Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Does Your Story Have Emotional Impact?

I was reading a book recently and when I was finished with it, someone asked me what I thought of the book. I simply said it was fine. Not amazing. Not terrible. It was just fine. This is certainly something that I believe happens to a lot of readers out there with the books they read. But why?

As I was thinking about this idea over my morning cup of coffee, I was drawn to two different words that I think really sum up the reason why we fall for some books and not for others - SYMPATHY and EMPATHY. So I looked these up quickly this morning for the post, even though I was really sure I had the ideas correct in my head. According to my trusty, online dictionary...

Both empathy and sympathy are feelings concerning other people. Sympathy is literally 'feeling with' - compassion for or commiseration with another person.Empathy, by contrast, is literally 'feeling into' - the ability to project one's personality into another person and more fully understand that person. Sympathy derives from Latin and Greek words meaning 'having a fellow feeling'. The term empathy originated in psychology (translation of a German term, c. 1903) and has now come to mean the ability to imagine or project oneself into another person's position and experience all the sensations involved in that position. You feel empathy when you've "been there", and sympathy when you haven't.

Too often, I think when we read books, especially those in romance and women's fiction, if we do feel anything, we are often on the side of sympathy and not empathy. In other words, we can certainly understand the feelings of those characters, but the real connection, the "been there" element might not fully be there.

I do believe, in these two genres, it is beyond crucial that the author of the story takes an amazing amount of effort to get the readers into that state of empathy and not just leaving them hanging in a state of sympathy. We want them to share the laughter and the pain of the characters as they move through the story.

If you really think about it, many of the books you have fallen in love with are books with characters and situations where you are drawn into the story. You have become a part of the story and the lives of the characters. If there is a break-up in the story between the hero and the heroine, you are devastated! I have
used this reference before, but I think it works well here - the television show THE WONDER YEARS. That connection we all had with Winnie and Kevin was something we had all experienced and lived through. We new there emotions and the writers and actors brought you right back into that same Junior High School experience one more time.

To accomplish this, an author has to spend a lot of time really thinking about the characters and the story, not as simply a plot and scenes, but more as REAL people in REAL situations. If you were in that situation, how would you really act.

For example, if you had an abusive ex that had been out of your life for a while and suddenly made an appearance on your doorstep, what would you REALLY do?

If you are the owner of a company and the board of directors tells you the company is going bankrupt, what would you REALLY do?

If your first true love tells you "there isn't anything here and there never will be" what would you REALLY do?

As I read projects, I know I have a great story when I am sucked into it. One of my authors has an amazing story (that has proven to be a tough sell) about a daughter who is dealing with a situation of her mother having Alzheimer's. That story HAS the emotional impact because the characters are doing things that are REAL. We aren't getting into the hypothetical brain of the mother because frankly, we don't know what they are thinking. The daily activities of making toast, watching TV and having a glass of rum and coke are amplified so much more and become important. And when the mother dies, we are all right there with the daughter as she cries and smiles at the same time.

I just don't think authors are doing that. We are so hung up on telling an exciting story with a great plot or hot sex scenes that we have, unfortunately, eliminated all of the human aspect from the story. In essence, we have reversed the roles. The plot is now the protagonist and the characters are nothing more than plot devices.

So, do you have emotional impact?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Brenda Novak Auction Reminder



May 1st is fast approaching! This means the Brenda Novak auction is coming!

Once again, Greyhaus Literary Agency will be offering 1 year of critiques to one lucky winner. This is a great chance for you to receive on-going critiques throughout the year. Every other month you submit a partial, a query, or a synopsis. You could literally have 12 chapters of your book, the synopsis and query all cleaned up in 1 year.

Check it out!!!!!!!

AUCTION LINK!

I should also add there are a TON of amazing other things to bid on. CHECK IT OUT!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Writing Romance Is About Falling In Love

I saw over the weekend an article in the local news about a couple who, after so many years of being married together (I don't remember the years but let me say it was a lot), ended up dying within 15 minutes of each other. The wife was sick and died and sure enough, the husband knew it was time for him to go too and he followed her. This got me thinking about, what I believe, is a huge misconception of many of the plot lines I see in romance novels and certainly submissions.

Now, first of all, we have to understand what the romance genre is about. This is a genre where the central story arc is the coming together of a couple. We watch how they move through their relationship to that point of a happily ever after. When we read a romance, we need to see not only the relationship building, but truly watching the couple move to a point of falling in love with one another.

What I see, far too often, is a story of essentially a couple dating. We throw in some sex scenes and then, by about 3/4 of the way through the book, one of the characters declares to the other, "I love you!" and during the rest of the book, the characters do nothing more than to mop up the other plot issues the author used to get that one character to say those three words. This is not romance.

Your goal as a romance author is to tap into all of those raw emotions that people feel when they fall in love.

  • We need to see the awkwardness of being around the other person. This is not because it is the boss, or their is an external plot issue that makes the character not comfortable being there. We need to see the awkwardness because there are unclear emotions running through the characters' heads. 
  • We need to see the realization (that probably does not happen on the first meeting) that this person is an amazing person for whatever they do. We need to see that realization of something special the character, up until now did not see.
  • We need to see the feeling of loss when that person leaves and the room is empty. The character needs to have a sense of a vacuum and a void when the other person is not around. 
  • We need to see the characters just want to "BE" with each other. No, this does not mean the desire to hop into the sack and go for it! They would be happy just doing crossword puzzles in a kitchen.
I do believe that far too many authors today are so obsessed with writing this in-depth plot line that the romance truly is falling to the sidelines. Maybe this is a reason why I have always been against the genre that was "created" a while ago of "a novel with romantic elements". sorry but I have to disagree with this one. Just throwing a couple into a story or giving them a chance to have sex every now and then does not make it a romance, nor for that matter mean you have included romantic elements. You have simply put in sex.

I challenge all of you romance authors to take some time this week to really look around you. Find those couples that are truly "in love" and watch them. Take the time to listen to their stories. Use that as your inspiration for you romance.

Friday, April 18, 2014

3rd Person? 1st Person? Which Way Is Best? - Question from a Writer

Can changing from third person pov to first person pov help improve voice? Recently I wrote in first person and feedback was great voice. The manuscript I am trying to get agented and published is in third person. In your opinion will changing the tense help the voice? 

This is a great question and one I am sure a lot of writers deal with. Of course, like everything else in publishing, there really isn't one right answer. 

Personally, I am of the opinion that first person is really a difficult voice to write in. I know a lot of authors take this approach, but I think it is simply because they can hear the voices of the characters better. Essentially when you take that first person approach, you are working with dialogue. But here is the real struggle. By writing in first person, you are eliminating all of that narration and world building that you would see in third person. You have to rely on the characters telling us what is going on and all of that back story. the hard part here is making it sound natural and nor forced.

The shift from first to third doesn't really help the voice of the story, it just brings in more of that narration and introspection. This approach just gives the reader a clearer sense of who the character is and what the character is thinking. 

I think the real answer here is not whether or not it will add more to the voice or enhance the voice. The real answer is what works best for the actual story. Remember that the story and the plot dictate the approach you take. You don't start off saying you are going to write in first person and then figure out the story. 

I would also add that publishers and agents are not going to reject a story because it is in first or third person. The story will be looked at for the merit of the writing and the concept. Of course, with that said, you should really examine the line, the publisher, the editor and/or the agent to see what their likes and dislikes are. For example, I am not against first person, but I do believe it is harder to write. that would determine if your story has the strength in premise, voice and style for what I am looking for. 

Hope that helps?