Why do certain stories inspire laughter, gasps, or tears? What creates THAT emotional spark? Why do some books live in our hearts, forever?
Resonance is elusive. But, when it is woven into your story well, it is a palpable, evocative, life-force.
How do you establish, enhance, and increase resonance in your manuscript? It is my hope that the following steps will guide you along the way.
STEP ONE: ANALYZE BOOKS
Here is a small sample of mentor texts. There are many magnificent books from which to choose. Pick a few and dig in.
As you read…
Think about your physical reaction.
What sparks tears, gasps, or laughter?
What makes you ache for the character?
What prompts you to hug the book to your chest?
What details tempt your senses?
STEP TWO: ANALYZE YOUR OWN STORY
What emotions are you trying to evoke?
What emotional arc do you want to establish?
What emotions does this particular character experience?
How does this specific character show emotion?
What words/dialogue would this character use?
Which scenes/spreads need more emotion?
STEP THREE: USE TOOLS
- Specificity Of Words: Are you using words that truly dig into the emotional experience?
In KNOCK KNOCK: MY DAD’S DREAM FOR ME, Beaty uses very specific words to cut to the core of the main character’s emotion:
“Papa, come home, ‘cause I want to be just like you, but I’m forgetting who you are.”
- Tone: Have you established a tone that supports the emotion you’re trying to evoke?
In IDA, ALWAYS (Levis/Santoso), Levis creates a tone and cadence that supports the emotional connection between Ida and Gus.
“But every morning, when keys clicked and shoes clacked, Gus crawled out of his cave
and spent his day with Ida. Ida was right there. Always.”
- Sentence Length: Make intentional decisions about the length of your sentences so
that you can effectively highlight emotion.
In the above example, the sentence structure takes the reader on an emotional journey. The use of the single-word sentence “Always.” is evocative and effective.
- Look Through a Child’s Eyes. What is important to children? What is important to
your main character?
In THE REMEMBER BALLOONS (Oliveros/Wulfekotte), the main character talks about his favorite balloon—the one that is filled with his last birthday party. He says: “…I can still taste the chocolate frosting.”
What a wonderful sensory detail! This line provokes a visceral reaction in the reader as we imagine chocolate frosting on our tongue.
- Create Space for Mixed Emotions. Our feelings are often mixed and muddled. Create space for this in your manuscript.
In the millionth revision of one of my manuscripts, I recently wrote the following line to highlight my characters’ mixed emotions: “I feel Grandma’s tired all the way through the phone so I whisper, ‘yes’ even though I want to scream ‘NO!’”
- Pacing. Pacing is a critical component of our manuscripts. In addition to the ways in which pacing moves the plot forward, it also highlights conflict, motivation, stakes, and supports emotional resonance.
In THE RABBIT LISTENED, Doerrfeld shows us the magic of pacing and white space as a tool for increasing emotional resonance.
“So eventually they all left…
until Taylor was alone.”
Doerrfeld’s beautiful illustration accompanies the words, “until Taylor was alone.” The combination of pacing, white space, and sparse words creates an incredibly touching moment.
- Hone in on Your Language: Be as specific and evocative as possible. Show. Show.
First draft sentence: “She felt sad he was gone.”
Now dig deeper: “Tears rolled down her face when she realized he’d left.”
Now dig even deeper: “She reached for him,
he wasn’t there.”
- Visual Language. Visual language is critical in a picture book. The more your language baits your illustrator, the better. Visual language supports emotional arc and resonance.
Here is an example from THE BLUE HOUSE DOG (Blumenthal/Gustavson), which is about a stray dog named Bones.
“One summer day, Bones must have been thinking more about food than anything else. He didn’t see the car pulling out.
“Watch out!” I screamed
as I raced towards him.
The car braked—
There was an awful screech.
I got there just in time.”
- Well-Placed Voice-y Dialogue. Well-paced voice-y (that is definitely a word) dialogue can enhance your resonance.
In WOLFIE THE BUNNY (Dyckman/OHora), Dot says:
“HE’S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP!”
Can you feel Dot’s fear and frustration leaping off the page?
And in ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE MAKE WAVES (Kerstein/Wragg), Charlie says,
“Wait! This time, let’s review the rules before you leap in.”
Can you feel the intensity of Charlie’s worry? Do you have a visual image of their last pool outing?
I hope these tools help you on your emotional journey. This list is not exhaustive, but rather highlights some of the tools in your writer’s toolbox.
Remember: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.” (Anonymous)
Massage your manuscript! Play with words! Dig down deep, and…
take your reader’s breath away!
Time and time again.
In the words of Charlie, “You’ve got this!”
Feel. Write. Risk.