Thursday, August 16, 2012

Writing For Effect

As shown in previous posts, I really believe the best authors create an emotional attachment between the reader and the story.  However, how can that best be done?  Sure, wording is important, but there are other ways to create emotion in your readers.  The first way is the one that seems to be most prevalent.

You can create a one sentence impact.

Lots of novels use the device above.  They'll tell a detailed story through a couple of paragraphs, and then they'll use the lone sentence for effect.  To me, this is the literary equivalent of old time movies going, "Da da dum!"  It interrupts the flow and practically screams at the reader, "THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT!  PAY ATTENTION!"

The only problem with this device is that it can be overused, and it usually is.  Doing the dramatic sentence is great when used sparingly, but it loses effect when it's done every other page.

It gets annoying.

It becomes cliché.

People stop paying attention.

Readers eventually put the book down.

Okay, I understand that I have all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but you get my point.  This is a neat trick, but if the writer is always expecting the audience to hold their breath, people are going to start passing out from lack of oxygen.

There are lots of other techniques, most not used so often.  In The Shining, Stephen King liked to break up his thoughts by failing to end sentences with punctuation and sometimes starting the next paragraph with a lower case letter

(sometimes he would do the entire paragraph in parenthesis.  For me it helped break up the story without breaking the mood.  It even allowed me to feel like I was in on a bit of salacious info that he was sharing only between us.  I haven't seen a lot of writers do this, and it makes for a creepy effect when done properly)

I tried a couple of different techniques when I wrote Salvation Day.  The first was that I occasionally used different fonts to indicate varying emotions I wanted to stand out.  I didn't do it often, but a couple of times I would use Goudy Stout or Papyrus to help convey mood.

Another thing I did was I intentionally changed the tense during one transition between chapters when I was trying to convey the desperation of a specific scene.  The main character had just seen what his wife was enduring in the bowels of Hell and broke free from the demonic masters providing him a tour.  Of course, he did this without considering the consequences of being lost in Hell and only wanted to escape.  Changing to present tense for a page to bring out the panic of his mind was the best way I knew how to do this.

In Akeldama, the main character gets captured by some of his enemies and spends an untold amount of time in a room by himself.  There's nothing there but a red light, and he's tied to a chair.  Figuring out how to let everyone in on the sensation of the



of time

was difficult.  I felt the key was to break it up so the reader had to take in the words a small bite at a time.  I couldn't do this for a whole page because it would've lost effect and annoyed the reader, but I think if done in small doses, it can help bring out the mood you're looking to create.

Here's where I give my contradictory advice that can be so maddening at times - these types of techniques can be useful, but only if done in small doses.  The writer that peppers(!) his or her story with too many things out of the ordinary risks coming across less creative  and more. like. an. effete. snob.

Words are important, but they're not the only tool in your arsenal to effectively create the mood you're looking for.  Writers should try to explore various ways to tap into the emotions of our readers.  Trust me - if you fail, especially in a way he or she feels is dumb, the reader will let you know.
(Words alone are sometimes insufficient to describe the scene)


  1. I enjoy reading your posts as I try to learn to write better always. I just wanted to tell you that I appreciate reading what you write. Thank-you. Granny Gee/Gloria :)))

    1. Thanks! I'm glad you enjoy the site.