Why? Because his situation touched something visceral in each and every one of us. And none of us were entirely comfortable with that.
Now, if you’re a writer, you’ve been to those workshops where the industry's top editors and agents teach us to up the stakes. Make things bad for the good guys, they tell us. Then, make things worse.
But how do we know when things are worse? Well, in real life, our palms sweat and our stomachs knot. It’s the same in fiction.
Of course, there is such a thing as going too far. When your hero is too hot to handle for no reason at all, or your heroine is TSTL (Too Stupid To Live), or your villain vividly violates the deepest taboos of our society and we see it page after page after page, you might consider dialing it back a notch. Because your reader needs to have a knee-jerk reaction, not a gut-wrenching experience.
However, it’s a visceral reaction that gets your readers emotionally invested in the outcome of your story. When your reader laughs or cries or cheers or boos, she’ll stick with you to the end of your novel—and throughout your career. So don’t be afraid to make that heroine a little more brash or that hero a little more vulnerable. Provoke a reaction. Rather than cut those details from your scenes, push the situation to the very edge. That’s what I call the Cutting Edge.
Many of our favorite books engage us emotionally by pushing us to the Cutting Edge. If you're not sure you can lay your finger on the Cutting Edge, check out these bestsellers from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre to Lisa Kleypas’ Sugar Daddy, Harlan Coben’s Long Lost to Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer, and J.D. Robb’s Naked in Death to Lisa Scottoline’s Dirty Blonde.
Now it’s your turn to talk to the Rockville 8. As a writer, have you ever stepped back from the Cutting Edge? Why? Did you regret it? As a reader, which of your favorite books push your emotional buttons to the Cutting Edge?