I’m scared. I had determined not be, had etched this determination into the very crevices of my heart. But now as I stand here, staring down into the oblivion below, the cold hands of apprehension begin clawing their way into my chest.
So I suck in a breath, willing it to nourish my lungs so that strength might flow through my veins again. And with a determination born from something akin to hope, I begin to walk forward, legs of wood placing a step before the next one, until I am standing on the narrow bridge, and it begins its slow swinging from side to side.
My fingers grasp frantically at the railing, and I suppress an urge to look once more into the darkness below, each step seeming to tempt it into swallowing me.
A familiar psalm finds its way into the forefront of my mind. I hold it there, the words flowing from my lips with such intensity it seems to hardly be me speaking them.
“Ye though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”.
My feet continue to move forward, and I am caught in a surreal realm where nothing quite seems to be myself. I hardly know how I am even moving, for the same force that beckons words from my lips seems also to propel my body forward, as though some unseen hand is guiding me.
I will fear no evil.
What makes a story a good story?
It is the question of ages, and in truth there is not one answer but many. A good story should reflect on life its self, where many paths lead to different destinations, and no two persons are exactly the same. But without emotion, a story is nothing more than words. It is about as interesting as hearing how one might get to the store.
So the next question is how we put emotion in our stories, and in doing so make the reader genuinely care about the character and their life. To answer this we must first understand how we build a story.
I like to think of writing as a building project. We start with the foundation, a solid beginning that gives us the basic details of our character and their life. It may consist of their gender, age, and maybe a brief backstory. Nothing too complicated yet.
We then begin by building the walls. This is usually a little more detailed. We begin to shape who our character really is, what they care about, important life events, and what they would be willing to sacrifice.
And lastly we shape who they are in their truest form. These are the things that maybe no one sees and the reader only is privilege too. Is is how they react to their environment and the people and situations around them. It is a bit like entering into the character’s brain.
By knowing all these things we can then begin giving our story the emotions our readers crave.
We first start by attacking the foundation.
As an example I want you to think back to the classic fairytale stories. Probably something like Cinderella, Snow white, the little mermaid, or Rapunzel come into mind.
What is something they all have in common?
All of them are missing at least one parent. In fact, it is hard to find any classic princess story where they have both parents with them.
It is a common trick in writing, one that thousands of authors and screen writers have used for years. And it works, because the loss of someone you love is something anyone can sympathize with.
When we attack the foundation of our character, we are asking a question, and generally it is this; How will the character react? Will they choose to persevere?
By poking holes in the normality of our story foundation, we give the reader a small reason to start caring. Whether our character loses a loved one or even a dream, it is easy to understand where they are coming from.
Generally attacking the foundation of our story effects the walls as well, because similar to how a building would work, without a strong foundation our character often has secondary problems to deal with. Maybe the loss of a parent makes them struggle with depression, and therefore they have issues finding a steady job, and that in turn means that they can’t get a decent house, and maybe that results in a child or loved one that is struggling because of them. We have opened up a limitless supply of ideas and paths to take our reader down, and with each one our readers will be asking new questions that must also be answered.
But the most important and successful way to write with feeling is when we begin by shaping the internal character and their internal battles.
In the short story at the beginning of this article, you will notice that I have not told you the character’s name, or age, or even gender. In fact, you know nothing about this character at all, aside from the choices they are making. You know only that they are scared, even though they didn’t want to be, and yet despite their fear they chose to stay strong. While reading the story you probably felt some emotion. Maybe you felt their apprehension and then their courage. This proves that while such details are important, they are not always necessary to evoke emotion. You felt simply because they felt. You were given a glimpse into their minds and without meaning to probably related on some level of your own.
It is the science of writing, and if a writer really applies themselves then they can turn what would would be an ordinary story into something extraordinary.