What Makes a Scene Emotionally Gripping?

6:00 AM

"Make your readers care."

Have you heard that before? I know I have, loads of times. And it's good advice. But ... how are you supposed to do that? How do you make readers care about your story?

Let's say you start a book. Right off the bat, it's intense. There's a fierce fight scene, blades are flying. It's great action, fantastic writing. But the two fighters are ... faceless. This is the beginning, so readers don't know who these characters are, they don't understand what's at stake, and they have no investment. They don't know who they should be rooting for, and what outcome they want to see.

You see the problem here?




The reason there's no emotional attachment is because we're not invested in the story yet. We don't know what we want, because we haven't been given any options.

So how do you change that?

There are three integral concepts that are key to emotionally gripping your readers in a scene. There are no doubt tons of others, but I'm going to cover these three today.


1. ESTABLISH YOUR CHARACTERS

Those faceless people don't mean anything to us. Aside from being a decent person, we have no incentive to want them to remain uninjured. I don't know what the fighters are fighting over. Did one fighter kill the other's friend? Or did one of them steal the other's inheritance? Or their dinner? Or Oreos? Or, heaven forbid, their coffee? I know I would grab the nearest knife and go at it if someone stole my coffee, but I could get over dinner and Oreos. 

Maybe they're both to blame. Maybe one called the other's face a chicken, and the other called the person's soul an acorn. They both show astounding immaturity in this case, and neither would get my vote to win the fight. 

But let's focus on that last stealing option there. Character 1 steals character 2's coffee. How will he live without coffee? We'll deal with this more in point two, but right now we want to focus on the character whose coffee was stolen. 

We know this person (let's make it a girl named Shirley) is a smart, protective bean who likes coffee. Yes, that gives her a bunch of brownie points. But what if she steals coffee from other people? What if she steals little preschoolers' Oreos? We don't want to cheer for a coffee robbing, Oreo snatching thief, do we? 

We need to know a bit about these fighters. We need to know who is in this scene. We need someone to root for. Otherwise, we have no emotional investment. And that is not good. That's why readers put books down. Because they don't care.

Let's say Shirley is a barista. Character 2, let's make it a guy named Phill, comes into Shirley's coffee shop and steals a whole bag of coffee beans and races out of the store, knocking over Old Aunt Suzie on his way out and scattering her seventeen grandchildren, who stumble out the door and into the street where cars and scooters are whizzing by.

That instantly makes us dislike Phil. And Shirley gets some brownie points when she abadons her post behind the counter to help Old Aunt Suzie and races after the thief. 

CONCLUSION: Make sure we know who our players are.


2. SET THE STAKES

We have very high stakes in this scene. I mean, come on! Someone stole coffee. This is a very serious matter. We all must hate Phil. Although, he does show a sense of priority. But STILL. Stealing is a no-no.

Ehem.

So what are the stakes here? Shirley runs after Phil. But what is she risking? What's at stake for her? We care about her now, but just because we care about Shirley doesn't necessarily mean we'll care about what she's doing. And one way we'll care about what she's doing is if we understand the stakes. I love my characters, but if my little Wolf goes to get some cereal, I'm not going to care much because there's no risk. I'm invested in him, but I have no reason to care about the cereal.

Let's say Shirley is not supposed to leave the store while working. But she does here. What's at risk? Her job. And we see how much Shirley loves coffee. We don't want her to get fired from the coffee shop. WHAT TRAVESTY. 

Let's add on. Shirley can get over losing her job. But what if she saw a gun in Phil's belt when he came and stole the coffee? Now we have two big stakes to consider. Shirley's job and her life. We can be pretty confident, especially since this is the beginning of the story, that her life will not be taken. But her job sure might.

I don't know about you, but I'd keep reading.

*SMALL NOTE: it's a good idea to make at least one of the stakes you set something you could very easily take away. Her job can very easily be taken away. We'd still have a story. In fact, we'd probably have a better story because #CONFLICT. But we don't want her to lose her job. We can be pretty confident she's not going to die (yet)


Now, you might think once you've established your characters and set your stakes, everything will be covered. The readers will care about what's happening because, well, THE CHARACTERS. And sometimes that might be true. But I know when I'm reading, if the scene doesn't really belong there, if it feels shoved in or forced, I don't really care. You might say there are stakes, but they don't feel real to me. You have to paint them in the story. You have to make it so that, if I am to continue reading this book, I have to accept the stakes you've raised.

But how do you do that? 


3. MAKE SURE THE SCENE BELONGS

This could also be called streamlining the plot. Kind of like the chair scenario. If you write a fight scene in a room and a character hits someone over the head with a candle stick, show us the candle stick the moment we enter the room. Then when we read the nice thunk the stick makes on said character's skull, we'll understand that it belongs there. 

You know how when you're reading a book and the middle gets all crazy? And there's a bunch of stuff going on and it's all mayhem and madness. And then you reach this point where you think, "Oh no, I'm so scared because the characters are obviously in danger of DEATH." Only you don't really feel that way. You're kind of tired of the same old stakes. 

So what is going to keep us reading? Say Shirley chases down Phil. Let's say he gets away, but before he does he warns her that he is developing an anti-coffee serum that will transform all the coffee in the world into jet fuel. DUH DUH DUHHHHH! Shirley doesn't lose her job, since Old Aunt Suzie raved about what a wonderful employee she was for chasing down Phil and helping her with the kids. So the manager can't fire her or else he'll look bad, but now he doesn't like her and things at work start to get difficult. And she can't be the good model employee he wants her to be either, because Phil is still out there with a plan to take out all the coffee in the world, starting with her beloved coffee shop.

Now let's say in the midst of all this, Shirley takes a trip to Kroger and buys cleaning wipes. Just like with Wolf's cereal, we don't really care about the wipes because they have nothing to do with the plot. If you have a bunch of action whirling in your story, make sure it belongs there. Don't put a fight scene in just for the sake of having a fight scene. Don't kill a character for the sake of making someone die and crushing your readers' souls.

Make sure these scenes belong there. They need to have a place in your story. They need to keep the plot driving forward, and to keep things moving, stakes rising, characters developing. That's what makes readers care. They want to see things happening. To see the things they truly care about change, for better or worse. 

That's one reason readers will keep reading, even if they don't like what's currently happening. They can be assured that things will change soon, and hopefully they'll like the change. And if they don't, they'll desperately keep reading until they find a change they do like. And then your readers are finally satisfied.

Establish your characters, set your stakes, and make sure it belongs. And, through all of these, keep your story moving and changing and developing. Your readers are rooting for change. Give it to them!


I am on vacation currently, so that's why things are a bit slow here. But I hope you enjoyed and learned something from this post!

Do you struggle with making readers care? What do you think makes a scene emotionally gripping? 

<3

Remember to Be

6:00 AM

I drafted the beginnings of five posts before I finally decided what topic I was going to cover. And while I tried to take my struggle to find a topic and use it in this post, I couldn't really think of a way. My point telling you this is that it's 1:30 and I'm not even really sure what I'm going to talk about today. But I'm human, just like all of you. And sometimes, I'm just not put together.

You see, I've been feeling this a lot lately. I've had loads to do, loads to say, loads to think, loads to accomplish. And it's been drowning me. I don't know where to start, and I don't know how to prioritize. Just when I think I'm doing okay, that I'm getting part of this massive, endless to-do list done and can finally take a break and b r e a t h e, I remember something else I haven't done. Something someone else is waiting on me to accomplish.

It really sucks.

And I've been beating myself up about it. I can't think. I can't truly apply myself to any one task because I'm so focused on all the other things I need to be doing. While I'm studying for bible bowl, I remember that I need to critique my partner's chapter. And that novella a writing friend is waiting on me to get back to her on. Oh, and editing articles for Project Canvas. And figuring out how the last half of my own WIP is going to go, finishing draft two before nano so I can write the book I want to write in November, and hopefully get my WIP out to betas next year. Not to mention plotting out said nano book, which I've attempted to do three times already.

And those are just the writer things I have to do.

There's so much more, and it makes me want to rip my hair out. I'm about to start my senior year of school. I've got to do adulty stuff. I just got a job, which I'm super excited about. But there's more time, gone. I don't know how I'm going to handle it yet.

And let's not forget about my faith. I try to study God's word every morning and every night. That's my goal. That's my standard. Every time I fail to meet that standard, which is quite often, I'll have you know, I feel like a failure.

What's the point of all this? If you're still reading this, you deserve a round of applause. I'm pretty sure I'm rambling at this point.

But let me tell you something.

Life is a road. At different times, in different scenarios, I imagine those roads looking a little different. In this case, this road is a forest path. And it's so easy to keep plowing forward, focusing on where you need to go. Do, do, do.

Stepping forward is important. But don't let your eyes be glued to the path ahead so that you forget to look at what's around you. See those flowers, lining the path? See that deer grazing in the trees? Those birds, fluttering overhead?

"But I can't look at all that," you protest. "This path is full of roots. It's narrow. I'm going to trip and fall."

Sure. You might trip. You might fall. But God gave you the ability to get back up again. And don't forget--He's right by your side, and He's walking with you.

You are not on this road alone. Remember to let yourself be.


I love the way Anne Lamott puts it. "bird by bird." Life is a road, and that road you walk? It's full of steps. One step doesn't seem to carry you far, and sometimes it's a small, halting step. But that step is one of many, and without them, you'd be right in the same place you started.

Let yourself be while you do. Take life on step at a time, bird by bird, and remember in the meantime that you're a human being. So be.


This is your 895th installment of Hannah's Late Night Rambles. I hope you were able to make sense of my brain thoughts XP

Are you swamped with to-do's? Are you studying your road? Or are you charging ahead with your head down? Maybe it's time for you to try looking up.

<3

Live First

6:00 AM


The Minneapolis Young Writers Workshop was almost two months ago. I can't believe it's already been so long! It feels like just yesterday I was squealing with six of my online friends while writing, word warring, singing TOP, and learning from the masters that came to speak at the workshop.

This year, we focused a lot on the publication process. How to write that perfect pitch, the process of querying, what exactly an agent does and how you get one, etc.

At the author panel is where the heart of this years conference was expressed. (At least, the heart of what I took from it.) 

It wasn't quite what I was expecting, either.

One of the authors (I can't remember who) said, "If you are given the choice between going out and doing something neat and staying home and writing, go out and do the neat thing." 


The reason I can't remember who first said it is because once the author stated it, every single one of them adamantly agreed.

Think about this, guys. Four NYT bestselling authors on a panel, and they all agreed that living needs to come before writing. Why is that?

We are writers, after all. We live to write.

Right?

Let's imagine that scenario. Your friends say, "Hey, so-and-so! Do you want to come to this cool park with us and hike?"

There are two outcomes.

You could say no. Then all your friends go without you. You'll probably hear some stories when you're hanging out about this owl that they saw on the trail and how so-and-so tripped and almost fell off a steep slope into the woods. You'll feel a little lonely, but it's that familiar writer loneliness. You made a sacrifice, and you got that chapter edited.

Or you could say yes. You could go on the hike. You could mess around and laugh and explore with your friends. You could breathe fresh air and look at the trees and see that owl. You would experience life first-hand.

Yeah, writing is wonderful. But writing will always be there. Your friends, the chance to go on that hike ... that only happens once. Sure, there are other hikes in the future. But each day is different. That opportunity cannot be exactly replicated.

Often, using time I could spend writing doing something else feels like a waste to me. I have this nagging sensation in my throat that says, You need to be editing.

But at this conference, I had to rethink that. And as we were focusing so much on publication, I got to thinking ...

What's the rush?

Why do I need to edit as fast as possible? Yes, I want to get my book published. But my book will always be there, waiting for me. The opportunities that come your way won't. They come and go, and if you don't snatch them up, you'll miss a lot of amazing experiences. Experiences are what bring our writing to life. Doing and seeing amazing parts of this world will bring color and richness and life into your stories.

There is a balance to find between living and never writing at all. You do want to make time for writing. But don't sacrifice every opportunity you have to do something in the world for the sake of more writing time. There are other times you can get some words down without having to give up your life.

So step outside today. Take a deep breath, and look at the world around you. Why are you rushing to write your book? I know a lot of people are getting published, and blog tours are floating all around the blogging community. That's amazing! Don't get me wrong -- that's so wonderful. But just because other people are getting published does not mean you need to rush to do the same.

Enjoy life before contracts and agents and editors. Let yourself write what you love, and let yourself live.

And now I will spam you with a few pictures from the workshop. (you were waiting for them - admit it) XP

my first time flying commercially!

My cousin and I treated my bunny to his own seat and complimentary airline peanuts.
He was pleased.

Chilling with Aimee and Kristana and talking about bookish things.

It's a little blurry, but this picture cracks me up. On the right is Shannon Hale, then moving to the left we have Sabaa Tahir and Ally Condie. All at a table, talking. And then there's Max, Shannon's son (far left) eating food. He was so funny and his open mic reading was the BEST THING EVER. The whole auditorium was laughing. 

Shannon Hale was so amazing! And she didn't slap me when I came up to the table and plopped 8 books down for her to sign. (in my defense, I waited to go last)

We got to meet Jillian Manning, an acquisitions editor for Blink/HarperCollins. She was amazing and wonderful and loves Wonder Woman and cats. #priorities We've also adopted her. Or she's adopted us? Either way, we're all now happily related.
And a group picture of all the lovely humans. It was a great conference. 

There are so many more pictures to post, but I'll stop my rambling here. In all, this years MYWW was a wonderful experience. Till next year, Minneapolis!

Do you find yourself in a rush to finish your project? Why do you think you feel that way? What are some ways you combat that?

<3