Roseanna M. White pens her novels beneath her Betsy Ross flag, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two children, editing and designing, and pretending her house will clean itself. The Lost Heiress is Roseanna’s tenth published book. Her novels range from biblical fiction to American-set romances to her new British series. She lives with her family in West Virginia. Learn more at www.RoseannaMWhite.com
I can't tell you how many times I've heard authors say, "Oh, I just bawled while I was writing that scene!" Or even, "If I don't cry when I'm writing my black moment, then I know I haven't written it right." So many authors will say they laugh at their characters' jokes. Or they get angry at the villains.
So many writers write from an emotional place. So that's their gauge--if their scenes evoke their emotions, then they'll evoke the readers'.
But...what about those of us who don't cry at all, much less over our stories?
Let me tell you a little about me. When I was a kid, I was super-sensitive. I would cry over anything. Including if someone laughed at something I did. I would cry when I was embarrassed--and as a clumsy child who tripped over her own feet regularly, that was a lot. Then one day, when I was about 10, I decided I was sick of it. I wasn't going to act that way anymore.
And I didn't. I got a hold of my emotions...and then I wouldn't...let them...go.
When my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, the rest of my family cried--and I went back to my room and wrote a poem.
When all my friends and my sister and my mom cried over a story or movie, I noted what made it effective and determined to try it.
When everyone else was getting their first crushes, I was wondering what in the world they were wasting their time for and how I would ever know it if I fell in love, because seriously. Did I just not feel things like they did? (Let it be noted I fell in love quite young and have been married to my high school sweetheart for nearly 15 years now.)
I really did start to wonder if I'd just shut those emotions off fully . . . but eventually I realized that, no, they were there--I'd just learned to channel them into my writing rather than wearing them on my sleeve.
But then, how could I gauge if I were writing with enough emotion, when it wasn't something I expressed as I was writing? When I didn't laugh or cry? If I used the litmus test of some of those aforementioned writers, then none of my emotional scenes would have passed muster. They have never once made me cry--so were they emotional fails?
Apparently not, given feedback I've received from readers. I've succeeded in making plenty of them cry, LOL. So my litmus test? It's pretty simple:
Make it hurt.
Still emotional, see? It just doesn't show itself in tears or laughter. But if I'm pushing myself, tearing those emotions out and putting them on the page, it's going to hurt. It's going to have a level of difficulty, even if the words are flowing smoothly. If I'm not working at it, digging deep to try to understand the motivation and fears and hopes of my characters, if I'm taking the easy way out and letting them glide through the scene, then chances are good my readers aren't going to connect.
Case in point--I just turned in the final book of my Ladies of the Manor series, whose heroine's personality (eternally optimistic) is very much like mine. Writing Ella was easy. Too easy, I think, because one of the editors said she didn't connect as completely with her as she did with my other characters (who were nothing like me, and who therefore made me work to understand them).
The takeaway here was clear--if it's easy for me, it's not digging deep enough. I'm not ever going to cry for them, but I should still have to work at it. It should still hurt. Because in peeling back the layers on their hearts, I have to peel back the ones of my own. I just then express it solely through words, rather than through tears.
As the hero in that novel I just mentioned says, "The easy thing is seldom the right thing." It's true in life, and it's true in writing too. Yes, it's awesome when the scenes and chapters are flowing from our fingers--but it should still contain an element of work to it. We should still suffer, the unemotional perhaps even more than the emotion. Because sharing our hearts hurts--and that's what a good novel does.