Tuesday, March 7, 2017

When Your Scene Stirs A Reader's Heart

How can we write scenes that stirs a reader's heart?

A story that stirs a reader's heart is so much more than a story

It's more than a signature on a contract with a publisher. 
      more than a name of the cover. 
      more than top billing on Newsweek's list or a mention by Oprah.
      more than copies in a prominent place in a bookstore or online. 
      more than recognition at conferences.
      more than a huge fan base.
      more than a royalty check.
      more than the word count met for the day.

It produces an engaged reader. 

One whose life is potentially changed. The reader might be a hurting heart reaching out for a new way to solve a problem, or a discouraged reader who just needed to see that happy endings really exist, or even a stressed mind that longed for a new world if only for an hour.

To write a scene that stirs a heart we must first ask ourselves: what are the primary reasons we write stories?

I've listed some of the desires above that in truth, we as writers really want. But when these truths become the focus, they water down the stories and drive readers away.

This is not our calling.

When we truly write for the Reader whose heart longs to be stirred instead of ourselves we will begin to reap the benefits listed above.

How can we write scenes that stirs a reader's heart?

I recently returned from a drive through the Smokey Mountains. The road ended in Gatlinburg. My focus had been on seeing the sun in nature. When I returned, my friends asked, so how did Gatlinburg look? What damage is still there from the fire in December?

The city proper looked fine. That is what I'd noticed and what I reported. Hardly words from a writer. But I had seen the fire damage in the mountains and hills surrounding the city. Firefighters worked tirelessly to keep flames from destroying the business district. But, during the time, outlying homes burned leaving charred shells. Fallen black timber cluttered the land for acres into the mountains.

I missed an opportunity to show my friends what their hearts wanted to see.

I shall make up for this faux pas with this description of something beautiful out my window to brighten your day:

A male cardinal landed on wood. Sun shone on his feathers creating an explosion of red. This was no ordinary shade of red because deep crimson is different than the saucy strawberry red over vanilla ice cream. He is saucy strawberry.  Behind him, a stand of winter pines mirrored on a lake. The dark colors enhanced his berry reds glowing in the light.

This literally just happened. Do you have the picture in your mind? Quiz me. I put the photo lower in this post.

This is the main point of today's post. As story crafters, our job is not to move the story along, find new ways to keep the words flowing, meet deadlines, or any of a thousand other details we let bog us down. Our job is to show the reader what their heart wants to, longs for, and needs to see.

There are many foundational topics that can help us stir a reader's heart. 

Intellectual passages can stir a reader's heart. Ah, yeah. It's true. I read a fiction story about an African tribal wedding. The ceremony was polar from what we see in America. The writer, who had lived in Africa, took me there. She taught me the rituals and reasons in story format. What an experience to see this in words.

Emotional scenes/passages stir a reader's heart. This comes second nature to us, but here are some things to weed out and thereby enhance our emotional scene:

*After being told a gazillion time, I finally see why cliches are bad bad bad in story writing.

A cliche does not stir a reader. The words did the first time they blackened the page. In fact, the first time the phrase appeared in print it received kudos and ovations. But not the second, third, or any other time. Cliches don't add color, humor, or depth. What actually happens is Reader sees the cliche and is immediately transported AWAY from your story to the last one she read the cliche in. 

She left your story for another! Divorced you. Seriously! Her mind was instantaneously beamed to another venue, far away and she is walking in that setting...not yours.

For example: I love, love these groups of words, which have now become a cliche: "Go ahead, move at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me." Isn't that awesome? So clear. It paints a vivid picture. Drips sarcasm. Oh yeah. I laugh each time I--wait for it--visualize the original scene. The longer I think about that scene, the more I think of the rest of the original story. Oh, yeah, baby, my mind is gone from wherever it was supposed to be. This is what happens when a reader sees a cliche in your work. Even in dialogue.

Moral: Writers who use cliches lose readers.

*Instead, create stellar key phrases that transport readers so deep into your story the only way she can get out is to keep reading to the last page...even then, your well written snippets will continue to pinball around in Reader's mind hours and days later. 

These key phrases should be unique. Not original ideas, because those can be really hard to forge. What is needed is new ways of saying a phrase, like the glacial pace one mentioned which is a spin off of "your as slow as a snail." When writing or editing your story look for fresh ways to communicate the words. Yeah, that instruction practically is a cliche. I'm not talking about creating a new language or inventing individual words, although I have done that myself. Simply, create groups of words that keep the reader locked in the scene in every way. Emotionally, intellectually, and if written well--kinesthetically.  

The cardinal photo I mentioned above. How nice of him to pose for me.

I can't wait to read your comment(s)!

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Mary Vee -  Rock climbing, white-water rafting, zip lining, and hiking top Mary's list of great ways to enjoy a day. These activities require lots of traveling, which is also tops on her list. For some crazy reason, the characters in Mary’s young adult mystery/suspense fiction stories don’t always appreciate the dangerous and often scary side of her favorite activities. Unbelievable.

Mary studies marketing and writing skills, and pens missionary and retellings of Bible stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids. She has been a finalist in several writing contests.

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Debra E. Marvin said...

oh dear. I don't think I've heard 'glacial pace' before. I do live under a rock! Oops ANOTHER CLICHE.

But your words are so very true. I'm not even sure what draws me in to a particular story or if it varies day by day. I just know when it has happened!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Yes. I think all readers are the same. That is what makes Christian fiction writers so special. God tells us the clue :)