Use All the Crayons in the Box

We all remember the horror of Misery, the awe of The Neverending Story, and the romance of Wuthering Heights. But we often forget just how many other emotions those novels made us feel along the way. And too many authors don’t realize, in hindsight, just how important those secondary emotions are to creating the immersive blockbusters we all aim to create.

Human beings just can’t sustain emotions for particularly long. Even if you reflect on your very worst day, you’ll realize you still had bursts of joy, of self-awareness, of relief, or of comfort along the way. Our emotions work in cycles, up and down as our biochemistry allows, inter-spliced with whatever chemical reserves are available in between.

The greats draw from a wide palette, recruiting every single crayon in the box, each and all in service of their primary emotional goal. By doing so, they draw the reader down deeper, allowing her moments of reprieve without ever putting down the book. And even when she must, since the book has tickled oh-so-many regions of her brain, she’s eager to get back to it.

The challenge is balancing just how much relief you give to readers from start to finish. Your genre will inform this to some degree, but in general, you’ll want to narrow the breaks as you approach the end. Allow your primary emotion to gain in intensity and duration over time, so that your climax sends readers away remembering the entire work as if it were all as potent as we remember Misery, The Neverending Story, and Wuthering Heights to be.