emotions in.
There were other issues with the MS as well, ones my beta readers had pointed out to me and I won't go into here, but this was a huge AH-HA! moment.
Once I had that moment, however, I didn't want to just jump back into the MS and start adding emotions, willy-nilly. Even I know that's a bit too "on the nose." I knew I had no idea what the heck I was doing, because I kinda felt like that's what I'd done in the last five versions -- knee-jerk reacted without doing the hard craft work first.But where to see how it's done?
I have tons of mentor texts all around me -- or, rather, my public library does. I had noted, while reading the 200 or so MG books I devour each year, that many, many MG authors just come right out and have characters make statements like: "I didn't feel like I could talk to my mom about this because she'd get mad at me for asking."
It's the exact sort of emotional writing technique that the show-don't-tell followers staunchly advise against.
With the idea that the emotion has to be on the page and I can't assume the reader will get what my MC is feeling unless I tell the reader, a CP gave me a great idea for how to make sure the emotions I want come through in each and every scene.
She shared with me what she does: puts a sticky note on each scene, with the emotions she wants the reader to get clearly identified. When she edits, she reads to make sure they're in there, somehow.
Fantastic advice, thank you sooooo much Sasha! I'm using it now.
But I was still stymied for ways to write these emotions, specific techniques so that I didn't get caught being too on-the-nose, or repeating the same type of emotional expressions all the time. The "craft" of writing these emotions was totally new and different to me.
The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write with Emotional Power, DevelopAchingly Real Characters, Move Your Readers, and Create Riveting Moral Stakes
And that's where this book comes in, The Emotional Craft of Fiction. It was recommended in a FB writing group I'm in, and I read it and took about 50 pages of notes. Now I'm in the process of doing each and every one of the exercises with key scenes from my (replotted) MS, and I'm not rewriting until I have finished them all. I may not use them all, not by a long stretch, but I sure as heck want to do them. First. My CPs don't know quite what to think about what I'm doing.
Why would I do this? Why not just jump right into revision?
Because as soon as I read Maas' advice about writing emotions I started spotting the techniques he lays out in examples in the MG books I love. MG isn't quite as heavy on analogies / metaphors / similies, the figurative language examples from the mostly adult books he uses to illustrate his points. (NOTE: There's at least one example in the book I had to skip. Nothing, no writing technique used, will ever excuse that kind of behavior in a character or will rouse one ounce of empathy in me while I'm reading. Period. But presumably we're all adults, and it may resonate with others. Just not me. But I digress.)
But the authors I love are using these writing devices, copiously. And I suspicion, deliberately. Like, they're going back and adding them in at an agent's or editor's request, upon revision.
This is not always easy to do. But our readers have come to expect these kinds of constructions, the way characters look at their own emotions and navel-gaze (yes, I went there). It doesn't matter if we don't do this in real life. And personally, when I read too much of it, I get turned off and will DNF a book. It's rife in YA (young adult) pages and I don't read a lot of YA, for that reason.
Even that's helpful to know, though. Because that's the point of saturation, when the reader becomes aware the author is using too many of these devices to achieve a specific effect (make me cry, make me laugh, make me identify with a character's emotional state, etc.) and it loses its effectiveness.
I've got a long road ahead of me and a ton of writing to do. But I really, really love this craft book, and all it's exercises. I think it belongs on any serious writer's shelf. And I bought a copy, which I never do. Happy writing! ;-)