Did you know today is No Socks Day? That makes me happy because I despise socks and shoes. Researchers say creative people prefer to go barefoot, so I use that as an excuse. But I suspect the real reason is an incident that happened when I was two.
We had just moved to Africa, and I crawled out of my crib at night. My dad insisted we always wear slippers in the house, so I slid my foot into my slipper. And…
I stepped down on this slippery, wiggly thing. It squished, and I screamed. I shook the shoe off my foot. A lizard scooted out, but he left his tail behind. That skinny, green, wormlike tail wiggled and wriggled inside my slipper.
I’m still not sure what was more traumatic – the slimy surprise in my slipper, the twitching tail, or knowing I’d hurt an innocent creature.
My father tried to reassure me that the lizard was fine and would grow another tail, but I didn’t believe him. Not until he read it to me from a book. I didn’t learn until recently that it takes about 60 days for the tail to grow back. Poor lizard!
So what do shoes and lizards have to do with writing middle-grade books?
One of the hardest things for an author to do is to get emotion onto the page. Emotion is what hooks readers, and books that grab readers have heart and vividness. They make readers care about the character and immerse them in the scene.
One of the best ways to do that as a writer is not only to recall incidents from your past, but to re-live them. Investigate traumas in your life. These incidents are stored in the brain along with the many emotions connected with them. The minute I think about the lizard, my body freezes in terror, chills run through me, my foot recalls every detail of squishing down, and I recoil. All the visceral (or involuntary) reactions place me right in that scene again. I’m immersed in sensory details. Not just the wriggle, but my screams, my father’s feet pounding down the hall, the taste of bile in my mouth, the steamy sweatiness of the night. I can still see the way the moonbeams slanted through the window striping the shadows on the floor, hear the waves crashing against the shore in the distance. I can even hear the whine and buzz of mosquitoes against the netting.
All those details from one event that lasted only minutes.
Your brain is a treasure trove of memories. Tap them when you need to get more emotion on the page. Close your eyes and go back to a time when you felt the same emotion as your character. Feel the memory in your body, see it in your mind’s eye. Immerse yourself in it, and then let it flow onto the page. Readers will feel the terror or grief or joy along with you, and your books will stay in their hearts and minds long after they close the cover.