I’ll be writing about the video Writing Heart and Emotion into your story – writing advice and tips, from the writing advice series I’m doing on YouTube with Jonathan McKinney.
Causing your audience to have a strong emotional connection to your story, even to the point of being moved to tears, is how you make a story stick with them well after they’ve finished your book. Nobody remembers the story that they had no feelings about, it’s the stories that impacted us on an emotional level that we hold in our hearts. But how do you do it?
I’m going to refer to the film Tinkerbell And The Legend Of The Neverbeast (SPOILERS). It often surprises people that I am so emphatic about this film, because they’ve never seen it, but I think it is one of the best films ever created in the history of cinema. And that is because of how much of an emotional impact it has on me. I can’t talk about it without crying.
The reason Tinkerbell And The Legend Of The Neverbeast triggers such a response in me is because it pulls on the emotions connected to the love and loss of a pet.
The Neverbeast comes into Pixie Hollow and is befriended by Fawn. The other fairies think he’s a monster, but Fawn believes in him. There’s stories that a monster like that will come to Pixie Hollow and they interpret is as a sign of danger from him, but actually he’s there to stop the danger. When the other fairies realise the Neverbeast is actually there to protect them, he nearly sacrifices himself to protect them, and saves their lives.
Just when you think the Neverbeast will be part of the fairy family, he has to go back into hibernation and will be asleep for a thousand years. The fairies have to say thank you and goodbye to their new friend. They lay him to rest in a soft bed with a cool breeze to keep him comfortable, then watch as he drifts off to sleep.
If you’ve ever had to say goodbye to a beloved pet then I expect it would trigger the same emotional response in you. And that emotional trigger mechanism is what we need to learn to replicate in our own stories in different ways. Using the saying goodbye to a pet is just one of the many emotional triggers we can ruthlessly use to captivate and devastate our audience.
Saying goodbye to a loved one, one last time, is an incredibly powerful way of bringing out your audiences emotional response. We’ve all lost somebody we love, and the dream that you might see the once more to tell them you love them and say goodbye is moving and devastating. If you’ve seen the TV series Angel (SPOILERS), Wesley’s relationship with Fred reaches this hearbreaking and moving conclusion when Illyria presents as Fred to him in his last moments so he can finally say goodbye to the woman he loves.
This is a concept more suited to urban fantasy or fantasy, because it can be done with magic or something supernatural. So if this appeals to you then these are the genres I’d recommend writing in. Allowing your characters to have that moment together, to express their emotional truth, and still have to go through the process of being torn apart forever all over again. It’s agony and it’s painful and it’s absolutely beautiful.
Ruthlessly Target Your Audience
These are two themes I’ve played with in my own stories, specifically because of how much they impact me. To do this well, you need to isolate in your mind what themes emotionally devastate you, and be willing to explore those and work with them so that you can do that to your audience. It sounds ruthless, and it sort of is, but it’s also effective.
If you can move yourself to tears by using what breaks your heart, you’ll move audiences to tears as well.
Unearned Emotion Isn’t Real
The key is to not rush it. Don’t think that using these techniques cheaply will cause the same response because they won’t. Unearned emotion isn’t real, and even if it causes a brief emotional response because of the concept being emotional, it won’t last and it’s not respectful of the feelings you’re playing with.
Put the time into constructing it well. Give your audience the feeling in their gut that it’s coming, or make them desperate that it won’t, because then when it finally happens and the emotional trigger has been pulled it’ll be an intense feeling that stays with them. Put moments throughout the story developing the relationship between your characters, whether it’s the fear of being without the other, or something else that represents the emotional pull you’re going to use at the end.
Foreshadow carefully and you will pull your audience into that relationship, make them emotionally invested in it for their own reasons as well as for the sake of the characters.
Develop Your Characters
For instance, using the Neverbeast as an example, put the strong desire to love and not say goodbye to the beloved pet into the character the audience will most relate to and connect to. Develop those emotions in the character they connect to and they will start to become emotions your audience has in their own right.
It sounds evil and cruel, and it sort of is, but it’s also incredibly satisfying if you’re a writer and can cause that response in your reader. It means you’ve done your job well because your audience has connected with your characters and your story in a very real well. A badly written story and a poor concept can’t do that. That’s why you have to foreshadow and develop those emotions with respect and care, and understand what emotional trigger you’re using, and what it means to the people impacts.
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