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Whichcraft: The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Mass

Are you looking to hone your skills? The Writing Bloc team recommend some of their favorite craft books in our Whichcraft? series.

When embarking on the editing process with my first novel, it became apparent that some of my holdover habits from working as a freelance writer for most of my adult life were hard to shake. I’ll be the first to admit, transitioning from non-fiction writing to fiction writing resulted in an ingrained habit of telling instead of showing.

I set about searching for a writing craft book that focused on tuning into character emotions. What I landed on was The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface by Donald Mass.

Showing and telling are only part of the picture. But, they are not even the most important part. As we will discover, readers may believe that they’re living a story along with it’s characters. Actually, they’re not. Readers are having their own experience that is merely occasioned by what’s on the page.

The book touches on topics such as Me-Centered Narration, Stirring Higher Emotions, Connecting the Inner and Outer Journey, and Why Readers Really Fall in Love with Protagonists. It was a valuable buy, and I’ve turned to it repeatedly when I’ve felt stuck and needed a nudge to approach a scene from a new angle.

When readers feel strongly, their hearts are open. Your stories can not only reach them for a moment, but they can change them forever. I don’t care about what you write, how you write it, your choices in publishing, or what you want out of your career. What I want is to feel deeply as I read your work. I want to want to feel connected to you and your characters in the way I do to the most memorable classics and the most stunning new titles I’ll read this year.

The Emotional Craft of Fiction Book Cover
The book is a quick and engaging read, and the author pulls from other literary works to provide examples so that readers can see certain techniques in action.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want a writing craft book that is not only inspiring as you read it for the first time from cover to cover, but one that is also handy to reference in the future. My favorite feature is the “Emotional Mastery” exercise, such as the one below, that Mass has included at the end of each section.

  • Pick a point in your manuscript in which the predominant feeling is large and primary. If you’re unsure, choose the moment in which your protagonist feels the greatest fear.
  • What are small signs that indicate something large is happening? What details, hints, indirect clues, or visible effects have you used?
  • What repercussions of what’s happening can the reader immediately see?
  • What does your protagonist or POV character feel that is not immediate? How will she change, do something differently from now on, or see another person, or anything at all, in a way that’s forever altered?

These exercises could be completed in order while combing through an entire manuscript, or could be pulled out when you feel stuck on a scene.

I was thrilled with this purchase, have flipped through the book more than a few times now, and recommended it to multiple friends. If you think you need to dive deeper into how you are conveying your character’s emotions to your readers, then I highly recommend.

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Jacqui Castle
Jacqui Castle is a professional freelance writer and first-time novelist, living and writing in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. Jacqui's debut book, The Seclusion, was named one of Kirkus Reviews' "Best Science Fiction Books of September 2018" and is now available at all major retailers.
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