Donald Maass is the President of Donald Maass Literary Agency and a premier agent. He's written Writing the Breakout Novel, The Fire in Fiction, and conducts many writing workshops every year. Last week he lead the member of the WFWA on an intensive look at Writing with Emotional Power. He has a book in process on these very topic and used some of the exercises from it for our workshop.
Don began the week by telling us that our genre, Women's Fiction, is different from others in some specific ways. For one thing, there are more internal passages in which the protagonist moves through emotional reactions to the events and problems around her. For another, the protagonist's journey will necessitate more telling passages. Women's Fiction feels deeply--character and reader--and it takes telling/showing, inner/outer, and implicit/explicit emotions to do it. Effective WF fires the heart and uses small, throw away emotions and details. Small events can cause big emotions His aim was to teach us how to craft and control the reactions, shape emotional effects, and intentionally get a specific reaction. The MC must have room to have angst, but the proper use of internal narration and telling passages is a must, so that the story will be as griping and intense as any thriller, suspense, or mystery. The question becomes: Will the protagonist grow enough to handle the thrill ride of her life? There has to be room for doubt.
So, how do you accomplish those twin differences without boring your reader to tears? (Unless it's tears you want at that point ;-) Don has specific answers for that question.
- Lesson 1 How to Transform Blah Scenes with Inner Turning Points: Every scene must have change and the protagonist's emotional reaction to that change is the story. How does this change affect the MC? Is it good or bad? How does it affect others in the scene? What does this change mean to the MC's journey throughout the story?
- Lesson 2 How Actions Provoke Or Not and How to Judge: How does your MC react to a difficult choice. Making the choice visible using unique details for the setting and recording the reaction of the MC is key. Once you let external action speak to the internal reaction, you bring the reader into the key turning point moment.
- Lesson 3 Emotional Surprise and How to Achieve It: If your MC always reacts emotionally the way the reader expects, the story becomes boring. So, drill down into the second and third emotional reaction layers to create a strongly felt event.
- Lesson 4 Constructing Extended Passages of Telling: Telling isn't always bad if it is constructed in a way that pulls the reader in. In places where your MC is stuck, self-doubting, morally offended, etc., the writer should dig down for those interior reactions, the bedrock of the character's life.
- Lesson 5 The Emotional Arc of Your Audience: Finally, a writer must control and direct the reader's emotional journey, too. We took a secondary character and plotted out what we wanted the reader to feel in the beginning, middle, late middle, and end. In one of these stages, we had to go for the opposite reaction than what the reader expected. And this is were FRIENDLY FIRE was rocked off its foundation for me. ;-) Samantha is a little hellion, not all sweetness and light as I saw her before. Now Laura Grace must earn her stripes as a mother against much higher odds. Before I saw the story as Laura Grace vs. the world in her fight to protect Samantha. Now, I realize I must let Laura Grace face the challenge of mothering a disturbed teen.
So, what does that mean to my strive to complete the FRIENDLY FIRE MS this month? It means that I have a complete overhaul coming instead of a celebration of completion. And you know what? I'm good with that. It's going to be a much better story, a more gripping read--one that will stick with the reader longer. Wish me luck!