Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Aiming for the Heart

Today, help me welcome author Ellis Vidler to Terry's Place. She has a giveaway, so read through to see how to enter to win.

Do you ever shed tears as you write? Not from frustration when something doesn’t work or you realize you have to scrap fifty pages of blood and sweat, but because something you’ve written strikes a chord emotionally? Author Ellis Vidler laughs, cries, and double checks the locks when she writes. She identifies with her characters.

Remember the movie Romancing the Stone? In one of the first scenes, Kathleen Turner sits at her desk in her pajamas, clicking out the last chapter of her novel and weeping into an endless supply of tissues. She’s writing from the heart and feels every word. Turner’s tears may have been slightly exaggerated, but most of us have cried over books and movies or even a tragic or touching picture on the news. Ellis certainly has.

That’s what writers do--aim for the heart. Elmore Leonard said that. If a scene touches someone, it will stick with the reader. Strong emotions create strong memories. That’s why we read, isn’t it? To experience something outside ourselves. The purpose of fiction is to evoke emotion.



So how does one do that? Not by telling the reader it’s a sad situation or that Isobel is heartbroken. No, the writer has to show us, take us into the character’s heart so we feel what she or he is feeling. Create a situation that shows something on a higher plane than we experience daily, an act of courage, generosity, or perhaps sacrifice. If the writer has made us care about a character and we understand what something means to that character, then we’re prepared to share his or her emotions. If we come to know a child and how much she loves her kitten, then see the child cradling the kitten’s dead body, most of us will feel the child’s pain. We don’t have to be told the child is sad or that she’s crying. Actually, telling us would probably lessen what we feel because it puts distance between us and the character. It puts us on the outside.

To show something, the writer must take us inside the character’s head and heart. If she smells a flower, the reader should mentally inhale. If he feels cold steel pressed against his neck, the reader should experience a chill. That’s when a writer is doing her job.

I believe the writer must be emotionally involved in what’s happening. I admit it--I’ve cried over scenes I’ve written. And those are the stories I love most. Whether others will feel the same way is another matter. I can tell you that if I don’t feel it, you won’t either. You must love your characters or at least feel strongly about them. You could loathe her as long as you care deeply. Do you really, really want to see her get her comeuppance? Then show the reader the same things about her that you dislike so. Don’t tell us she’s mean, let us see her trip the elderly man or lie about the teacher’s behavior. Show, don’t tell.

Ellis is giving away a download of Haunting Refrain to one commenter. Winner announced this weekend, so leave your comment and check back to see if you're the lucky one.

Ellis Vidler is the author of Haunting Refrain, romantic suspense, and co-author of The Peeper a suspense novel, with Jim Christopher. Her new romantic suspense, Cold Comfort, is due out this year from Echelon Press. You can find Ellis at http://www.ellisvidler.com or on Facebook and Twitter. Her blog is The Unpredictable Muse.

Image credit: Sad by worradmu

20 comments:

Polly said...

Yes, yes, yes. I have one unsold book that makes me cry every time I read it. I know what's coming, and I still cry. I've tried to figure out why it always has the same effect and can't. I wonder if it is ever published whether others will react the same way. Great post, Ellis.

Maryn Sinclair said...

The books that leave the most lasting impression are ones that make me cry, although crying over a story doesn't have to be because it's sad, i.e. someone dies at the end. It's usually because it touches me in some indefinable way. Those are the goodies because they make me feel and think. That's never bad.

Barbara Monajem said...

Yes, me too. The ending of my latest historical makes me tear up every time I read it. I too wonder what readers will think. Will they have a similar emotional response, or will they say it's the sappiest ending they've ever read? LOL.

Ellis Vidler said...

Polly, I’ve read that scene, and it’s really touching. Sad but beautiful. It's because I cared so much for the character.

Ellis Vidler said...

Barbara, I’ll look forward to reading it—I’m sure it will bring tears to my eyes. You bring real feeling to your books.

Maryann Miller said...

So true about the emotional connection. That is what binds reader to story. I do have scenes in some of my books that make me cry or smile, and occasionally laugh out loud - on purpose.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

As a reader, I love it when I get that connection with a character and feel her emotions. It always happens when there aren't too many words explaining the scene...when it's just barely sketched out.

Ellis Vidler said...

Maryann, I agree--it's the emotional connection that makes the book special. You have to care for it to stick with you.

Ellis Vidler said...

Yes, Elizabeth. Just a few well-chosen words can bring it all home and make the character a real friend. I love those books. They're the ones I read many times.

Lynne Roberts said...

I think this is part of the art of being a writer. You take words and arrange them in such a way to evoke emotion in the readers. Of course I always say, if I don't cry, fall in love, etc, I don't expect the reader to. ; ) So yup, I've shed tears.

jenny milchman said...

I agree with you, Ellis--the more I am scared/sorrowful/joyous while writing, the more my readers tend to be. It's a great gauge. And being on such a roller coaster can be one of the most exciting things in the world. Thanks for the post--so nice to see Ellis on your blog, Terry!

Karen said...

As a reader, I can tell you that I love it when you can make me laugh out loud or shiver or go yuck or cry my eyes out. And, as a reader, I appreciate what it takes for you to be able to evoke those kinds of responses from us. Thanks to all of you!!

Ellis Vidler said...

Are we a bunch of saps or what? I don't know, but it makes me smile that we can all get so emotionally involved in our reading and writing. It makes life richer and I believe gives us more depth as writers. I hope so, anyway.
I once opened one in a bookstore, and had tears running down my face by the second page. My husband shook his head and handed me his handkerchief. It was by Laura Kinsale, something about a mare dying. I'll have to dig up the name and read it again. Now I'd like to see how she did it.
Thank you all for your comments. It's been interesting. And, Terry--thanks so much for having me. I enjoyed it.

Terry Odell said...

Ellis, my pleasure, and thanks so much for being my guest. Susan Wiggs always makes me cry somewhere in her books--I learned not to use them as my workout reading at the Y -- too embarrassing to be on the elliptical with tears running down my face.

Urban Milkmaid said...

Thank you so much for this post. I am a new fiction writer in the middle of a gut-wrencher, and I was starting to think I was nuts because I write and I cry... Well, if that's a good thing - I'll just keep on and buy more Kleenex.

Ellis Vidler said...

Dear Milkmaid,
No, you aren't nuts--not unless we all are! It's what most of us love about fiction, both reading and writing it. It's the ability to wring our hearts and let us share what the characters are experiencing, whether it's joy, sorrow, or fear--whatever, as long as we feel something.
Good luck with your writing. There are lots of good places online to get help and talk things over with other writers. If you need any links, let us know.

Ruby Johnson said...

Ellis:
I've read books with sad situations for the character and didn't cry, and others where I was sad all afternoon. "You must take the reader inside the character's heart" is so so true. I read a book recently with all the elements of a bestseller,great plot, good pacing, good chemistry between the characters, but I couldn't identify or connect with the heroine who hopped into bed with the hero in every place imaginable just three months after her fiancee was killed. The fact that she cursed like sailor in speech and thought was very intrusive. They say the sign of a good book is when you can still remember the story in a month. I remember the story, but I didn't like the heroine, because I couldn't connect with her emotionally.

Ellis Vidler said...

Ruby, sometimes it's like that for me too. All the elements are there, but I don't connect with the main character. Those books usually slip away quickly. I'd rather read one a little less well done where I really fall for the characters. The emotional link makes the book for me.

Kaye George said...

I can't say I cry at things I write, but I do mist up a bit. Some of my creepy things scare me a little. My favorite is when someone laughs at something I've written. I love to make people laugh!

Ellis Vidler said...

Kaye, I'm inclined to think of tears and fear first, but laughter is another sort of emotion--that nice feeling that comes when something makes you smile or chuckle. I love it, and the books I love take you through all of it.
Terry, I agree. Susan Wiggs can make me teary. And Jan Burke made me get up and double check the locks.
That's the way I like to read--when the writer draws you so far in, you share every flinch and whisper, every touch and ache.