Movie screen in front of seats with text: The Difficulty of Creating Movies in Our Mind

Thank you to everyone who commented on my post last time about aphantasia, or “mind blindness.” As we discovered, not everyone can create a movie in their mind when writing or reading (which, as Davonne theorized, might explain why some don’t enjoy fiction).

But even for those of us without aphantasia, as writers, we can still struggle to create a well-rounded world or characters that feel real. Or as readers, we might never feel fully immersed in a story to get the whole movie-in-our-mind effect.

Those stories that feel like we can crawl in and inhabit them are often lauded as special. Sometimes people will even talk about a setting as though it’s another character to meet and experience. How many millions of readers want to visit Hogwarts or wish they received their own invitation letter?

For me as a reader, I judge how “good” a story is by how deeply I’m immersed in that mind-movie. (I’m a genre girl because literary fiction is often more writerly and less about storytelling that can pull me under the words themselves.) As an author, I often feel like my writing is flat if it doesn’t create that sense in me (even if the issue is really that I’ve read it too many times for the words to feel fresh anymore *smile*).

So while being able to create that movie-in-the-mind experience is the goal for many of us, we don’t always succeed—aphantasia or not. Why is this so hard?

The Complexities of Real-Life Movie Production

As we’re comparing books to mental movies, I thought we could have fun by taking a look at what goes into making a real-life movie and seeing just how many roles we have to juggle as writers. *smile*

The list of positions for a film crew can be huge. Per Wikipedia (emphasis added):

“A study of the 100 top-grossing films of each year between 1994 and 2013 found that there were an average of 588 crew credits per film, however, profitable independent films have been made with crews of less than a dozen.”

Even in an independent film, the crew might still consist of:

  • Executive Producer: Provides the funding
  • Producer: Coordinates all the business aspects
  • Screenwriter: Writes the story and dialogue
  • Production Designer: Translates the script into visual form
  • Cinematographer: Captures the script visually, matching focus, lighting, framing, etc. to the director’s vision
  • Editor: Organizes shots for pacing and flow
  • Location Manager: Decides on the locations for each scene
  • Art Director: Responsible for creating the film’s settings, from landscapes to props
  • Costume Designer: Uses costuming to convey the time period or character traits
  • Sound Designer: Ensures everything from dialogue to sound effects is captured or created
  • Casting Director: Finds the right people to inhabit the characters
  • Director: Oversees the shooting and assembly of the film
  • Actors: Perform the story

There are far more film crew positions that we could talk about, but I wanted to highlight those because each of those functions has a place in fiction writing as well.

Authors Really Do It All

It’s not just our imagination that we have a lot to do when drafting a story. We really do do a lot because we’re wearing all the hats for those positions above.

  • Executive Producer: If we’re an indie author, the funding angle is obvious, but even if we’re traditionally published, we still come up with the funding for writing workshops, conferences, mailing to agents/editors, etc. The job of an executive producer is to create the situation and circumstances that allow a movie to be made, and getting to the point of allowing a story to be written is on us no matter how we publish.
  • Producer: As authors, we’re entrepreneurs, so we handle the business side of writing and publishing all the time. Even if we’re traditionally published, we’re still pursuing the business contacts to get an agent and/or editor on board.
  • Screenwriter: Of course as an author, we’re responsible for actually writing the story. *smile*
  • Production Designer: A film production designer might come up with storyboards to decide on the “look” of the movie. Storyboarding, mood, tone? Yep, that’s all us as authors too.
  • Cinematographer: The director of photography brings the script to life by deciding what to focus on and how to use imagery to create emotions in the audience. Every note about a tremor in a character’s hands or a “glint of light on broken glass” (such as the common advice about showing vs. telling attributed to Anton Chekhov) directs the readers’ focus to what we want them to see. The showing we do in a story is like cinematography.

"Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass" - Anton Chekhov

  • Editor: A film editor rearranges scenes, figures out when to stop and start each scene, decides which take has the best expression of dialogue, etc. Authors do all those same functions to assemble the ideas for the story and characters in the best way to create a sense of emotion, story flow, and strong pacing.
  • Location Manager: As authors, we have to decide on the best setting for each of our scenes. Would an indoor or outdoor setting increase the drama? Have we used one setting too often?
  • Art Director: Like an art director, we have to make the settings come alive. Is weather affecting a scene? What props does the character fiddle with when deliberating that line? Is the furniture high-end or ratty? Our choices create the scene.
  • Costume Designer: Like a costume designer, we have to decide what our characters’ sense of style is. Do they wear jeans or suits? In a historical story, we have to research the time period and proper terminology.
  • Sound Designer: Like a cinematographer for visual aspects, a sound designer creates the auditory aspects of a story. As authors, we might create impressions of characters with their voices (deep, high-pitched, grating) or accent, or we might show certain aspects of the story through sounds.
  • Casting Director: While a casting director searches for the best actors for characters, we have to find the best characters for our story. Which character will inhabit our story and bring the plot to life?
  • Director: Not surprisingly, we’re also the director, overseeing the big picture of our story and making sure everything comes together to create the story we want.
  • Actors: Actors in a movie must evoke emotions with their performance. For us as authors, we have to create the performance—the facial expressions, body language, etc.—that convince readers of the characters’ emotions.

All those aspects added together can create movies in the minds of our non-aphantasiac readers, but that’s obviously a lot of juggling we have to do to make it work. So it’s no wonder that sometimes one of our “hats” might be on a bit crooked and we need beta readers and editors to help us get everything in line. *smile*

Do you judge books by how deeply you experience the movie in your mind? Can you think of other movie film crew roles that we have to fill as authors? Do you enjoy some of those roles more than others? Do you struggle with some of those roles? Do you think that struggle affects your ability to create movies in your readers’ minds?

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Brain Science: How Do You Imagine?

by Jami Gold on April 26, 2016

in Writing Stuff

Theater curtain opening to reveal text: Featuring... Your Imagination

Over the weekend, I posted a link to a really cool article on Facebook that led to an even more interesting discussion. The article is about something called aphantasia.

Aphantasia is the term for when someone can’t imagine something in their mind. As the article’s title alludes to, it’s “mind blindness” or not having a “mind’s eye.”

The author, Blake Ross, says:

“If I tell you to imagine a beach, you can picture the golden sand and turquoise waves. … You experience this differently, sure. Some of you see a photorealistic beach, others a shadowy cartoon. Some of you can make it up, others only “see” a beach they’ve visited. Some of you have to work harder to paint the canvas. Some of you can’t hang onto the canvas for long. But nearly all of you have a canvas.

If you tell me to imagine a beach, I ruminate on the “concept” of a beach. I know there’s sand. I know there’s water. I know there’s a sun, maybe a lifeguard. I know facts about beaches. I know a beach when I see it, and I can do verbal gymnastics with the word itself.

But I cannot flash to beaches I’ve visited. I have no visual, audio, emotional or otherwise sensory experience. I have no capacity to create any kind of mental image of a beach, whether I close my eyes or open them, whether I’m reading the word in a book or concentrating on the idea for hours at a time—or whether I’m standing on the beach itself.”

He’s not alone, as this condition seems to be present in a small percentage of the population. (Scientists currently estimate 2-3%, but they’re just now starting studies on the topic and further investigation might push that number higher.)

As writers, this perspective not only gives us all sorts of story and character ideas, but it can also raise many questions about the concept of imagination itself. Let’s take a look…

How Our Imagination Affects Our Life

Some people who are aphantasiac don’t dream at all. No daydreams or fantasies for some of them either. The inability to call an image or sound to mind can also affect drawing or playing an instrument.

Our sense of direction might depend on the ability to visualize a map. Even spelling skill can be affected by our ability to picture whether a word looks right on an imaginary whiteboard.

Many who love reading talk about imagining themselves as part of the story, picturing the characters, setting, or story world. Yet for aphantasiacs, that experience doesn’t apply.

On my Facebook post, we got into several interesting discussions:

  • How those visuals actually appear in our head:

Others probably have different experiences, but I described my experience as “feeling” the image forming inside my brain so strongly that I “see” it. If I had to assign a location to the “movie” screen, I’d say it was on the inside of my forehead. That’s not quite how it is, but when I visualize things, my eyes often naturally tilt up (and to the right) a bit.

  • What it means to think conceptually rather than visually:

Jo Eberhart, an aphantasiac, explained:
“Visualise the following things in your mind’s eye, one at a time:

* A beach
* An orange traffic cone
* A hammer
* Justice

Chances are, when you got to the word “justice” there was a moment when you had a very clear conceptual understanding of the word, but you hadn’t yet come up with a picture to represent it. (Because it’s a concept rather than an object/place.) That moment of conceptualisation is how I imagine EVERYTHING.”

  • Whether people’s experiences with visualizations have changed over time:

Language can shape brain processing (such as how cultures without a word for pink see fewer differences between the color red and what we’d consider pink), so before movies, were people less likely to visualize books? I don’t know, but it’s an interesting question. *smile*

  • How our imagination sensitivity might affect our overall sensitivity:

Serena Yung theorized that her strong memory for touch sensations might be part of the reason she doesn’t like being touched by others, and FloppyJaloppy and I were comparing notes on how our sensory memory might explain our dislike of horror movies. Perhaps those who are easily overly stimulated by certain sensory information experience them stronger in their brain processing centers as well.

Does Our Imagination Affect Our “Talent”?

In many fields, people talk about talent vs. skill. Some have natural talent, so things come more easily to them, while others can succeed through harder work.

This made me wonder if our imagination affects our talent. Or if the concept of talent is misleading, and that “talent” might be (at least partially) just how our brain processes and recalls information.

Perhaps “talented” painters are more easily able to hold an image in their head while they make the canvas match. Or maybe “talented” composers are more easily able to hold all the contributions of an orchestra in their mind while they capture the notes of each instrument.

Others can certainly paint or be musical, but just as when we’re less talented at something, we might focus on skill to bring us up to speed. Blake described his ability to spell and play the piano as muscle memory rather than anything visual or auditory based.

Blake is an author, and I first saw this article from another author who shares this functionality, and one of my Facebook author friends chimed in on my post to say her brain worked this way as well, so obviously this condition doesn’t prevent the ability to imagine ideas, concepts, or stories. Rather, it can affect someone’s ability to add sensory information to those concepts.

How Does Our Imagination Affect Our Writing?

When discussing aphantasia, scientists often focus on the visual aspect of sensory imagination, but similar issues can occur for the other senses as well.

  • Can they visualize a beach?
  • Can they visualize someone’s face?
  • When thinking of a song, do they hear the complete arrangement of voice, instruments, and beat?
  • Can they recall flavors and tastes?
  • What about smells? Or touch memories? Or emotional memories?

In thinking about my ability to imagine various elements of my story worlds, I started to wonder if my sensory strengths and weaknesses affect my writing. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the question should be how my brain affects my writing rather than if it did.

Case Study: My Imagination Blind Spots

As part of my reading about the condition this past weekend, I learned that the ability to visually imagine places or things is different from the ability to visualize faces. Prosopagnosia is the term for “face-blindness.”

While my ability to visualize in general is strong, my ability to focus on faces is not. As I said on Facebook:

“My facial memory is zero—unless I bring to mind a photograph of someone, and then I can visualize a bit. And when I say zero, I mean that I can’t even visually remember what my mother looks like. I know her hair, but that’s it.

When I dream, I never see faces. They’re all blurry, like on Google Street View. *smile*”

After thinking about it, I realized that when writing, I often don’t focus on my characters’ faces. I’ll describe their body language and hair/eye color, but I don’t think about their face at all, much less write about it.

I think I subconsciously realized this blindness a few years ago. For my first (currently under the metaphorical bed) story, I found images for all my characters and all the settings.

For my next story, I tried skipping all that work and didn’t use any visual references. However, while I didn’t miss the images for settings, I found I missed my characters.

So for my last several stories, I found images to focus on when writing my characters, which helped me include facial expressions and features. (Ha! My Pinterest activity is necessary. *grin*)

As for my imagination ability for my other senses…

“My audio memory is about the same as visual, maybe even better. If someone asks me to remember the Star Wars song, I’ll hear it full-orchestra style with all the instruments. And unlike with visual memory, the details often don’t fade over time.

For taste, I remember the texture of foods, but not so much the flavors.
For scents, I remember the adjective descriptions, but not the actual smell.
For touch, I remember if it was good or bad, but not the details.”

This matches my experience when writing about senses in my stories. I often easily focus on the general visuals, sounds, and character voices, while faces and the other senses take more effort for me to include.

If nothing else, learning about how others differ from our own experiences can give us unique character ideas. But maybe by being aware of our imagination weaknesses, we’ll remember to not neglect them in our writing. Skill for including sensory information can be learned after all. *smile*

Do you see “movies in your mind” when you read or write? How has your sensory imagination affected your life? Do you have blank spots in your sensory memories (such as for faces)? How strong or weak is your ability to remember or create with your different senses? How do you think those strengths and weaknesses affect your writing?

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Subtext: Creating Layered Characters

by Jami Gold on April 21, 2016

in Writing Stuff

Reflections on a water surface with text: Getting Under the Surface of Our Characters

I’ve written many times about how much I love subtext, the stuff that happens between the lines. We often hear that subtext is what’s not said, but that can imply that subtext is limited to dialogue.

In fact, subtext lurks in many aspects of our stories. The messages readers get from our writing aren’t always explicitly stated—in dialogue or otherwise.

We can find implied messages in different story elements, such as:

Each of those elements can “say” something—with implied promises, expectations, or impressions—without coming out and stating the idea directly for readers.

The Benefits of Subtext

When readers put story pieces together in their minds to create a fuller understanding, they immerse themselves deeper into the story. If a story is too “on the nose” or is spoon-fed to us, it can feel insulting, like the author assumed we couldn’t figure it out on our own.

Subtext can also make our characters feel more realistic. As September C. Fawkes says in her fantastic post on subtext:

“Whether or not we want to admit it, whether or not we are even conscious of it, we all have things we don’t want others to know about us. All of our characters do too. Using subtext makes our characters and story feel more well-rounded and realistic.”

According to September, subtext also can add tension in our story:

“When we communicate our feelings directly, we lose tension. It’s what’s not being said that creates tension. It creates anticipation and apprehension, keeps us interested because of what’s boiling under the surface.”

But another benefit to using subtext is that it helps us build layered characters. Let’s take a closer look…

Layers and Subtext: The Key Idea

To create the impression of three-dimensional characters, we have to give them layers. What does that actually mean?

We often use shortcut descriptions for our characters: a Navy SEAL, a small-town detective, a space pilot, etc. For spear-carrying type characters, that might be all we (and readers) need to know, but for our main characters, we want them to have fuller personalities and lives so they feel real.

That Navy SEAL might also be:

  • a big brother to an adoring little sister,
  • a dog owner,
  • worried about an upcoming chance for promotion that’s come down to him and his best friend, and
  • six months behind on his rent.

Each of those facets of his life illuminate more about who he is as a person, not just based on his job description. Those facets are layers.

Agent Donald Maass often gives the advice to push our characters into experiencing competing emotions: If they’re happy, are they also sad about something? Those conflicts are also layers.

So where does subtext come into play?

Each facet can create conflicts in our characters.

In other words, the different types of layers interact, and those interactions play out in subtext. All that subtext says even more about our character, leading to the impression of a character who’s more than the sum of their parts.

For example, our Navy SEAL character might have the goal of staying home more because of his little sister, but he might also have the goal of getting the promotion despite the requirement to relocate because he wants the pay increase to get out of debt.

The struggle between those goals will emerge from and create subtext. He doesn’t want to disappoint his sister, and he doesn’t want to have to give up his dog, and he doesn’t want his best friend to fail, and he doesn’t want to fail himself, and he doesn’t want his sister to know about his debt, and

When making a decision, our characters won’t necessarily debate every one of their options in their head, but if we’ve shown those conflicting goals during the story, the subtext for their struggle will exist.

As September says,

“Subtext happens when the audience comes to a conclusion that explains those contradictions.”

The combination of all those forces acting against our character will play out in what they say, do, think, feel, etc. As the plot evolves, which forces are dominant might change, giving readers even more information about our characters.

Using Subtext to Give Characters Layers

There are a few ways to create layered characters, and each method uses subtext differently. Depending on our goals, we might use one method over another, or we might mix and match our approaches to take advantage of circumstances.

For example, we might want our character to be likable, or we might just want readers to understand where they’re coming from. Or sometimes we want readers to dislike a character without having to go the route of mustache twirling. *smile*

We might also choose different approaches because of point of view (POV). Sometimes we’ll have the benefit of writing from that character’s POV, and other times we have to create an impression in the reader just from the narrator’s perspective. Those differences can change our options.

Layering with Character Choices

Characters make choices in every scene. Every action provokes a chosen reaction. They’re faced with a dilemma and must decide how to respond. Each decision creates subtext about the character’s values and the story’s themes.

As we mentioned above, we can supercharge this type of subtext by introducing competing goals for their choices. Will our Navy SEAL choose to reveal his debt to his sister to explain why he’s leaving, or will he try to keep her admiration by continuing to hide it? Will he choose (maybe subconsciously) to talk up his friend’s qualifications to the commanding officer, or will he sabotage his friend’s chances to keep the promotion for himself?

We can also use Character Choices to illuminate non-POV characters. Even without the internal insights of a POV, the choices themselves will give readers information.

Layering with Character Motivations

The same decision could have radically different subtext depending on the motivation—why they make the choice they do. Motivations add another layer to the character’s values and the story’s themes.

Does our Navy SEAL want the promotion for the money, but he doesn’t want to admit to his debt, so he acts like it’s all about beating out his best friend in a trash-talking competition? Or does he want to lose the promotion to let his friend win, but he doesn’t want his friend to know that he’s throwing the promotion to him, so he claims he wants to stay for his sister?

Competing motivations can be woven throughout a story so no one scene has to show the character debating but, but, but…, as they work through every option they’re facing.

Character Motivations are often easiest to use with POV characters, or else we might fall into the trap of a villain monologuing their plans. But even non-POV characters can reveal some of their motivations throughout a story.

Layering with Character Internalizations

Observations by the POV characters provide deep insights into their values, what they long for, what they’re afraid of, and the story’s theme. Character narrators (even the supposedly “reliable” narrators) constantly give readers messages that aren’t explicitly stated.

Obviously this technique only works with POV characters, but even with non-POV characters, we can use dialogue, actions, and body language to hint at their internal thoughts.

For POV characters, the possibilities are endless. We can show competing thoughts and feelings, we can hint at what they’re trying to avoid thinking about or what they’re in denial about, or we can give context for what they’re experiencing.

A character could want one thing but have a competing false belief that they don’t deserve it, etc. Or they could act one way (such as being friendly to another character) but think another (grumbling internally about the other character).

Putting It Together: Types of Layering

All of those ideas above add together to create an impression of the characters in the reader’s mind. And each of those aspects can create a slightly different impression.

That is, a character’s choices could show them one way, but their internal thoughts about their motivations could show them another way. Those expressions are yet another type of layering.

So just by looking at how subtext informs readers about our characters, we can identify several types of layering:

  • Facets: job, family, obstacles, fears, goals, etc.
  • Conflicts: how they prioritize different goals, thoughts, and feelings growing out of those Facets
  • Expressions: how they express those Conflicts in various conscious, subconscious, external, and internal ways

In other words, our characters can get pretty complicated…just like real people. *smile*

How much do you use subtext to develop your characters? Do your characters have a few or a lot of facets? Do your characters have conflicting goals? Do they consciously or subconsciously reveal those conflicts by having mismatches between thoughts and actions, etc.? Can you think of other ways to use subtext to add layers to our characters?

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What Helps You BE a Writer?

by Jami Gold on April 19, 2016

in Writing Stuff

Underside view of bridge pilings with text: What Enables You to Write?

The journey to writing is filled with many obstacles. We might struggle with time or self-doubt or needing to learn writing craft. No matter how we look at it, the path to writing success is not smooth.

Yet something keeps us going. Something gives us the inspiration or the motivation to travel up that learning curve. Something helps us past that self-doubt. And something forces us to prioritize writing time (sometimes to the detriment of other aspects of our life).

This past weekend, Delilah S. Dawson tweeted (and then Storified the replies) about the three things that helped her become a writer…other than skill.

The Storified collection of replies is fascinating because they show just how much our journeys are unique. But at the same time, many similar answers showed up again and again, so I wondered if we could find meaning in those trends.

Let’s take a closer look at what we can learn from the question: What’s most helpful for us becoming and/or remaining a writer—not including writing skill?

Maybe if we understand what’s currently helping us—and where we might potentially have gaps—we’ll be better prepared to face our obstacles now and into the future. *smile*

#1: Internal Characteristics of Writers

Outside of any writing skill that we may or may not have, we also bring other aspects of ourselves to the writing-journey table. We might have personality traits that help us want to be a writer, such as a love of storytelling or a desire to entertain, educate, or inspire others.

Or we might have personality traits that help us stick with writing, even during the bad times. As Delilah mentioned in her post, stubbornness (tenacity, perseverance, determination, etc.) ranks high in many of the replies.

We might have enough of an ego that we think others are interested in what we have to say. Or we might have a desire to prove ourselves worthy of being listened to.

We might be so clueless that we blithely stumble our way through, never realizing how many odds are stacked against us until we’ve already made it past the gauntlet. Or we might have fairly thick skin that allows us to bounce back from setbacks.

We might be so laid back that we succeed simply because we never bother giving up. Or we might be so disciplined that we don’t let anything stand in our way.

Hope can guide us, self-doubt can present us with a challenge to overcome, or boredom can inspire us with brainstorming-filled ideas. Passion can drive us, patience can help us see our way through the long journey, or curiosity can make us wonder “what if.”

In short, while no one thing will make or break our journey—as there are many traits here that will help us get there—we probably need something inside us that pushes us to continue. If we don’t have the internal desire or yearning to write, no outside forces will be enough.

An outside force, such as the need for money, can drive internal aspects for the short-term. After all, desperation can be powerful as well. But when faced with setbacks like rejections or low sales, only those with internal forces will continue to write.

#2: Support Structure of Writers

It’s rare for writers to succeed without any support. Some of us are blessed to have a family that encourages us and maybe even financially supports us through our writing and publishing journey. But not all of us have that form of support, so where else can we find it?

For some writers, friends might fill the support gap. Or maybe we had a teacher encourage us when we were young.

Once we’re published, our readers might cheer our progress and motivate us to continue. Or maybe an agent or editor convinces us that we can meet the challenge and has our back when bad things happen.

However, for many writers, the main support we get is from other writers. Writing groups, beta readers, and critique partners can all give us encouragement when we think our work sucks. We might hang out with other writers on social media, online writing groups, or forums. Or we might find inspiration in the craft books from other writers.

Wherever we find support, we find people willing to help talk us off the rejection/bad-review edge or others patient with our self-doubting neuroses. We find encouragement to push through our obstacles and to try again another day.

We find sounding boards to bounce brainstorming ideas off of or a fist bump to back us up when we decide to ignore bad advice. We find knowledge for research questions and a strong push to get us to the next level.

In short, we can find healthy external inspiration and motivation to continue writing. While these external sources can’t take the place of our internal traits, they’re often just what we need to get us out of ruts in our thought processes, whether we’re talking about our stories or our self-beliefs.

#3: Tricks and Tools of Writers

Sometimes in our writing journey we find tricks or tools that give us the strength, organization, or ability to continue. Many writers point to coffee, alcohol, or insomnia for giving them the means to write.

Other writers give their thanks for computer programs that help them organize their thoughts or writing. Anything from timers to word-processing programs can help us reach “The End.”

We writers tend to swap recommendations for writing books like others exchange business cards. Many swear by X book for helping them understand the business, Y book for providing the key to comprehending an aspect of the craft, and Z book for the encouragement to write and the trust that we’ll improve down the line.

We might bring extra skills in business, marketing, or website design from our day-job life. Or we might just chalk our success so far up to luck.

Our day job might provide the financial freedom to pursue our writing dream. Or that job might be such a nightmare that it gives us the inspiration to escape to our writing career.

A lifelong love of reading and books might inspire us to join the author ranks. Or pride in our professionalism might help us see the project through to the end.

Whatever the specifics, just as our support structure is filled with enabling people, we might also have access to enabling things. This enabling can be a good thing if it helps us reach our dreams.

What Helps Us Depends on What We Need

If we all listed our Top 3 Factors in Our Writing Journey, each list would be unique. Just as our characters have different strengths and weaknesses, so do we have different needs.

Some of us might list three items all falling under Support Structure because those are the most helpful things for us and our current situation. Others might see a lot of external aspects like luck or previous business experience as being most helpful.

Our lists might change over time too. What helps us through the long, steep learning curve of writing craft might be different from what helps us tackle the business aspect of publishing.

How Can Understanding Our Lists and Needs Help?

I wanted to come up with these lists and categories because we’re all going to struggle sometimes. We all going to have bad days where our self-doubts are stronger, where the rejections pile up, or where the obstacles are more daunting.

By seeing all the different ways that we might find the motivation to continue, I hope that we’ll all have ideas for where to look the next time we need a push or encouragement.

Or if we’re not having a particularly bad day, but we’re still feeling iffy about our ability to continue, maybe these lists will give us ideas for what areas we might be lacking the help or support we need.

If we’re surrounded by a support structure, but we’re just not feeling it inside, this list might help us focus on what we’re bringing to the table. Etc., etc.

As for me, my list for “how I got here and how I continue to be a writer” would look like:

  1. supportive family who encourages me and enables my dreams and writing friends who have made me feel that this life is where I belong
  2. recognition of my lifelong love of storytelling—from my childhood imagination to my long history with Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop games—that convinced me that writing was what I was meant to do and that this wasn’t just a flighty idea
  3. life experiences that gave me knowledge of everything from the internet and project management to editing and entrepreneurship, allowing me to help other writers and support my publishing path

In a way, my list is like a summary of my life so far, which goes along with the “how I got here” idea. It was a long, winding road with many dead-ends and zigzags, but those experiences now help my writing, so it’s all good. *smile*

Have you ever thought about how you’ve reached as far as you have? Or what keeps you writing despite the obstacles? What would your Top 3 list be? Would your list be a mix of different elements or more focused? Would a different mix be more helpful to you in the future?

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Man's surprised eyes peeking over book with text: Capturing Our Readers' Emotions

I’ve often mentioned that one of the last big skills I learned as a writer was how to include emotions. That’s one reason I’ve been such a big fan of the Emotion Thesaurus. If that book had existed when I first started writing, my learning curve would have been several months shorter.

However, while Angela and Becca’s book (and their One Stop for Writers site) is great for giving us the vocabulary we need to describe our characters’ emotions, it’s also important for us to know the bigger picture of how we can evoke emotions in our readers.

For that, I’m bringing back Marcy Kennedy. As one of my editors, Marcy quickly proved herself as a genius with deep point of view. She can spot an out-of-point-of-view phrase from fifty paces and tell me exactly how to fix it.

Her latest writing craft book brings these two concepts together, so today she’s here to show us how deep point of view can help us evoke those emotions we want within our readers. Please welcome Marcy Kennedy! *smile*


Using Deep POV to Capture
Readers’ Emotions

The books that we remember the best are often the books that made us feel something. Those are the books we recommend to our friends. Those are the authors we seek out to see if they have more books that will provide us with that vicarious experience again.

So it makes sense that when we create our own stories, we want to provide that same emotional experience for our readers too. *smile*

One great way to create emotional involvement in our readers is through deep POV.

What Is Deep POV?

Before I look at the ways we can use deep POV to tap into our readers’ emotional control centers, we need to talk about what we mean by deep POV.

Point of view (POV) in general is the perspective from which the story is told. We can write in omniscient POV, limited third person POV, second person POV, or first person POV.

The differences between the POVs aren’t just in terms of the pronouns we use (he/she vs. I). The choice we’re really making when we select the POV for our story is “where is the narrator standing when telling the story and how close do the readers feel to the narrator and the characters?”

On one end of the “sliding scale” of POV is the omniscient story. The narrator isn’t a character within the story itself. They sit outside the story and they’re essentially telling it to the reader. It’s the god-like perspective on the story where we hear the omniscient narrator’s opinion on everything. As readers, we’re held at a distance from the characters, watching them from the outside with only brief dips into their thoughts. (It’s often confused with head-hopping, but head-hopping and omniscient POV aren’t the same.)

On the other end, is deep POV.

In deep POV, we place the reader inside the narrator/viewpoint character using either a close limited third person or first person POV. Everything the reader receives is filtered through the viewpoint character. We see and sense the world through them, and only what they experience can appear on the page. Beyond this, the story isn’t told objectively. It’s all subjective and colored by the viewpoint character’s judgments, opinions, and feelings.

It’s intimate. It’s intense. And it’s very popular right now among readers and writers.

So how does deep POV capture readers’ emotions?

Deep POV Taps into the Shared Emotional Landscape with Visceral Reactions

To engage readers emotionally, we need to bring them back to when they felt the same emotions as our characters. Emotions are a universal experience. We all know what fear feels like. Or desire. Or hatred.

But it’s not enough to name the emotions. Naming emotions taps into our readers’ minds, but not into the way they felt when they were experiencing that emotion.

To tap into what those emotions feel like, we need visceral reactions.

Visceral reactions are a key element of what makes deep POV…well, deep because they’re the involuntary or instinctive bodily responses we have no control over—dizziness, a racing heart, sweaty palms, tense shoulders, a clenched stomach, etc. They’re a physical expression of the emotions the character is feeling.

When we share how a character’s body reacts, we trigger the reader to remember when their body felt the same way. And, just like that, they form an emotional connection with and empathy for your viewpoint character.

How to best use visceral reactions:

  • Don’t overuse them. Think about visceral reactions as cayenne pepper. A dash adds a special bite to your dish. A scoop burns out your taste buds and ensures you won’t want to eat that dish again. If you’ve ever read a book where the character’s heart pounded so often you were worried they were about to have a heart attack, you know what I mean. Make sure to save them for important moments.
  • Add variety. When we first start adding visceral reactions, it can be easy to default to phrases like “her heart pounded” and to repeat those pet visceral reactions too often. Our bodies react in a variety of ways, and we should make use of the full spectrum. The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Rebecca Puglisi is a great tool to help with adding variety.
  • Beware of interpreting them. Sometimes it’s alright to both show and tell, but this is the exception, not the norm. So when we’re adding visceral reactions, we should usually give the evidence and stop (e.g., her hands shook rather than her hands shook with fear). Context will allow the reader to understand them.
  • Personalize it. One of the internal sensations for agitation is feeling overheated. How will our character describe that sensation? A middle-aged woman with a good sense of humor might think of it in terms of getting a taste of the hot flashes she’ll experience in menopause. A teenager might liken it to when the air conditioning broke—For Three. Whole. Days. Same sensation. Different points of view. Infinite possibilities.
  • Remember that they’re always reactions to a stimulus. Unless we’re sick, we don’t just start shaking out of the blue. Something triggers that visceral reaction. Maybe it’s the thought that we left the gas stove on at home. Or maybe it’s that we spotted the ex who cheated on us in the next grocery aisle. They don’t happen without a reason, and the reader needs to see that reason.

Deep POV Makes the Reader Care about the Character Using Motivation Shares

Another hallmark of deep POV is motivation sharing—your character will reveal through their thoughts (a.k.a. internal dialogue, internal monologue, internalizations) why they’re doing what they’re doing and why it matters to them.

In more distant points of view, readers more often have to watch what the characters are doing and try to guess at their motivations. Knowing less about why the characters are acting the way they are might increase curiosity, but it also tends to make the reader less invested emotionally.

Say, for example, we’re writing a dystopian and we show a man breaking into a hospital and stealing antibiotics. We aren’t given the motivation.

Do we care about that character? Probably not. We might even dislike him, assuming that he’s stealing drugs to sell.

But if we’re writing in deep POV, we’ll share that his motivation is that his daughter is extremely sick and he can’t afford to pay for those antibiotics. His daughter’s value-quotient isn’t high enough for her to be treated for free. Now we start to care.

We care because we know why he wants this so badly. We’re emotionally invested in whether he succeeds or fails.

How to best use motivation sharing:

  • Avoid infodump-style shares. We need to share their motivations, but we don’t need to do it all at once in a stop-the-action-dead information dump. We can weave it in with the action, drip-feeding it to the reader when the character would naturally think about it.
  • Phrase the motivation in the way our character would think about it. We’re in deep POV so we need to share motivations in a natural way rather than in a in a telling or stating-a-fact way. If we go back to our example of the father stealing antibiotics, a telly motivational share would be something like he needed these drugs or his daughter would die. A natural motivation share would be him thinking about how her fever had spiked that morning.
  • Only share motivations for non-obvious actions. If the bad guy throws a punch at our viewpoint character and she ducks, we don’t need to explain why she ducked. Any time our character’s motivations are obvious, we can trust the reader is intelligent enough to figure it out.


Deep Point of View cover

About Deep Point of View: A Busy Writer’s Guide:

Do you want readers to be so caught up in your book that they forget they’re reading?

Then you need deep POV.

Deep POV takes the reader and places them inside of our characters—hearing their thoughts, feeling their emotions, and living the story through them. Compared to other writing styles, it builds a stronger emotional connection between the reader and our characters, creates the feeling of a faster pace, and helps avoid point-of-view errors and telling rather than showing.

In Deep Point of View, writing instructor and fiction editor Marcy Kennedy brings her years of experience into showing you how to write deep POV. You’ll learn specific, practical things you can do immediately to take your fiction to the next level.


Marcy KennedyMarcy Kennedy is a science fiction and fantasy author who believes there’s always hope. Sometimes you just have to dig a little harder to find it.

She’s also the author of the bestselling Busy Writer’s Guides series, which focuses on giving authors deep teaching while still respecting their time.

You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth on her website.


Thank you, Marcy! Every one of your Busy Writer’s Guide books that I’ve read have been fantastic, and I can’t wait to dig into this new one. (Not having this fever would help my ability to understand it too. *grin*)

Every tip above is one that I had to learn or that I’ve seen other writers struggle with (or both). So hopefully seeing Marcy lay out these specifics will give us all a jump on our skill set and save us time on the learning curve. *smile*

Do you agree or disagree with Marcy’s perspective of what makes stories stick with us? What about how we evoke emotions in our readers? Questions from Marcy: Are you a fan of stories written in deep POV or do you prefer a more distant approach? Do you have any other tips you’d like to share for using deep POV to enhance readers’ emotional connection with the characters? Do you have any questions for Marcy?

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