To create a satisfying experience, a story has to have an emotional impact on the reader. This is true whether you’re an adult or a child. Some ways emotions enhance your writing:
Emotion keeps your readers engaged. It’s not always about action and plot. A few days ago, my 11-year-old was reading the novel Drizzle by Kathleen Van Cleve, and she got so angry about something one of the main characters did, she said she didn’t like the book anymore. But she kept on reading right to the end. It wasn’t just that she wanted to find out what happened. She also wanted to resolve her own emotions that had been stirred up by the story.
Showing character feelings creates a deeper level of attachment. I always appreciate it when my critique buddies point out places where they don’t feel enough emotion from my characters. When there’s no emotional side to a character, the reader often feels detached.
Emotions enhance the action. While no one would argue that showing a heart-stopping fight scene or a breathless chase wouldn’t grab your readers, adding some emotion makes it more powerful. Feeling is part of the way we react to events, and so your characters should feel as well as act in their reactions.
Some tips for creating emotions in stories for middle graders:
1. Be realistic. What bothers a kid might not bother you. Fears are a prime example. What were you afraid of at age 9? Some typical kid fears might be being alone in a dark house, watching a scary movie, or being hurt in an earthquake. It’s also important to keep in mind that the age range from 8 to 12 can show a wide difference in emotional development. A realistic emotion in a story for 8- and 9-year-olds might seem silly to 11- and 12-year-olds.
2. Avoid clichés. Middle graders aren’t always familiar with clichés, and may not interpret them the way you do. Besides that, clichés can may your story seem boring and stale.
3. Don’t overload your reader. A good idea to build in some emotion might be to list the emotions and ways of showing them that could work for your scene. But don’t include everything. Choose words carefully to create a mood that goes with how your reader is feeling. Remember, middle graders don’t like to read through a lot of description.
A review of Drizzle by Kathleen Van Cleve
Anna Staniszewski talks about how important it is to think about the emotional development of a character, e.g. what a character fears, as well as the character’s goal or want in the plot.
Christine Fonseca, author of Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students, discusses how emotion creates character motivation.
Don Fry talks about using details to show emotions.
Sherry blogs about building emotion into your writing.
The Emotion Thesaurus over at The Bookshelf Muse is a great place to find alternatives for clichéd phrases.
Do you have any tips for creating an emotional experience for your readers?