Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On Being Evocative

Don't break out the lingerie quite yet. I'm really referring to our writing.

There's a reason why we're told to "show and not tell". Telling does not usually evoke emotions in a reader. It's simply a tool to share with the reader a fact about a character, situation or setting.

Showing uses the five senses. It plunks the reader into the scene and says, watch this, feel this, smell this.

Showing evokes emotion from a reader. It makes the reader forget they're reading.

Telling has it's place. I'm not one of those who thinks we can use absolutely no telling. No, it can be used, but it should be balanced carefully with the showing. Save the telling for things the reader must know but doesn't necessarily need to feel.

Think about the last book that made you cry. That made you laugh. How did the author create a scene so real that you forgot to think?

What book has touched you recently and how do you try to make your writing more evocative?

26 comments:

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

Karen Kingsbury, James Patterson and Jodi Piccoult are some of the authors who can make me cry. Their writing style makes me leave my world and enter theirs from the first to the last word.

I still reread Erma Bombeck to cheer me up when I'm down. Even though I've read her books lots, I still giggle with each reread.

I've just finished another Cup of Comfort book and love the short stories.

I've learned a lot from these authors and others that will enrich and improve my writing.

Jessica said...

Hi Donna,
Jodi Picoult depressed me so bad that I never read another of her books again. But I'd say that's some good writing that it could do that! :-)
Also, it was a book I thumbed through at the library, so I didn't read the beginning and didn't realize the heroine died. When I realized it at the end, I felt so betrayed. LOL
Thanks for stopping by.

Janna Qualman said...

Donna, I LOVE Erma!

Jessica, I agree with you: I've come to learn certain parts of a book require simple telling. We just have to find the best was to show what we're showing, and find the perfect balance between the two for our story.

One of my favorite writing-related quotes is from E.L. Doctorow: Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.

It was a Picoult book I read most recently! Though I plan to steer clear of some of her subject manner, she definitely gets an award for evocative writing.

Janna Qualman said...

Gar! I'm full of typos this morning! That should be "subject matter."

Jessica said...

LOL Janna! I didn't even notice.
What a great quote. I'm not sure I've ever heard that, though I have heard of the guy. Thanks for sharing it!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Karen Kingsbury is top of my list. I still haven't quite figured out how she does it. But she certainly gets the tears flowing good on me.

Kristen Painter said...

Books don't make me cry (only one has in the course of my reading life and that was a kid's book when I was in high school.) And books rarely make me laugh. I can't name one, actually.

I'm a hard case, I guess. Although my own work moves me - the writing of it, not the reading of it.

Jessica said...

Kristen, LOL, you are a hard case! That's good that your work moves you as you write. It's always nice to know an author is writing for more than just business (and I heard one speak who said it was all business for her).

Jessica said...

Hey Eileen,
Karen deals with tough issues and I admire her for that. She's got some great plots too.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

You're right, Jessica. She does deal with tough issues, but I've read other authors who have as well, but their writing doesn't get me emotionally charged like Karen does. There's something more to it.

She writes really short paragraphs--one of the most concise writers out there. I wonder if that's a part of how she taps into deep emotions from her readers?

Jessica said...

Hmmm, I don't know. I actually haven't read one of her books in awhile.
That's interesting about the paragraphs.

anita said...

I cried at the end of Jane Eyre. I used to think, when reading her stuff, that she spent far too much time writing about the secondary characters. I finally realized what she's doing is in fact letting us SEE the secondary characters through the MC and FEEL what they mean to her or how they impact her world.

Genius really, because by doing that, she slides us into the mindset and sensitivities of the MC without us even knowing she's done it. That's evocative...pulling someone in on the sly without them even realizing it. I want to write like that!

Hey, my word verification is: redness.

I must be blushing. Heehee

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jess -

The last book I read was, "Without A Trace," by Colleen Coble. She had me gasping along with the heroine when the killer was revealed. It felt like I WAS the heroine making the discovery.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Jessica said...

It's been so long since I read Jane Eyre, but I do remember feeling really bad for her when she ran away and was on the road, hungry and stuff.
I want to write like that too!
btw, I think you do it quite well. :-)

Jessica said...

Oooh, Susan! I love it when a book makes you gasp. That's great writing!

Jen and Kev said...

Does anyone else love Jan Karon? Or Eugania Price? Although Ms. Price's may be out of print, her historical novels set in the Deep South are without equal in the 'showing' dept.
I love Erma Bombeck, too!
Thanks for the tips, Jessica. Very helpful post.
Jen

Jen and Kev said...

Oops! I meant Eugenia Price. I guess I need to do more self editing!!!
Jen

Jessica said...

Hey Jen,
I've never read those authors but have heard only good things about them.
Thanks for stopping by. :-)

Terri Tiffany said...

I love to read a book that makes me cry. The right dialogue, a scene an action all play in.
I'm working on my manuscript's ending today as I lay here in bed and it hasn't quite made me cry but gaining!

Dara said...

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See makes me cry every time I've read it (and I've read it probably three or four times). Much of it had to do with the gruesome description of footbinding...and such a tortuous process done to girls no older than seven or eight years of age.

Francine Rivers' books, especially The Mark of the Lion trilogy, also makes me cry.

I've got a lot of work to do in my book to evoke such emotion.

Jessica said...

Good for you Terri! I hope the scene plays out exactly how you want it to.

Jessica said...

Hey Dara,
I love Francine Rivers! I wish she'd write some more books like what she used to.
The book by See sounds interesting and sad. Thanks for sharing about it.

T. Anne said...

LOL! I left my comment for this post on your prior post below. I'm truly having a blonde moment.

giddymomof6 said...

So my verimost favorite author that makes me laugh right out loud and makes me cry every time, is Judith A Lansdowne. Love, love, love her! love her! LOVE! Can I say love anymore in this comment?

I've always said when i can make someone cry, then I'd know I can write. LOL! My first 5 books that i've written this year have all been comedy that tug at your heartstrings but wouldn't make you cry. But then this last one... the one I'm working on now. Holy cow, I can't stop. I can't. It is the saddest, sweetest story ever and I cry the whole time I type it up as I go and my proof readers are threatening to lynch me unless I stop making them cry. So the goal for this book is to get a chuckle. If I can make someone laugh somewhere in this book right out loud, then I know I can write! LOL! Go figure. Hmm.. and now you've totally given me an idea for a post... LOL!

Jessica said...

T. Anne. No problem. Blondes are welcome here. LOL

Jessica said...

Hey Giddymom (love the name!)
Thanks for stopping by the blog.:-)
I've never heard of Landsdowne. Thanks for the plug!

I think it's the mark of a great writer who can make a person both laugh and cry during their book.
Glad you got an idea! And have fun writing your story! This could be the ONE. :-)