What, in your mind, is the surest way to achieve a powerful emotional experience in fiction – is it having a solid structure with compounding disasters? Is it having solid and deep characters? Or do you need to know it all before you can get the average reader to “have a PEE”?
I’m not looking for a shortcut, just a topic to study/practice so that my writing has a sharper edge and can cut down to deeper emotions.
Randy sez: Sometimes I think I’ve created a monster by coining the term “Powerful Emotional Experience.” (To my knowledge, I was the first writing teacher to claim that the purpose of fiction is to create a Powerful Emotional Experience, which my students quickly discovered had a delightfully naughty three-letter acronym.)
In my opinion, the Powerful Emotional Experience really requires only two elements:
- You have to have characters that your reader actually cares about, because nobody will get emotionally invested in a character they don’t care about.
- You have to put a character at hazard, and then either rescue him or let him go down in flames. (Either way will create an emotive response in your reader.)
There is a certain structure to characters. They must have Values, Ambitions, and Goals. (Drat, I can’t type out the entire chapter 7 from my book WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, but trust me, it’s all there.)
There is also a certain structure to hazard. At the highest level of story, there are Storygoals and Disasters. The middle level of story (the scene) is a little more complicated, because there are two basic kinds of scenes that are specially good at creating hazard and then paying it off to the reader with a PEE. At the very lowest level of story, paragraph by paragraph, there is a simple structure of hazard that gives the reader a continuous stream of, um, Powerful Emotional Experience. Again, it would be a an awful lot of work to type out here chapters 8, 9, and 10 of WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, and my publisher would probably get very irritated at me for violating their copyright.
A fair bit of this is summarized in the “Writing the Perfect Scene” article here on my web site.
Bryce also asked a second question:
Also, when are you going to have more contests so that us plebes that are still learning can earn a one-page critique? Or have you considered offering a paid five-page critique service? Or am I going to have to spring for a writing conference if I’m ever to have some direct input about my fiction?
Randy sez: I’ve not been doing many critiques lately except at writing conferences. It’s a matter of being very busy and wanting to have an impact on the most people I can in the limited time that I have. There are a number of good free-lance editors listed on my blogroll who could do a paid five-page critique, if you asked them. When I’ve got stuff to be critiqued, I usually hire Meredith Efken at the Fiction Fixit Shop to look it over. She gets my writing and knows how to tell me what’s wrong without making me want to break things. When you find a good freelance editor who works well with you, stick with him or her!
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.