Karl Iglesias sets a high bar in Writing for Emotional Impact, with what he calls the “one-page test.” He asks “can we open [your book] at any page and be instantly gripped by the words on the page? Every page should be so interesting that a reader can’t put [it] down.”
Another technique he suggests is articulating the story’s core concept and in a single sentence (often called a logline) to help focus the work.
From Sea God’s Lover, my work in progress: A dedicated healer-priest defies temple protocols to save her sister and reawaken the gods.
- Character traits, values, and flaws. (Sary is kind, values security and tradition, but is overly idealistic)
- Character goals & unconscious desire. (Sary’s story goal is to reawaken the gods to be a better temple healer; unconsciously, she longs to escape from temple protocols.)
- Motivation. (The gods no longer answer temple prayers, rendering Sary’s healing magic ineffective.)
- Stakes. (The city is under siege and many will die if the gods don’t respond.)
- Character change or arc. (Sary transforms from an idealistic temple healer into a powerful sorcerer)
“Every story, every scene, and every beat [within the scene] is about change--a change in knowledge caused by discoveries, and change in actions caused by character decisions.”
He advises to create a trail of story questions for the reader to follow from the opening page. Curiosity keeps the reader engaged and story answers, when revealed, “provide a sense of satisfaction.” Each beat, each scene, each chapter sequence, each act has a story question: Will Sary reach the top of the tower? How will Sary incorporate the miracle she witnesses? Will Sary defy temple protocols to find her missing sister?
- Great writers are in charge of the reader’s emotions at all times--from page 1 to 110; every single page.
- Always describe something through its actions, rather than tell the reader about it through adjectives and adverbs.
- …great dialogue should communicate a character’s personality, attitudes, values, and social background
- Dialogue is always a function of what a character wants or needs in a scene
- [Scene objective] Always ask yourself what a character wants to get from the other character right now.
- Every discovery should be a tiny reversal that changes the direction of the scene’s energy, and should have an emotional impact on both the character and the reader.
- A flashback should always change the present situation of the story. Otherwise it has no purpose
- …reveal whenever possible a new facet of a character in every scene. This gives the reader a smoother interaction with that character over time
- Each sentence should have some sort of emotional impact.