The Emotional Craft of Fiction

“The sad truth is that television commercials can stir more feelings in thirty seconds than many manuscripts do in three hundred pages.” So writes veteran literary agent Donald Maass in his spellbinding book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction, and he goes on to explain how writers can learn to help their readers feel.  As someone who has spent a fair amount of time crying over commercials, I found his advice compelling, and I’ll certainly apply it to my next book.  Meantime, here are some more quotes: “Why is it important to look at fiction writing through the lens of emotional experience? Because that’s the way readers read. They don’t so much read as respond. They do not automatically adopt your outlook and outrage. They formulate their own. You are not the author of what readers feel, just the provocateur of those feelings.” “Who your characters are, how they behave, what they believe, how they think, what they do, and the ways in which they feel are in your control. Why create characters who only raise shrugs?”  “What makes them classics? Artful storytelling, sure, but beyond the storytelling, classics have enduring appeal mostly because we remember the experiences we had while reading them; we remember not the art but the impact.” “When a plot resolves, readers are satisfied, but what they remember of a novel is what they felt while reading it. Hooks may hook, twists may intrigue, tension may turn pages, and prose may dazzle, but all of those effects fade as quickly as fireworks in a night sky. Ask readers what they best remember about novels and most will say the characters, but is that accurate? It’s true that characters become real to us but that is because of what they cause us to feel. Characters aren’t actually real; only our own feelings are.”

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