To me, writing is like an onion. Not only can it reduce you to tears, but also when approached correctly can have a very satisfying outcome.
I think good writing is all about layers. You know the kind, the bits they call emotional punch. Most of us have had that dreaded, “lacks emotional punch” letter at least once in our writing lives. There’s nothing worse, is there? ‘They want emotional punch, they can have it. I’ll show them emotional punch!’ I always say, before stomping off around the house, growling at all and sundry for the next seven days at least.
But what is emotional punch? How do we define it while we are learning to do better what we thought we already did well?
Well, to my way of thinking, that takes us back to the onion. First, there is the obvious – the skin. Not all skins are the same of course. Some have flaws, are slightly damaged or torn away, pretty much of a muchness in colour in your average onion. But over and above the skin there is the size and the shape of the onion. Suddenly we’re into more detail and definition, and that is even before we start separating the layers of the flesh of the onion.
Sit in front of the mirror and look at your face. Now really look at it, hard. What do you see? Take special notice of all the tiny things that make you, you. The chicken pox scar from when you were a kid, and missed your best friend’s birthday party because you were too sick to go. Or that bump on your nose from where your brother whacked you across the face with a piece of track from his slot car set, on a rainy school holiday. Or even that little quirky dent in your ear that your Dad had, and which you’ve passed on to your kids. All of these are layers. Layers that make you the person you are. In their own way they helped form you, both physically and emotionally, and dictate the reasons why you choose the responses you do to the situations around you.
Now, ask yourself – Am I including enough of this in my writing? Am I showing my reader the special depths that make my character a three-dimensional, living, breathing, blood pumping? Am I slowly peeling away the layers that make my character the kind of person my reader will fall in love with, cry for and smile happily with when they reach their well-deserved, but hard-won, happy ending? Is my reader in no doubt as to why my character acts and reacts the way they do?
If you’ve answered yes, hopefully you won’t ever get that dreaded ‘emotional punch’ rejection again. Unless, of course, I’m totally wrong… in which case I’m off to peel an onion… again.