Eliciting Emotion

One of the best things I did while attending the RWA National Conference in Dallas was spending two hours listening to screenwriting consultant Michael Hauge give a talk called "From Identity to Essence: Love Stories and Transformation." It was a session filled with little gems, and you don't have to be a romance writer to understand their importance.

Hauge spoke of the number one principal of story to be eliciting emotion. A lot of people might wrinkle their noses, thinking of purple prose and melodrama, but that's only what you call it when it's done poorly. What the author is trying to do is help the reader experience the protagonist's authentic emotions by pulling him/her so deep into the character's experience that he/she is experiencing the tension, fighting the fear, or falling in love with the one person who sees through her mask (outward-projected identity) to the fully-realized potential (essence) beneath.

That was one of the many things Hauge said that resonated with me. (Check out his website for CDs and DVD classes. He's an amazing teacher.) It reminded me of my primary job, to create an identifiable but heroic protagonist who's a (braver, finer) stand-in for the reader and to take along that reader for a "safe" emotional ride.

Because without emotion, what's the point? You might as well be reading the phone book.

Today, as you go about your own work, take a look at your scene and ask yourself what emotions your characters are feeling and how you can communicate it in a deeply-personal way. No fair saying, "John was in a funk." You have to draw that reader between the dude's ears and let him/her come to that conclusion.


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