Friday, May 30, 2014

Emotional Gateways--How They Help You Write and Revise Your Book

On June 2, next Monday, I begin teaching my summer online classes.  In both the beginning and intermediate level classes, we examine how scenes, chapters, and whole books are built to deliver the exact meaning the writer wants. 

Katherine Dering, a writer in past classes, just had her first memoir published.  She wrote me this week: 

Your classes were very helpful to me finishing and getting Shot in the Head, a Sister's Memoir, a Brother's Struggle published:  where to start, what to cut or add, finding central images, rising and falling tensions, inner and outer story, inviting the reader into the all helped.   People tell me they couldn't put it down.  Mary, you must have gotten through to me.

Not an easy process.  But intensely rewarding when your book is finished and published, as Katherine now knows.  Those readers who can't put her book down are engaged because of the story's drama, of course, but also because of the emotional gateways this writer has crafted so expertly.   

What Are Emotional Gateways?
Most good books offer a series of gateways where the reader's own past, thoughts and feelings, memories and values, can connect with the story on the page.  Imagine them like entrances into the secret world of the book.  Emotional gateways are responsible for that blissful experience of getting lost in a story, thinking about it for days afterward, feeling rage or sorrow or joy as you read about someone you'll never meet but whose world is entirely real to you.

Emotional gateways are openings into a book's meaning.  They are more powerful that intellectual delivery of ideas and concepts; they hook into more primal centers in the brain.  They depend on images and senses.  There is no effort to retrieve the memory, unlike the work it can take intellectually.

Crafting strong emotional gateways is a skill every writer can learn, and I'm fierce about its importance in creating strong writing.  In my classes, we work on first expanding use of the five senses.  Involuntary memory evokers, the senses are the simplest way to open emotional gateways for readers.  (Remember Marcel Proust and his rhapsody on the tiny French cake called a madeleine in Remembrance of Things Past?)

After expanding use of the senses, what's next?  Practice relaxing the linear side of the brain and engaging the image-based mind. 

I use many exercises in my online classes to help writers learn this.  I offer the excellent resources of Robert Olen Butler's From Where You Dream (see below for blog post on this book) and Robert Boswell's The Half-Known World--two writing books that clear the way to image-work I also recommend daily freewrites based on images and collage work (Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees, and many other writers use cut-out pictures to prompt the image brain). 

Most vital:  train yourself to not censor the images that come onto the page, even if you have no clue how they connect to your chapter or scene.

A writer from Canada emailed me recently.  She asked how I approached my own writing after learning about emotional gateways.  What changed?  Everything. 

I still write and revise with my lists, my charts, my character timelines and other linear tools.  But I give equal time to image work.  When my writing feels stalled out, I freewrite--just for 20 minutes--on a random image.  I know that "stalled out" feeling is just the linear brain becoming too active, critical, and disengaged from emotional gateway work. 

Truthfully, for most of us, it takes re-awakening the part of ourselves that is so little used in daily life.  Once we do, it makes a tremendous difference in our writing.  

For more information on my online book-structuring classes, where you can learn and practice emotional gateways, click here.