We are winding down our How NOT to Irritate and Editor series and hope you’ve found it useful. Joining us today is author/editor Jennifer Slattery with reminders that melodramatic writing is best in small doses.
If you really want to grab your reader, take hold of them at their most base level—their emotions.
But, if you want to turn off a reader faster than maggots in bleach, fill your novel with melodramatics.
Create characters who gasp more often than they breathe and who sob at every. Little. Infraction.
So how can a writer create intense drama minus the histrionics? They use emotional cues sparingly and allow the writing to speak for itself.
Avoid naming emotions.
If the writing is strong, you don’t need to tell us how a character feels. If the writing isn’t strong enough to convey the emotion on its own, strengthen it. Whenever an emotion is named, it weakens the writing and dumbs down the reader.
Watch out for emotional-clue saturation.
Heart thrashing, pulse racing, sweat trickling down her chilled back, she raced for the door. She grabbed it with a clammy hand, her breath quick and shallow. Goosebumps exploded up her arm as a shiver ran through her.
One clue per paragraph is often enough, and if you’ve shown your character to be sad or happy at the beginning of the scene, the reader will assume that emotion continues until you show them otherwise. Trust them to stay alert and engaged.
Use dialogue to convey emotion.
Angry characters cut one another off, make accusations, and say things they don’t mean. Or refuse to talk entirely. Shy or timid characters stumble on their words and tend to hold their tongue. People who are scared talk fast and use short sentences and fragments.
Use action more than physiological responses.
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional tummy flutter, but don’t use a physiological response just because that’s easier. Pause to consider how people stand and move when they’re happy, sad, or angry. How do they go about simple tasks like answering the phone or putting away dishes. Stretch yourself and reach for the authentic but unexpected.
Finally, go deeper with your characters.
If your writing seems to lack emotional oomph, it could be that you haven’t gone deep enough with your characters. Get us in their heads. Show us what they’re thinking, in general and in response to situations and other characters. If a character thinks, “He’ll never love me,” you don’t need to tell us she’s sad. Similarly, thoughts like, I’ll never pass my board exam now, show defeat.
Great writing is emotive. It takes the reader from enjoying a story to becoming the characters they’re reading about. Some authors appear to have an almost innate ability to craft characters that display authentic emotions. The rest of us have to work on this, but by studying our emotions and actions and the emotional responses and actions of others, this is an area all of us can master.
Meet the Editor
Jennifer Slattery works as a copyeditor for Firefly, writes fiction for New Hope Publishers, and devotions for Internet Café Devotions, and the group blog, Faith-filled Friends. When not writing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband.
Abandoned by her husband for another woman, Tammy Kuhn, an organ procurement coordinator often finds herself in tense and bitter moments. After an altercation with a doctor, she is fighting to keep her job and her sanity when one late night she encounters her old flame Nick. She walks right into his moment of facing an unthinkable tragedy. Because they both have learned to find eternal purposes in every event and encounter, it doesn’t take long to discover that their lives are intertwined but the ICU is no place for romance….or is it? Could this be where life begins again?