Sunday, January 10, 2010

What is Fiction For?

Writing, at least from where I sit, is best when it evokes powerful emotion. If you as an author make me laugh, if you make me cry, if you scare the hell out of me, you've done your job. And I'm glad to have given you my hard-earned cash.

Making me think is a fine thing. But it's trumped every time by making me feel. And, No, I'm not someone for whom feelings alone guide the universe. I'm talking fiction here. Why I buy it and why I read it.

So, having said that fiction that makes me feel is a good thing, how does a writer do it? How do you move a reader?

It's not even close to enough to have your characters emote all over the page. Not nearly enough to tell me they laughed and cried and pined away for lost loves.

Because, unless you've already proven it to me, I don't believe you.

And if you insist on blathering on about such things, describing in your editorial way, the big emotions your characters feel, I won't trust you, either.

So, what is the trick, then?

Prove it.

Emotion that really works in fiction comes from plainly stated actions and dialog that move a reader. It doesn't come from the editorial. It doesn't come from the author telling me what to feel about what I've just read, trying to run around behind his characters' actions and patch the holes he's left with his own incompetence.

If the action and dialog hasn't moved me, your editorial can't fix it.

Is this--proving the emotions--easy to do?

Hell no.

If it were, every romance we ever read would be tear-stained. Every suspense novel would come with a pack of Depends.

It's not easy.

But my premise--beyond that immensely un-helpful note that it isn't easy--is that you must prove it. And you must prove it in actions and dialog. Don't make me trust an author who isn't capable of proving his point.

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