The significance of emotional Impact in our writing...

Cross-over advice

Do you know the ending when you start a book?

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Hey Fellow Litopians,
Asking @AgentPete to consider a weekly 'Cookie' exercise to help us grasp and practise such has made me write this post.
But putting writing aside for a moment.
Have you ever listened to a song on the radio and listened to the lyrics and out of nowhere you feel yourself swell up then next come the tears.
I'm currently listening to the song 'There You'll be" sung by one of the X-factor winners Sam Bailey. No matter how many times I listen to this song, it gets me every time and I never fail to think about my late dad as I listen. That's what Emotional impact feels like, Sam's voice, the words, the melody, the music all help to create such.
But when it comes to writing we have no melody, no singer and no music. Thats what makes its so damn difficult.
But we do have a voice, our writers voice and words and its what we do with those words that count.
For me as a writer to generate Emotional Impact or so called 'Cookies' as @AgentPete calls them.
I create sympathetic characters, create a vital situation where a choice must be made and it is even better if the choice is brought on by your characters own actions. Create a surprise that must be subtly anticipated chapters before in the plot or for our characters. Create action through emotion using words and sentences that will create a scene that will touch all the senses, even the senses we often neglect as writers.
Thats what I believe Cookies are and thats what I try to forge in my writing.
I would love to hear from the rest of you of what EMOTIONAL IMPACT MEANS TO YOU AS WRITERS AND HOW YOU INVENT IT.
Please share and hopefully @AgentPete will correct us if we are all wrong and I do hope Pete considers creating 'THE COOKIE JAR EXERCISE' :)
Kindest Regards,
Good one @Amber. And how we do that, how do we make the readers care that’s the big question.
I've also struggled to get my head around the concept of cookies. I assumed it to mean they are like mini-hooks (usually one-liners) where the reader perks up and says "ohh, that line/paragraph is extra significant--I'm not sure why yet, so I'll read on to hopefully learn more." I could be completely wrong though. Unfortunately, I can't check up on it; when I type "cookies and fiction writing" into Google I get baking recipes and job advertisements for fortune cookie writers.
I thought that cookies were unexpected twists or turns of phrase.
I think @Kirsten that is a small part of it. But it shouldn’t be a complete twist or turn in the plot, I believe it should be planted from the very beginning. It’s hard to explain like give your readers a sense, a ever so slight sense something is going to happen. Like you can’t automatically give your characters a supernatural ability out of the blue so to speak it should be persistent but very slight like a faint knock that something is coming etc. I could be barking up the wrong tree completely here.
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Depending on what's in the manuscript, we may discuss this more in SS on Saturday.
@AgentPete, in that case I’m on a Early shift and staying at my mums. So I’ll bring my Mac and watch. What time does SS start?
I understand cookies to mean anything that creates empathy in the reader. A moment of empathy is a hook. If you relate to something, it draws you in and makes you turn the page.

By that definition, cookies are never one thing. They are what your audience will relate to. And on a deeper level (if you're a good enough writer, which I am not), what we all relate to.

She held the smile in place, despite the shaking inside. Little Callum was screaming again, screaming at the top of his lungs right here at the checkout.
"I... I hate you, Mummy! You never give me anything! You don't feed me! You don't feed me!"
The strangers in the queue were one giant frown.
Why did he say things like that? Why did he make her suffer when she did nothing but try to please him?

Did you relate to that? Did it stir a memory or ignite compassion? I guess it might for some, but not for others.

Or perhaps...

He took a breath to calm the rushing in his chest. Who'd have thought you could be this nervous?
"I just wanted to say... I mean, I wanted to ask... Will you marry me?"
The smile that broke her face was a choir of angels.
"Yes! Oh yes I will!"

Did that touch you? Maybe, maybe not.

What about this next one?

Mum had been sick for such a long time. No one can fight forever. No one can take that much pain.
I leant over the bed and put my lips to her ear. I don't know if she could hear me.
"Go to sleep now Mum. Please. We're all here, and we all love you so much. But enough's enough. You don't need to fight anymore. Go to sleep now, Mum. Please. I love you so much."


Now, I don't know if any of these examples have value. But I do think they're all cookies.
What about this next one?

Mum had been sick for such a long time. No one can fight forever. No one can take that much pain.
I leant over the bed and put my lips to her ear. I don't know if she could hear me.
"Go to sleep now Mum. Please. We're all here, and we all love you so much. But enough's enough. You don't need to fight anymore. Go to sleep now, Mum. Please. I love you so much."
@Rich. That so touched to me. Not sure what to say, really, other than: this is so moving, arresting. Wow.
@Rich. works exceptional well for 1st POV as 1st POV already creates that channel that access so to speak but it’s 3rd POV I struggle with.
Good one @Amber. And how we do that, how do we make the readers care that’s the big question.

Well, I don’t know what cookies are yet, so I’ll wait and see. But there are so many ways to make readers care, it really depends on the emotions you are trying to conjure in the reader. I don’t think characters need to be likeable to make readers feel sad for them, but characters’ predicaments need to be relatable in some way, regardless of how strange or unique things seem on the surface. I agree that a powerful way to create emotional impact is to have characters make choices they regret, that cause self-inflicted pain or pain to loved ones. Regret is an emotion we can all relate to, longing for what might have been.

Having characters face injustices is a good way to make readers angry for your characters, even those characters who aren’t especially nice.
Little words carry mighty weight, so word choice is vital to make an impact. In our memories we remember moments that happened in an emotional situation, while the whole scene blurs, so in writing it's important to encapsulate intensity in a fragment that makes the reader pause to re-read and empathise.

One way of doing this, is to sneak emotion is by switching the senses. It's often said that the sense of smell is the most evocative, as well as being the hardest to describe, as it can only reference itself. Also, the sense of touch conveys an enormous of information transforming how we communicate. I tried to use these senses in a short story I wrote about a man who'd lost his terminally-ill wife through assisted suicide. She'd battle cancer for a year with chemotherapy, choosing to die rather than continue to suffer. He'd escorted her to the Dignitas clinic, returning home to be besieged by insensitive news reporters. Eventually, they moved on to other sensational stories, but he was left alone in the house he'd shared with his beloved wife, feeling like the curator of their life together. Haunted by the smell of her perfume on cushions and bed linen, he fell apart one day when he put his hand on a hairbrush hidden behind a curtain by the front door. Unexpectedly feeling her hair and revealing her hidden hairbrush, he realised that she'd used it to tidy her thinning locks before answering the door; he sat on the stairs and wept.

Song lyricists have the advantage of music to assist the emotion of their words, but the best of them write words that poetically evoke the human condition. As I type this, I'm listening to a double album of the best work by Townes Van Zandt, some of whom's songs you may recognise. One of the most powerful of his songs is Waiting 'Round To Die that chilled me when I first heard it 40 years ago, and which continues to make me pause for thought. It's all the more powerful considering that it was apparently the first song that he wrote after his marriage, and that he went on to destroy himself with the substance abuse he sings about. I referenced the title in my latest Cornish Detective novel, when a witness describes the life of a murder victim, a doomed alcoholic trawlerman, saying that he acted "Like he was waiting around to die."

I recall @AgentPete talking about cookies a while ago, and understood them to be creating empathy for the character and their situation. They create a reason to keep the reader turning the pages, to see what happens next. He spoke of having at least one cookie on each page, especially at the beginning. That's why it's so vital that the beginning of a story not be slow - backstory or world building only. Both of those should be sprinkled in throughout the story, not spoon-fed to us in one big dump at the start. As we've seen so many times now on pop-ups, we have at best two pages to impress the reader - be that an agent, an editor, or a potential buyer reading the free sample on Amazon, deciding whether to click the "Buy" button - before they move on.

How do we do that? Well, we need to know what we're writing and why. I've been taught to start my stories in the middle of the main conflict for the POV character. In my case, since I write romance, that character is the female protagonist 99% of the time, though I have begun a story from the male protagonist's POV. I open the story in the middle of the conflict. Example:

In Curse of the Lidérc, a paranormal romance/urban fantasy story that's in a boxed set releasing in January, my female POV character is lost in the woods on Halloween night. She's become separated from her three friends and can't find them. She hears others talking and walking, but when she searches with her flashlight and calls for her friends, they aren't there. There are two cookies on the first page. She's pissed off that they got separated, when all they did was go into the bushes to pee, and now she's getting scared because what started out as walking in the woods next to the cemetery she and her friends were exploring seems to be turning ominous.

By the end of the chapter, she's heard a terrified scream she swears is from one of her friends, followed the smell of a bonfire and voices into a clearing where she watches a group of people in a ritual, and listens to them chanting in a language she can't identify (my heroine is multi-lingual). She then tries to run from a man who claims to be there to get her away from the group, but whose intentions she doesn't believe are honorable. As the chapter ends, he's put some sort of a spell on her, rendering her immobile, and is running through the woods, carrying her.

The backstory in this chapter is minimal. We learn through her interactions and internal monologue (which is also kept to a minimum - just enough to show her feistiness and her impatient nature) that she's from the Ukraine, she speaks more than one language, and her friends, her job, and her tiny apartment are her entire life. We learn nothing about the man who kidnaps her, other than he also is multi-lingual, and speaks English with the hint of a northern Russian accent.

As for world building, again, that is minimal. We learn they're in the woods next to one of the most allegedly haunted cemeteries in the Chicago area, and it's Halloween night. That's all we need to know at that point. I cover who, what, when, where, and why in the first couple of paragraphs, but not in the form of an info dump. Instead, the focus is on Faina, my heroine, trying to figure out where her friends are and who the people she keeps hearing are. That quickly leads to her following the group of voices to the clearing, and then the man showing up behind her.

I've dropped her into the middle of the conflict for the story, from her POV. She's been kidnapped by a man, on Halloween night, from the woods next to a cemetery.

As for my hero, Alexei, chapter two is from his POV. His conflict is a bit more complicated, so I ease the reader into it, sprinkling in his backstory. There's a bit more world building here because Alexei takes her to a spiritual plane to tell her what's going on, and there she not only is stuck with him, but also the two Nephilim who are helping him. Eventually, they end up hiding out from Alexei's demon boss in his home in Lincoln Park, but first I have to walk my readers through Alexei's who, what, when, where, and why. It's intertwined with Faina's life, but I take my time making this clear so again, the story isn't all tell. It's not just one big info dump. It's not all world building or backstory. The focus is on the present, and step by step what those two need to do in order to survive.

Because it's a romance, they fall in love, but that is also part of the conflict. She's human but right now, he's not. Not yet, at least. He's a demon who wants to earn back his mortality, but it means sacrificing a human of his demon boss's choosing. And that human just happens to be Faina. Instead of killing her, he took her from the woods that night to hide her from his fellow demons, who were ordered to do the job instead because Alexei waited too long. There's a reason his boss wants Faina dead, and that's the story. The angels help Alexei and Faina dig through her past to find out why, and then they need to find a way to circumvent it and give Alexei his wish.

The conflict goes on until the end, with neither of them knowing whether the plan they come up with will work. If it works in the wrong way, Faina will be free of the demons in her life, but that will include Alexei because he won't be human again. And since she's fallen in love with him, too, she will only get her life back but not the man she wants. If it doesn't work at all, he will go on working for his boss or worse, and she will be killed in a horrible way. Since Alexei has already witnessed his demon cohorts torture and kill a human woman he once dared to become involved with, he will do anything to avoid having Faina end up the same way.

WHEW! I'm rambling... LOL! I guess my point in all this is that it takes PLANNING to ensure your readers have cookies on every page, especially at the beginning. I've done this myself - dropped in backstory and world building all at once, incorrectly believing I need to set the scene instead of letting my readers ease into that. Now, I strive to drop my POV character right into the conflict with paragraph one. You want to constantly keep the story moving forward, while also sprinkling in backstory and world building as the opportunity arises. You can accomplish this quietly. A sentence here and there, a spoken phrase of dialogue, an observation, etc. You don't need to hit your readers over the head with either of those things. Done subtly, they are far more effective than long paragraphs of exposition. Readers are more intelligent than we give them credit for. They can read between the lines.

Hope this helps. :)
Haunted by the smell of her perfume on cushions and bed linen, he fell apart one day when he put his hand on a hairbrush hidden behind a curtain by the front door. Unexpectedly feeling her hair and revealing her hidden hairbrush, he realised that she'd used it to tidy her thinning locks before answering the door; he sat on the stairs and wept.
@Paul Whybrow, perfect example of emotional impact love it, thanks for sharing.
For me, cookies in fiction are much as they are in life, something that you come across and think "Mmmm, I want a bit more of that."
When the reader reads it you want them thinking, "ooh, that's interesting I want to read more of this."

How this is achieved is very much down to the writer and their style and also to a certain extent the genre of the work.
Emotional hooks work well, as others here have described, but I feel there are some alternatives.

In a romance book for example a successful cookie might be a subtle reference to a potential love interest.
As she scanned the crowded room her eyes met the pale blue ones of a smartly dressed young man. She thought he was going to smile at her but then her view was blocked by another guest and when the blockage had moved on the man had gone.

In a murder mystery it could be a vague reference to someone acting suspiciously or doing something out of the ordinary.
"I believe Mrs Fanshaw has gone to fetch more wine, but she's taking her time about it," Jilly said, "Maybe she can't find it in the cellar."

In a SciFi it could be references to exotic technology.
We checked out the speeders lined up in the space dock. There was a Dragon EM4. That's the one with the new faster-than-light drive. But that would be too hot for what we needed. We moved on.

What I'm saying is that it could be a little hint that appeals to the readers' interests and makes them sit up a bit and want to find out more. @Barbara 's trail of bread crumbs springs to mind here. Something that pushes the reader's buttons.
Of course I could be barking up completely the wrong tree, which might explain a lot...
Now back to the original post question, emotional impact.
Hmmm, well anything that pulls on the heart strings I guess.
It could be something simple like describing a sad memory brought to mind by something a character said. A tiny flash of backstory that reveals a whole lot about the POV character.
Or it could be a tender kiss given to a sleeping child by it's mother as she prepares to leave home in the middle of the night.
Or an email from someone dear who was thought to be dead, that says they are alive.
Just about anything that promotes an emotional response from the reader and increases the reader's "emotional investment" in the story. That emotional investment might be sadness, anger, pity, hope, whatever. But they need something to give them a reason to keep reading.
This I think is what Pete means when he says "Why should I care?" If the reader doesn't feel some sort of emotional investment with the story they will soon get bored.
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Cross-over advice

Do you know the ending when you start a book?