In my last blog we talked about making them laugh. When someone is reading your book you want to make them laugh or make them cry. But it’s my belief that if you can make them laugh and cry while reading the same book, they will remember it.
When writing a tender scene in Kidnapped, my husband walked past my desk. I had tears running down my face as I was typing. He stopped and asked if I was okay. I said I was fine and he quickly questioned why I was crying. I answered, “Because it’s so sad.” He shook his head and went on his way . . . but it occurred to me at the time – if I was crying writing it . . . then the reader should be crying when reading it.
So what made me cry while writing the scene? Let me set you up. When I was ten my mother left six of us and ran off to California with a man that wasn’t my father. I remember saying to myself, “Someday I’m going to be a good mom and I won’t desert them either.” So later in life I met the man of my dreams, I married him, and after four years we decide we wanted to have children. Well – after years of trying and umpteen tests, we were told we couldn’t have children. It was devastating. We had our names on so many adoption lists . . . it was a long, sad waiting game. When writing Kidnapped I asked the question; What if a childless couple adopted a little girl, fall in love with her, and then find her picture on the back of a milk carton - a ‘kidnapped’ child?
When writing the end of Kidnapped . . . the courtroom scene is when the loving couple must give ‘their’ daughter back to the natural parents. It tore my heart out and I put those feelings into my story. The keyboard was wet from my tears as I shared the devastation, utter heartbreak the couple experienced, especially when the child cries and screams for her mama and daddy. I felt the loss and desperation deep inside my heart . . .
What makes people cry? I’m not talking about the simple breaking of your favorite flower vase. What I mean is; what flips the switch and readers become overcome with emotion, whether it’s about the loss of Grandma or the shutdown of your sixty-three Chevy dad bought you when you were seventeen?
Readers are looking for emotional suspense, with a massive payoff.
Keep in mind you the reader want to be invested and nothing is worse than the ‘quick’ or ‘easy’ emotional build and letdown.
Eliminate the quick, and you’ll usually get rid of the easy, arriving at rewarding in the process.
It’s important to take your time and let emotion build and draw the reader in – to become emotionally vested. You could add a catastrophe or misfortune at the end, but you don’t need it.
Let’s say you want to break a character’s heart and send the reader pulling, and hoping something saves him before he completely gives up on love. Let’s say the character is a big, hunky, hard-working rancher. How do you make him vulnerable?
Well, children and romantics are the most vulnerable among us, aren’t they?
Maybe our rancher has never given up his boyhood dream of being a crop duster. Maybe, as a 30-year-old, he decides to go for this dream, even though it was conceived as a joint venture with an old girlfriend. We follow him as he secretly attends night school all the while still running his ranch.
He tells no one, not even his female friend and neighbor buddy since birth, because it was their dream to get married and have this business together. She has moved on and has a successful modeling career in the big city, much too good now for life on a ranch or the wife of a crop duster. The rancher reasons; if he tells no one and fails, he won’t lose face with those who told him he’d never succeed at it and he should just stick to the family ranch.
Now it’s time to bring the dream closer; let our rancher overcome a couple of setbacks. Let it slowly evolve. Now, have his old girlfriend show up and discover his secret . . . she realizes he didn’t include her . . . and her once hopeful plans and dreams with him have come to a crushing realization – it will never happen. He has moved on without even talking to her. She feels betrayed and jealous and sets out to sabotage him; if they can’t have ‘the dream’ together – it shouldn’t happen for him either.
When he realizes what has happened, he is devastated and wonders if he has betrayed her, or worse, has severed what little remains of their relationship . . . he had hopes they still could have a life together. Since he has kept his dream a secret (so he thought) and allowed no one close, he also has no one to confide in or console him.
This elusive side of emotion has powered many bestsellers.
Agents, editors, and readers seek the deeper edge of realism. They recognize and believe in a story where characters take you with them, while overcoming all sorts of obstacles to reach their dreams and goals . . . and lost love.