Editors Note: This is a blog post from the fabulously talented Peggy Eddleman. If you don't follow her blog (Will Write for Cookies), you should. She has amazingly useful content and a rapier-sharp wit. Peggy and I were on a panel at a conference once and let me tell you she is one smart cookie (pun only partially intended.) She also has a YA book called Through The Bomb's Breath coming out next fall. Keep your eyes peeled. I'm sure you will hear more about it on this blog as it gets closer.
We're told to put our characters up in a tree. And then throw rocks at them. Maybe even light the tree on fire. Right?
Have you ever done just that, but the emotion just wasn't there? And you're left thinking, WHAT?! I just killed off my character's dog, trapped them in a labyrinth in Siberia with no coat, and gave them a deadline to find their way back out of the maze, and if they don't make it, the love of their life will permanently move to another country. And not only that, the other country has no cell service and no Internet, and my Main Character never told said love interest how (s)he really felt. How in the world can there not be enough emotion here?!
There's a little piece of advice I heard once, that I think is spot-on.
When you want to heighten an emotion, look at it’s opposite.
If you need to make your MC sad, make sure (s)he is incredibly happy first. If you want to make him/her uberly excited? Start out with him/her being bored. Want them to really be frightened? Have it happen in a place where they feel the most safe. Want to show that a secondary character has an incredibly calming presence? Start with your MC being angry.
If your MC is hanging out at home in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, after having seen most of the people he/she has known has turned into zombies, when MC's neighbor / bff comes knocking on the door as a freshly made zombie, it's kind of like this:
But if MC just comes home from reuniting with long lost bff, and all is right with the world and everything in it, it's going to make a huger impact when said bff comes knocking on the door, being the first in what would become many freshly made zombies. Then it's a little more like this:
Give a kid who's on top of the world tickets for his family to go to Disneyland, and it's icing! Give it to a kid whose always wanted to know what lies beyond the streets within walking distance of the alley that holds the cardboard box he lives in, and it's life-changing.
THROUGH THE BOMB'S BREATH
(Random House, September 2013)@PeggyEddleman