Sunday, January 19, 2014


People read fiction for a vicarious emotional experience. Therefore, it is the author’s job to “hook” the reader and sustain his interest by building an emotional arc which promotes empathy for the character while driving the story forward. This is accomplished through the use of visceral reactions, thoughts, and body language. The character’s feelings draw the reader into the story and allow him to share the character’s emotional experience. Let’s look at Mac’s encounter with a thug.

Mac looked into the store’s barred windows. After the police car passed him and rounded the corner, he walked past the rats and overflowing garbage cans that lined the street.

A man bumped into him.

Big Spike Malone, the Bull Dog’s errand boy. They know I have the merchandise.

Mac prepared to fight.

 The snippet tells us that Mac is going to fight an unsavory character that has bumped into him. It’s interesting but about as exciting as a newspaper account. We don’t know who Mac is or why he is walking up the street. He could be a store owner, a courier, a customer that just left a store. He could be nonchalant or scared half to death. Let’s add some body language.

Mac’s throat constricted. He flipped up his trench coat’s collar and stared through the barred windows into the dilapidated store until the crawling patrol car passed him. As soon as it turned the street corner, he let out his breath and patted the packet of diamonds in his breast pocket. Lowering his head, he passed rats and the overflowing garbage cans lining the street and hurried in the opposite direction from the cops.

A man bumped his shoulder. Hard. Then stopped.

 Mac cocked one eyebrow, spun around, and, looking up at the man’s Adam’s Apple, gulped. Big Spike Malone. The Bull Dog’s errand boy. They know I have the merchandise.

 As he stood rooted to the gum splotched sidewalk, his pulse ratcheted to overdrive. Then a flush wafted over his face. He drew his eyebrows together and darted a sideways glance toward the street corner. A crooked smile screwed up his lips. He lowered his chin and raised his fists.

Now we know a lot more about Mac. The constricted throat, the raised collar, and the attempt to hide his face show he has some reason to be afraid of the police. Patting the diamonds and quickly putting distance between the police and himself further betrays nervousness. Could he be a thief? He identifies Spike, gulps, and freezes, presumably fearful of what the huge thug could do to him. Max is not a cop, so why does he know Spike is a gangster? Is Max part of the mob too? The glance toward the corner shows he is still cautious of the police, but the crooked smile, the tucked chin, and the fists show he has courage and confidence and is ready to fight the much larger man over the diamonds, which are probably stolen.

To help draw your reader into the story world, show the character’s actions and body language. Let the reader see what he sees, hear what he hears, and feel what he feels both physically and emotionally.--Quinn.

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