Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Gauging emotional impact.

Here are a few related questions for the writers in the crowd: How do you know if your story works at an emotional level? Rephrased: how do you know they'll laugh when you want 'em to laugh, cry when you want 'em to cry? And how do you know you're not traipsing off into the land of literary autism? Maybe you know that place: you look at what you've written; your inner voice says "YES!", but your readers all say, "Uhhhh . . . " I've been thinking about this for a while now -- ever since I got into the latter third of my novel, and more frequently as I close in on the ending. Thinking my way through the epilogue today, I made myself cry. Since this happened while driving, you might argue it wasn't a good thing. But I was tickled. It's not the first time I made myself cry. Trouble is, I get into moods where it doesn't take much to set me off. An old Barney Miller episode might do it for me. Since the stuff I write ultimately comes from my innards, it stands to reason it should have some emotional impact for me. I suppose that at a bare minimum, my writing should make me feel the 'correct' way. If it doesn't work for me, why should it work for anyone else? After that, I would hope it works for my handful of readers. The fact that my writing made a certain someone cry recently does, I admit, cheer my heart. It would be nice to have a few dozen readers vet the manuscript before farming it to the publishers, but I know that's not going to happen. So I guess I'll have to cross my fingers, knock on wood, and send it out, hoping that at least one publisher will see this book the same way I do. What else can I do? D.


Blogger mm said...

Well - I haven't cried yet, but I have yelled (internally) at least a few times.

"For Chrissakes Tui - pull your friggin' head out of your vent!"

Does that count for anything?

7/06/2005 07:27:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Yeah, I worry about that one a LOT. If my readers see my protagonist as stupid, I'll surely alienate them. I'm hoping on the rewrite that I can do something about it.

7/06/2005 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger mm said...

Hey Doug - Pull your head out of your vent! Tui's flaws are a good thing.

7/07/2005 02:52:00 AM  
Blogger Jona said...

I agree with Maureen, you need flaws in a hero to make him likeable!

7/07/2005 03:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Eugie Foster said...

"How do you know if your story works at an emotional level?"

My $.02: My first indicator is when I'm doing the deed. If I cry when I'm putting the words down, I'm pretty sure I did it right. If I giggle or grin, ditto. (At the correct places, of course). But the real test is gauging reader's responses by getting other people to critique your work.

"It would be nice to have a few dozen readers vet the manuscript before farming it to the publishers"

Have you considered joining a critique group like It handles both short stories and novel-length works.

7/07/2005 05:45:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Thanks, folks. And thanks for stopping by, Eugie.

Maureen: Tui is deeply flawed -- he has some major blind spots, which I'm sure you've noticed. I just hope this won't eventually put some folks off. (I guess not all of my characters can be ballbusters!)

Eugie: I've tried the Critters thing a few times. I prefer the folks I've met through the Writers BBS (like Maureen and Debi here). With my manuscript, I have a huge problem -- the MANUSCRIPT is huge! If I put it up on critters for a crit exchange and get 25 takers, I would then have 25 book-length mss to read. I wouldn't have time to sleep.

Thanks everyone!

7/07/2005 07:59:00 AM  
Anonymous keith said...

Take comfort in that by and large we all think the same. If it works for you, then you've a fair chance it'll work for others.

I think that's part of the maturing process as a writer, that at the start insecurity rules, but gradually you learn to trust your own judgement more...

7/07/2005 01:19:00 PM  
Anonymous keith said...

I enjoyed your review of Lennox Avenue, Doug...

(just thought I'd slip that in seeing as the boss is here :-)

7/07/2005 01:22:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

And she's a very kind boss, too. Responds quickly to her emails, holds my hand, gives me lots of good advice. So far so good.

7/07/2005 02:50:00 PM  
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