Last week, I invited Beth Kephart, author of YA novels Undercover (Come back later for a Book Giveaway Contest!), House of Dance, and the soon to be released Nothing But Ghosts, to stop by and share her thoughts on how to create emotion in our writing. Beth kindly accepted and I was thrilled. I mean, Beth is a National Book Award finalist, an NEA grant winner, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts recipient, a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts winner, a Leeway Foundation award winner, and a Speakeasy Poetry Prize winner. In addition to YA, Beth is written memoir and non-fiction. She offers experience and beauty of words and it is a wonder to learn from her.
You have asked me how I bring emotion into my work, and may I first say what a tremendous question this is, for how, indeed, is emotion achieved on the page? For me it begins in real life, in the way that I live. I feel deeply, always. I live my life on the perpetual precipice of wanting, of wishing, of needing. I want to touch things I can’t reach, like the pink in the sky. I want to be able to do things I can’t do, I want to live longer, I want to see more, and I lean all this wanting directly down onto the page. My characters are reaching, too—filled up with desire or curiosity or loss. They’re not finished people. They’re grappling. Sometimes the thoughts they are thinking are swooshed together in long, circuitous sentences. Sometimes they are yelped out, in a word or two. The surprising image is essential to emotional writing. So is deliberate variation in the structure and rhythm of sentences. So is reading every sentence you write out loud, several times, and if it doesn’t move you, it sure as heck isn’t going to move its readers.
See? Beauty and emotion.