Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Pull of the Water

When I’m standing on a dock overlooking a lake at dawn or walking along the edge of the sea at sunset with the waves rolling in toward shore, I can feel the pull of water, an invisible undertow pulsing in rhythm to my heart.

And when I open a book and begin reading, I can feel the same pull, the same strong, emotional undercurrent tugging at my heart, but only if the author has crafted the words in a way that draw me into the story.

The words can’t sit on the page like the water in a stagnant pool. (Who wants to dive into a pool of water filled with green slime and brownish muck?)

As a writer, you need to visualize your reader standing on that dock or walking along the shore of your story, waiting for an invitation to jump in.

Gravity alone isn’t enough to compel the reader to jump.

The reader has to feel something in the words on the page. They have to create an emotional connection, a resonance, between the reader and the narrator or main character.

You can do this by evoking a sense of mystery in the reader’s mind or creating a spark of curiosity that urges the reader to turn the page.

Or you can create dread or spine-tingling fear or mouth-gaping horror or quieter emotions that draw the reader to the page with the steady, soothing repetition of waves on shore.

Basically, the words on the page must stir an emotion in your reader and pull him or her into the story. Something must make your reader want to jump.

It isn’t the language alone that makes a reader want to jump but a combination of factors: the voice of the narrator, the personality of the main character, the situation that the reader finds the character in, and, underneath it all, like the invisible undertow, the emotional force or energy of the story.

That emotional force or energy pulses through the story from the very first words and must be felt by the reader viscerally and immediately or else he’ll walk away from the dock, leave the beach behind, and find another story, another view of the water more emotionally engaging than the one you’ve offered up.

The next time you’re reading a story, imagine yourself standing on a dock overlooking the water or on a beach gazing out to sea.

What’s pulling you into the story so that you can’t wait to jump in? Or, conversely, what’s keeping you from jumping?

For more on creating emotional resonance in your stories, visit:

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