Thursday, November 22, 2012

How Good Writers Make You "Feel"

For years there's been something bothering me: Why is it when I read a book that's been professionally written / edited (well), am I transported more than by a book that... isn't?

This week I think I figured it out. I touched on this note briefly last week, but I want to expand here because it heralds an "A-ha!" moment for me that might help you too:

Writers whose work compells me to keep reading don't describe "the feeling" of the focal character, they describe the stimulus that creates the feeling.

What does that mean?

It means, in the moment the hero and heroine meet and insta-love ensues, the writer doesn't focus on how the heroine feels. Instead, prose and page time are given to what the heroine sees, smells, touches... how the stimulus of being close to the hero affects her body:

It means no more "Before me stood the most delicious example of masculine strength under God's blue sky. I could barely breathe, unable to take my eyes off him..." and lots more "When his head turned, the sharp blue of his eyes raked me from head to toe. I shivered, following the lines of his broad shoulders to the corded muscles of his back..."

It means, when the shocking reveal of critical information occurs, the writer gives most of their focus to the implications that cause the feelings, rather than the feelings themselves:

Rather than "John wasn't in New York when Samantha was killed? He could be the murderer? My entire body trembled. I sucked in a breath, unable to believe it could be true. John had lied to me! John could be the killer?! No!..." you'll find more of "John wasn't in New York when Samantha was killed? I knew I should speak. Deny it. But all I could see was her bruised and twisted body, lying naked in the sand, cold and alone. The way her hair twisted around her ear and stuck to the raw skin on her neck. The numb vacancy her death had left in my gut. Was it possible he'd done that? Was John that monster?"

It means that, as the hero and heroine clasp hands and walk into the sunset, the writer focuses on their senses, the circumstances that give them safety and resolution. Not their feelings:

Instead of "Rafe took my hand and finally, finally I let myself smile. Drowning in the deep pools of his eyes - the eyes I'd wake up to every day for the rest of my life. My heart raced as I drank in his handsomeness and strength..." you'll find, "Rafe took my hand, his fingers curling between mine. It was the moment to let myself smile, and I did, dropping my head to rest on the warm firmness of his shoulder and breathing in the scent of him - pine, musk and something uniquely Rafe. As the car roared to life my smile broadened. We would drive away and never return to this place. This house was not a part of our future. Only our past..."

I guess the biggest lesson I'm taking away is that a focus on the feelings of characters will still get your story across. You can write a book that "shows" and describes feelings, and sometimes readers will love it.

But the book that places the reader in the skin of the protagonist, allowing the reader to see, feel and think as the character, trusting the reader to draw the right conclusions... that's the book that I forget I'm reading and just experience.

That's the story that becomes my own.

Your Turn: Have you observed any patterns or techniques in the books that draw you in and capture your imagination?


  1. Love this post! Thanks for the fabulous reminder to allow my readers to feel the book instead of being shown.

  2. Insightful observation, Aimee. It's a fine distinction but I can see in your examples how it makes a big difference. Something to keep in mind for my next book! :-)

  3. Excellent post, Aimee, I'll bookmark this for editing time!

  4. Oh, wow, this is awesome. You've nailed description and character motivation, and why so many writers (including me!) fail at moving the reader. Well done, you.

  5. Thanks all. It was a big "aha" moment for me too!