Go for the Heart

Last Friday, LaDonna blogged about being emotionally affected by movies and books. This reminded me of the segment director James Cameron did on The View. His latest film, Avatar, is the biggest grossing movie of all time. In his interview, he says, “What I go for when I make a movie is an emotional reaction from the audience. I try to go right for the heart.”

That resonated with me. My favorite books and movies go straight for my heart. I’ve said this before, but MARLEY & ME by James Grogan made me laugh a lot, made me cry a lot, and it ended with a chapter that made me laugh a lot again. The perfect book. I wasn’t the only one who loved it. MARLEY spent a loooong time on the NYTimes bestseller list. I can’t find the figures, but I know it was over a year. It spawned a movie and five children’s books on Marley by Grogan. Obviously the emotional aim for the heart worked.

But we can stir emotions with more than laughter and tears. Allison Brennan goes for fear for her characters in hers. Karin Tabke has heart-thumping tension. She gives us in characters in danger, and we want to see them get out of danger. When Michelle Diener’s ILLUMINATIONS comes out in 2011, you’ll see she does the same thing in her historical. She and Karin do this a completely different manner, but the emotional response they’re going for is similar.

I’ve heard writers say that you should know the response before you write it. But sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to write until I start typing. I’m in the revision stage now. This might be a better place to ask myself what I want the reader to feel for each scene. If it’s not written to get that response, I can fix it.

My intent is always to write a great story, with great characters that the reader cares about. My “unsaid” intent is to always go for the heart.

What about you? Is that something you think about before you write the book or the scene? Can you think of a book that made you laugh and cry and your heart pound for the characters?

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20 Responses to Go for the Heart

  1. Elle J Rossi says:


    I agree. The best books are those that make you feel. I strive for this in my writing. I think it takes years to hone in on that skill. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort to achieve it.

    Books that made me feel: World Without End by Ken Follett. The Unsung Hero by Suzanne Brockmann. Absolute Fear by Lisa Jackson. These books are completely different and evoked different emotions, but they all aimed for the heart and hit the bulls eye.

  2. Theresa says:

    I’ve been on a serious reading glut lately, and the book that started the whole glut was Susuan Elizabeth Phillips, because it made me both laugh and tear up.

    For my own writing, before every going into a scene, I sit back and think about the characters, and what’s about to happen to them, and then I write that scene with that emotion in mind. In my new book– My heroine is feeling shock, and horror and fear. So I wrote with that in mind, trying to bring those emotions onto the page. My hero is feeling frustrated, possessive and on guard–so I wrote his scene with those in mind.

    To often I’ve read books where you have no clue what the main characters are feeling, and too me at least, I don’t get a good sense of characterization. For me as a reader and writer, emotion and characterization go hand in hand.

  3. Thanks for the mention, Edie ๐Ÿ™‚ . I agree so whole-heartedly that complete involvement on my part as the reader is vital. I am either feeling along with the character, or I put the book down.

    To achieve this myself, I try to step into my character’s shoes for the scene, no matter where it goes. I add a lot of layers later in revisions, as well. Little tweaks can make all the difference.

  4. Liz Kreger says:

    Good examples, Edie.

    Me? I write a story … first and foremost … and try to incorporate emotions that I hope will effect my reader. If I manage to draw a smile, a laugh or a tear from a reader, I’m golden.

  5. Edie Ramer says:

    Elle, I don’t read Ken Follett, but I’ve read the other two. They’re all bestselling writers, and I think most bestsellers do evoke emotional responses. It’s more important than being great at the craft side of writing. I wish I’d known that when I started writing.

  6. Edie Ramer says:

    Theresa, SEP books are must read for me. She’s never let me down, and her last is the best yet. My favorite, anyway.

    Good for you that you know what’s going to happen before you write the scene. Sometimes I know, and it is easier. And during those times, I do bring their emotions on the page. In my revisions now, I even have to cut back on it in some places because I’ve overdone it.

  7. Edie Ramer says:

    Michelle, I’ll probably be mentioning your name often in my blogs. ๐Ÿ™‚

    To achieve this myself, I try to step into my characterโ€™s shoes for the scene, no matter where it goes.

    I do that too. I’m feeling what the character is feeling, and I try to convey it to the reader.

  8. Edie Ramer says:

    If I manage to draw a smile, a laugh or a tear from a reader, Iโ€™m golden.

    Liz, you summed up my whole post in one sentence. And you are golden. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

  9. I totally want people to cry when they read my books. I grew up on Julie Garwood, Judith McNaught, those women who had those huge black moments, people in danger, and that’s what I like to write. I honestly don’t know if I could do light fluffy stuff.

  10. Edie Ramer says:

    Lori, I fell in love with your excerpts before your book because of your emotional hits. I do like light fluffy too, though. They might have more lighter moments, but they have darker too. At least, the good ones do that.

  11. Wonderful post, Edie. I know I think about emotion as I’m writing the first draft, but there’s SO MUCH to think about then that I always have to go back and work on this later… A book that had me laughing and crying–it’s such a beautiful piece of literature!–is NEVER CHANGE by Elizabeth Berg. The characters deal with such heartbreaking issues and, yet, manage to find humor in life and (in each other) in spite of that.

  12. LaDonna says:

    Edie, love this blog, and thanks for the mention too! ๐Ÿ™‚ When talking of emotions, I’m a “feel” gal all the way and that’s how I travel my stories. There’s so many fantastic stories I’ve enjoyed over the years too, that are rich with emotions.

    Since reading Shanghai Girls, for instance, I’m going back and reading some of Lisa See’s previous work. She creates new territory, and her originality is astounding. That’s what I look for. You can tell her roots and heart are in China.

    It’s all about finding your personal song.

  13. Edie Ramer says:

    Marilyn, you did a great job with emotion in ACCORDING TO JANE. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve read a few books by Elizabeth Berg, and she’s wonderful.

  14. Edie Ramer says:

    LaD, women’s fiction is about emotions of the heart. Not just love, but the whole spectrum. I think in many ways it’s harder because it doesn’t have the built-in tension of a mystery or suspense. But many writers do it well. You’re one of them!

  15. mary Jo says:

    As usual, Edie, you provoke thought and response from your readers.

    I agree with LaDonna about Shanghai Girls as this book still dwells in my mind and heart. It engaged me on so many levels. Meaningful writing does that. However, I also think that meaningful writing can be packed with appropriate emotion and characters but still not produce an emotional response in all readers.

    Why? Readers have to be open to the ideas and truths and situations the writers are presenting. It’s why we hear and see great reviews on books we love and totally awful ones. Our goal as writers is the keep the positive group more dominant than the negative. It’s also our job as writers to understand that it’s okay to have some negative reviews. We can’t appeal to everyone.

  16. Edie Ramer says:

    Mary Jo, I’ll have to read Shanghai Girls now. Writing is so subjective. There have been bestsellers that I’ve tried to read and just couldn’t. Like Dan Brown’s books. Many people love him, but not me.

  17. Okay, now I want to go see this again. I love that, “Go right for the heart.” I tend to do that with pseudonym, but I think I’m so uncertain of my audience outside of my genre, that I’m struggling.

    This is just perfect today, Edie. Thank you!

  18. Karin Tabke says:

    Edie, when I sit down to write I never have in my mind that i’m going to go for the heart. I think I just instinctively go that way. I personally feel a lot and it flows into my characters.

  19. Edie Ramer says:

    Natasha, it was a great show. I don’t know if I want to see it again, though. I’d like to see Valentine’s Day. And when it comes out, the new Alice in Wonderland.

    I’m glad if my blog helped you. You write such evocative blogs, I imagine you naturally aim for the heart in your books.

  20. Edie Ramer says:

    Karin, I know you plot now, and I think you plan to write scenes that have a powerful impact. That automatically comes with an emotional punch.

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