I’m currently polishing up my latest novel. Last weekend, I cried after finishing a particular scene. It’s not because of relief (although there is that) but because it was an emotionally stressful moment for my protagonist. I discovered – by accident – that emotionally inhabiting my characters improves my writing. The accident happened a few years ago. While workshopping a project that will likely never see the light of day, all readers mentioned one chapter as a standout. Some readers cried, others were moved to anger. Everyone used the same phrase as they described, that they “felt blah blah blah.” I stopped listening after the word, “felt.” Something about that one chapter made a strong connection. It had been inspired by a real event that occurred when I was a child. When I wrote the chapter, it was the first time I tapped into my own visceral memories to describe and embellish the event (we’re talking fiction, after all) to experience it through the characters. We’ve all heard everything said or done around an author is pretty much fair game for us. There’s that quote by Anne Lamott, “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” This isn’t about that, although I do subscribe to that theory, too. Long-time readers of this blog know that I often take note of overheard conversations and interactions I witness. But what I’m talking about is less about what I see and hear and more about what I feel as I write. It’s akin to “method acting,” where I tap into my own experiences of fear, humor, sadness, happiness, whatever, to feel what my characters feel in order to describe their reactions to situations. It’s exhausting but it’s also exhilarating. Hearing from readers that I make them feel something is itself a powerful feeling.