“Writing from the Heart.” (From author of The Six-Liter Club, Harry Kraus)
Someone a lot smarter than me once said that we write non-fiction to convey information; we write fiction to elicit emotion. I’d like to suggest that the best non-fiction does both: it conveys information by stimulating an emotional response.
So look back over the last scene you’ve written in your work in progress. Forget all the little pearls you’ve been taught about limiting attributions, killing those pesky adverbs, and avoiding repetitive words. Resist the urge to line edit. Just ask yourself one question: How did it make you feel?
Did it make you angry? Good.
Fear? Very good.
Love? Hate? Excellent.
In a novel that may involve hundreds of pages and dozens of scenes, ask yourself whether it deepened your emotional response on any level. Did it make you love more? Deepen your anger? Ratchet up your fear?
If you don’t feel something or feel something more, toss it out! The reader whose emotions aren’t involved is a reader who is going to skim ahead looking for a bit of tension that will grip him or her at a heart level.
Writing that is made up of beautiful sentences, graced with metaphor and simile, but doesn’t make me feel something is unlikely to impact me for a minute beyond the time I devoted to the reading. Words that anger me, touch a chord of fear, or make me love or hate are words which will be remembered!
Mark Twain said, “No tears the writer; no tears the reader.”
So this can become our judge: as you are writing, what are you feeling?
I remember a few years ago, I was working on a novel. I had gotten my hero into all sorts of trouble: false accusations, loss of job, threatened career and relationships, all the cards stacked against this guy. Finally, late in the novel, he comes to faith. I was setting in my favorite chair, writing the conversion scene, and as I wrote, tears spilled onto my cheeks. My wife walked by, pausing to look at me and question, “Are you OK?”
I nodded. “Seth just came to Christ.”
Hardly. If I didn’t care about the outcome for my protagonist, if I wasn’t emotionally tangled in the climax, neither would my reader! Don’t let your friends convince you that just because your characters are imaginary, they don’t matter. They deserve your emotional investment. In fact, if you don’t invest emotionally in them, your readers won’t either.
So forget all the other writing pearls for a minute and reread your last paragraph. Are you touched at a heart level?
I hope so. If not, you risk creating a page of information that your reader will grow impatient with, turning ahead until something strikes them in the heart.
As we reach out to non-Christians around us, we can take this information to another level. Although we carry the great truth of the gospel, unless you wrap it in emotion, your friends will likely keep searching. I wish I knew who said this because it’s so true: they will not care what you know unless they know that you care!
Emotion (love, joy, hate, anger, fear) is what makes a message stick!
We have been told (quite incorrectly) that truth is the engine, faith is the coal car and feelings are the caboose, obviously not reliable and certainly not to be trusted. That’s craziness! The God who asked us to love him with all our minds asks us also to love him with all our souls.
That subject is way bigger than I can address here. For now, give this simple test to your latest writing and see if it will pass. How does it make you feel?
If you enjoyed this article, check out Harry’s book “The Six-Liter Club” at www.harrykraus.com. Also look for the upcoming feature profile on Harry Kraus this week on this blog.