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How to create fiction that moves readers

Literary agent and writing teacher Donald Maass says the most successful novels of the early 21st Century are beautifully written while telling powerful stories. He predicts less focus on genre and more focus on fiction that moves people.

What moves people? What connects readers to the heart of our characters? Emotions.

At the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference last month, Maass spoke about how to achieve an emotional landscape in our novels.

He says to ask yourself what new emotions you’ve experienced this year.  Then ask: is there a place in your manuscript where a character can feel this emotion?

Another way to create an emotional landscape is to pick an obstacle your character faces in the story and write about what the character is feeling most strongly about it. Are they taking it personally? Are they laissez-faire about it? What else are they feeling? What secondary emotion is there? Is there conflict between these two emotions? Is there an insight, understanding, or motivation that rises from these emotions?

Maass says to try for emotions that your reader might not expect to feel. As an exercise, he suggests doing a search in your manuscript for any neon emotions such as hate, rage, fury, love, lust, sadness, or grief.  Then try to deliver an emotion that’s less expected.

For tips on further developing character emotions read my earlier post “Use Character Emotions to Show vs. Tell.”

I highly recommend any of Maass’s workshops including the upcoming Writing the Breakout Novel Workshop and Story Masters with Christopher Vogler and James Scott Bell.

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