Write to the heart of your reader

Friday, July 13, 2018
Kate Cuthbert interviewed by Elisa McTaggart

Portrait of Kate Cuthbert
Kate Cuthbert

Great writing touches us, stirs something deep within and lingers. For this connection to take place, there needs to be a strong sense of emotional resonance for your reader. We chatted with Kate Cuthbert ahead of her Winter School workshop next week, Building Emotional Resonance. There are still some places available so book in and learn how to give your writing an injection of emotional spark that will reach right out of your pages and grab your reader by their hearts.


Can you explain for us what ‘emotional resonance’ means to you?

Emotional resonance is that level of engagement where your readers feel your story along with the characters, where their emotions get involved, where they become as personally invested in the narrative as the characters themselves.

What are the consequences of sharing writing that does not evoke an emotional spark for your reader?

A good story can be told; a great story needs to be felt.

What do you think the first step is when approaching the emotional layer of our story?

Characters are your readers first entree into your world, and so should they be for the writer as well.  Get to know your characters, really know them, to really bring a story alive. 

Emotional resonance is important for all literary genres. Are there different approaches for different genres or general rules we can apply to all?

I think different genres have different codes for their readers: having your heroine overcome by a sense of foreboding while alone in a house will evoke different emotional expectations in a literary fiction novel versus a horror fiction novel, for example. Being familiar with the genre frameworks that you're drawing from will allow you to access those codes, and really help layer in the emotion and grip your reader. 

How do you influence the emotional response of your readers towards the characters and aspects of your stories that are most important, and less to others?

Being a writer and being a magician have a lot in common, I think – it's all about sleight of hand and making your reader look where you want them to look. Point-of-view, descriptive passages, judiciously used back story can all help build either empathy or antipathy for certain characters. Same goes for the narrative choices you make: by necessity you will be focused on certain aspects more than others. By making these aspects (setting, plot, internal or external conflict) as strong and as engaging as possible, you can hold your readers' attention where you want them.

Effective emotional resonance imprints on readers. What are some great examples of writing that have touched you and lingered indefinitely?

I have a very strong memory of reading ‘Gone With the Wind’ for the first time when I was a teenager. Later that same day, as I was driving home through the countryside and saw a field full of horses. My first thought was, 'The army could really use those horses'!  Effective emotional resonance can blur the lines between fiction and reality, and make a book feel as real as anything around us.


About Kate Cuthbert

Kate Cuthbert is Managing Editor of Escape Publishing, Harlequin Australia's digital-first imprint. She is also an award-winning book reviewer and critic, a genre fiction advocate, and an in-demand moderator, presenter and teacher. She is currently pursuing a PhD examining rural settings in Australian popular fiction.

About Elisa McTaggart

Elisa McTaggart is the Program and Marketing Intern at Writers Victoria. She works freelance as a writer, photographer and project manager, while establishing a wilderness photography and nature writing art practice.