The Primary Job Of A Novelist

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How many emotions do you experience in a week? A month? If someone told your story, what emotions would they put on the page? Think about your lowest moment and your best experience. Translate all that with ink and paper. Isn’t that the stuff that makes up our stories?

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is true for life and for fiction.

Have you ever thought about what your primary job is as a novelist? People will come to your fiction for a couple of reasons. They want to be entertained. They want to escape. Sometimes they want to learn. However, primarily your readers want to feel. They want to experience the emotions that your hero or heroine experience.

I always ask myself this question as I begin a scene—What is the primary emotion of the P.O.V. character? When I know this, I can show instead of tell. I can use body language, layer the story, and apply the theme. I can sometimes bring in personification and metaphor. Knowing your character’s emotion on every page is the key. Is the scene lacking tension? Look at emotion.

Emotion is what will carry your story to the end and leave your reader with a lasting impression. If you can make someone laugh, cry, or ache, you have done your job as a novelist. You have made them feel.

At the February Writing for the Soul Conference Brandilyn Collins said this: “You should never apologize for human emotion.” I think as writers sometimes we’re afraid to let people know that we feel as deeply as we do. We’re tempted to write half-truths in the fear of being judged. But, there comes a point when you have to decide what kind of writer you’re going to be.

Think of your favorite novels. Why do you love them? Did they portray real, raw, deep emotion? It wasn’t until I embraced this that I began to succeed as a novelist. As you’re writing, remember that to be human is to feel. So get all that on the page—all that anger, hope, passion, love, rage, despair, anxiety, and shame. Make the reader feel. That’s your job. You are the memory. People will come to you to remember. Remember well.


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