Teachers demand you appeal to the five senses and cause an emotional response in your reader. I believe this technique is misrepresented and usually not taught well. I’ve seen too many writers get bogged down in description and let’s face it: many readers will skim or pass over long passages without dialogue.Instead of trying to get an emotional response from your readers, you want to cause a PHYSICAL reaction. We want to evoke such strong feelings of mood, atmosphere, and a defined moment that your reader physically reacts. A tear let loose, quickened breath and pulse, verbal expression… these are all physical reactions the reader experiences when caught up in a story.
So how do I cause this? First, remember it isn’t enough to see the details of a person, place, or thing. You need to share character feelings. Then, take it a step further and show the conflict in those feelings.Anyone can describe a bride on her wedding day. Listing visions of white, cream, pink, smells of flowers and candles, hearing soft strains of music, the feel of the gowns material, the smell of perfume in the air… All of the senses are employed, but have I made my reader care? Unless I’ve hit a description that reminds her of one specific event then no, and even then it may not be the emotion you wanted from the reader.
Now, I need to share the characters emotions. Is she excited, nervous, scared, tired? Any of these would be understandable, but the best way to gain the readers participation in the event is to show conflict.Perhaps the bride is excited about her wedding. She’s madly in love with the groom, but she’s never seen a marriage last. No one in her own family or circle of friends has stayed in a union for more than X number of years. She thinks about the children from such a union, and what it does to them during and after a divorce. She has second thoughts.
Or perhaps, she does not love the groom. Maybe a baby is the reason for the occasion. She’ll be thinking about pros versus the cons of marrying to give the baby a name and family while sacrificing her own dreams.As Donald Maass, Literary Agent asserts in Writing 21st Century Fiction, “it isn’t enough for the character to own a home, we want to see it on Christmas morning when the roof collapses.”
You see? It isn’t just the descriptions appealing to the five senses, or the protagonists feelings, or the conflict of the scene. It’s the totality of the three that evokes a physical reaction. The scene will no longer be a place, but a personal world.Does your own writing merely relate details dryly? Or does it engage the reader and cause a physical reaction?