In Part 1 last week, I gave a quick recap of a few early points literary agent Donald Maass gave in a lecture at the ACFW Conference in Nashville, and how I used those points in my novella-in-progress, Kayla’s Challenge.
Basically, Maass started his lecture (which was based on his new how-to, The Emotional Craft of Fiction, coming out in December) with the series of questions: “What are you afraid to write because it is too intense and personal?” and “Who in your story will reveal the truth to your character?” One of the questions he asked that I didn’t address in the last post was, “What makes you blissfully happy?” Both questions require us to dig deeply into our psyches to help us create realism in our characters and plots.
What he covered next touched on something dear to my heart: “Create an emotional environment.” He talked about mood, not just of the character, but of the environment, surroundings, event, world. Whatever your setting is, capture the mood. What I like about this is that it fits with what I’ve been trying to teach (most recently in “Outline Effectively“). We authors are creating a world, creating life. Our stories shouldn’t seem like they occur in a vacuum. They shouldn’t seem unpopulated.
Maass said to “capture something human in as many scenes as possible.” Human connections resonate with readers.
So, switching back to Kayla’s Challenge, Kayla is going to learn a series of lessons as she leaves the nest of her controlling parents and strikes out on her own. One of the lessons takes place when she stops to eat.
Just for fun, here are my choices:
Each one of these places sets a different mood—the diner, the ice cream parlor, the restaurant. It wouldn’t be enough to describe them. I have to put Kayla in one of them and have it affect her. At this point in my story, Kayla is going through one of the biggest changes in her life. It’s exciting and terrifying. It leaves her feeling alone, uncertain, exhilarated. When I put her in one of these settings, will I compare her mood to that of her surroundings, or will I contrast them? Will she leave feeling better, or worse? I know for certain she can’t leave unchanged.
What emotions will Kayla have when she walks into one of these places? How will the environment’s mood affect her? How will she feel when she walks out? And, most importantly, how will the entire scene make the readers feel? What response am I hoping for from them?
If I’m successful at bringing something “human” to this scene, the reader will recognize her own point of growth, her own time when she accepted responsibility for herself—and she’ll understand how liberating and exciting and empowering and terrifying that was.
The mood of Kayla’s environment will serve as the backdrop to the change in her mood. It all ties in together. One enhances the other.
This is one of the literary techniques that Maass is recommending that we genre writers use. He wants us to “blend the ideas of plot and beautiful (literary) writing.” As he says, when people think “literary” they think of flowery prose, something frowned upon in genre writing. But there is far more to the literary arsenal than just fancy writing. And making the most of the environment is one of the weapons.