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Emotional Connection: Punch Your Readers in the Gut
Writing is not only an intellectual endeavor for me, it’s also very much a physical one. When I’m on to the right story, the right location, the right situation, the right theme, my body tells me. I feel a surge of excitement in my solar plexus that literally sends the message Yes yes yes! to my brain…. I listen to my body. When I feel that surge of excitement, I know I’ve hit upon the right [idea] for a scene…. If you’re trusting your gut reaction to what you’re writing (i.e., trusting your body and not listening to the committee in your mind), you’ll do fine. —Elizabeth George in Write Away As one of the most structured forms of art, writing is very much a left-brain pursuit. We put our intellect to work every time we sit down and start thinking about three-act story arcs, complex vs. compound sentences, gerunds and participles, keeping our characters in character, and organizing our subplots. Our desks are cluttered with notes and reminders; our bulletin boards teem with sketches, maps, and timelines; and our filing cabinets are jammed with draft upon draft of our novels. There’s a lot to think about in this writing game. So much so that it’s almost overwhelming sometimes. However, we have to be careful that we don’t let the (very important) intellectual side of the craft take precedence over the even more important guidance of our primal, instinctive, sheerly emotional gut feelings. As perennial bestselling mystery author Elizabeth George pointed out in the opening

paragraph, our emotional, or physical, responses to our own ideas and stories are often the most accurate indication of their value. As much as we want readers to intellectually appreciate the intelligence of our writing, we need them, even more, to react to the underlying pull of the story and its characters with utter, unthinking emotion. When you can connect with the mysterious, often unpredictable realm of a reader’s emotion, you’re likely to hook them not only into reading your story, but also into carrying it with them for the rest of their lives. A story that connects with me emotionally is likely to win my approval, even it fails on certain structural levels. I’ll forgive your plot issues if you make me love your characters and resonate with your themes. So how do you go about creating emotionally resonant stories? It’s simple: You create stories with which you resonate. Learn to listen to your body and identify emotional connections and reactions. Whenever I hit on an idea that makes me literally gasp, that makes my lungs “collapse,” I know I’ve got something. Even if my body were to let me, that’s not a feeling I can afford to ignore. When a story or a character or a theme rips at my heart or fills with me joy—I know I’ve tapped a powerful emotion. If I can channel that emotion, then I’ll likely be able to give readers a similar experience. Will all readers react to my story in the same way I do? Probably not, because not everyone is emotionally stimulated by the same things I am. But, at least, by utilizing what triggers my own genuine emotion, by letting my story punch me in the gut if it has to, I’m allowing readers the opportunity to share that authenticity. My uncle, an internationally recognized motivational speaker, often points out that “If they cry, they buy.” Callous as that may be, it’s absolutely true. Readers pay attention to their emotions—and so should you.

About the Author: K.M. Weiland grew up chasing Billy the Kid and Jesse James on horseback through the sand hills of western Nebraska, where she still lives. A lifelong fan of history and the power of the written word, she enjoys sharing both through her novels and short stories. Visit her blogs Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors and AuthorCulture to read her take on the writing life.

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