I love attending writer’s conferences and learning new things about the craft I have devoted so much time to in the last few years. I recently attended the Dallas DFW Conference where I met different agents, listened to agent panels and successful writers from all over the United States. I went into talk which was titled “Put Your Readers on an Emotional Roller Coaster.”
Emotions are powerful. They can make people do or not do almost anything at any given moment. I can get so wrapped up in what is happening on the page that I find myself crying out of grief or sadness or my heart pumping because I’m so mad. I couldn’t stop typing if I wanted to. I may have made up this character on the page but she is making me FEEL what is happening to her.
The session was presented by Kelsey Macke, and she was a superb speaker as well as a talented, successful writer. She suggested that we take a piece of paper and think about our Work In Progress. She wanted us to imagine the main Protagonist only. Next we were to imagine putting her on the edge of a cliff. She or he is holding a box. Anything or anyone can be inside the box.
Then we think of five incidents for our protagonist and the box on the edge of a cliff. Remember what is inside the box. What does she feel about what is inside—hate, love, protection. Any emotion. Anything can be inside the box. Let your imagination take hold.
We have exactly two minutes to write whatever we want to fit. I suggest that you try these exercises. You’ll be surprised what insights you can gain. Of course, she timed us, but you’ll have to set your kitchen timer or microwave—anything that will make you stick to the two minutes.
Don’t overthink the situation. The exercise is to express the emotions that your character is feeling at the time. Will she jump? Be pushed over? Throw the box over? Whatever your intention is in order for your character to feel what is happening to her, Make her FEEL HER CIRCUMSTANCES. Maybe she will react physically or not, but she has to FEEL something while she is doing it. Maybe it is her feelings that make her do what she does. She doesn’t have to do anything with the box or she can. She’s under your control but her emotions are her own.
Have your piece of paper and pencil ready. They are:
1. 1. Someone or something is running hard toward you. It’s going to hit you. What does she feel? How will she react?
2. 2.Your character is facing her most horrific moment with the antagonist. What is it? How does she feel about what is happening?
3. 3.Something is falling from the sky. What is it? What does it have to do with her? How will she feel?
4. 4.Someone is running toward her. Who is it? What does she feel?
5. 5.The box is beginning to open. What is in it? What does she feel? What does she feel?
You want your reader to be every bit as invested in your characters as you are. If you think about all of your favorite books, you realize that each one tore at your heart in different ways. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is one of my favorite books. Every time I read it, I get angry, become saddened, feel protective, and frustrated. Those are just some of the things I feel, but whatever you do, make your readers fall in love with your characters so much that they feel sad when they come to the end of the book. What a ride you gave them!