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Catharsis- What Every Reader Wants

If you’re like me, writing is a release. My imagination works overtime, and it’s even get some of these thoughts on paper- or burst. And that wouldn’t be a pretty sight. It occurred to me that readers get the same release from a well written book. We all love a satisfying story, one that makes us cry, or smile, or both. It’s a release we need, and it’s what seperates great fiction from just another story.
Catharsis is a fifty-dollar word that is defined both medically and emotionally as a purging. It is not just a good way to wrap something up, it requires getting completely down to the source, putting everything on the line, giving it all up. We’ve all read books and seen movies that nail this very well, and some that completely miss the mark. So how do we, as authors achieve this.
I’ve experienced this purging in my own life. There were times when we were raising our kids that we had to go to our parents to ask for financial help. For me, this was a very hard thing, as I was so busy trying to prove we could make it on our own. What I call reality checks took a big swallow, and a no-holds barred explanation of the problem, then putting myself at their mercy and preparing for the lecture that I knew I deserved. It was humiliating, cleansing and ultimately satisfying.
I watched the movie version of Nicholas Sparks’ book The Vow this week, and found another illustration of the power of catharsis to make everything turn out the way it should. The whole movie was about how each character tried to help the heroine regain her memories. They all had ideas that would give her just enough to mold her into the person they wanted her to be. It took the hero completely giving her up to allow her the space to figure things out on her own. No spoilers here- you’ll have to read or watch it on your own. But the bottom line is- each of us has to reach our own “black moment” our own catharsis before we can have our happily ever after.
In our writing, we need to have an idea what each major character wants, what they need, what they’re terrified of. Then, somewhere in the story, these factors must collide. They will have to give up what they want, decide exactly what it is they need, and face what they’re afraid of. This will leave our readers with the sigh, the empty box of tissues, the search for the next book we’ve written for them. It takes a lot out of us to write this way, but a little catharsis is good for everyone!

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