If I told you that six-thousand people died in an earthquake, how would you feel? Pretty shocked I’m sure.
Have you ever felt numbed to tragedies in the world because you can’t comprehend what is happening on the global scale? That’s the point where you turn the TV off because you feel overloaded with information. When it’s six-thousand people you have no idea what each person suffered.
Make it personal
If I told you about a young mother watching as her daughter is buried under the rubble of their collapsing house, a daughter who is so excited at going to school to receive first prize for gymnastics, and that the mother had been feeling impatient at her daughter for taking so long to come out onto the driveway, and that the last she sees of her daughter is the fear on her face when the ground trembles. What would you be feeling now?
Hopefully, you would be tuning into the impatience she’d been feeling compared to the helplessness as the house collapses – she is unable to help her daughter. Now you’re probably figuring that the mother will be distraught and will eventually feel guilty for being impatient. There is also the daughter; her excitement stripped away in an instant of horror and the very thing she has been looking forward to ripped from her and any physical pain she suffers.
By honing in on individual lives you can convey the emotional impact more effectively. Your reader will feel what the people in that particular situation feel.
Strip back your writing
Think Sophie’s Choice by William Styron; by concentrating on the horrific dilemma of one mother he manages to convey the full horror of the holocaust during World War II. He takes you into someone’s life and makes you wonder what you would do in those circumstances and whether there is any way out of her situation.
Writing small – or zooming in on personal lives – gives emotional impact for the reader and allows them to ask the question, ‘What would I have felt (or done) in that situation?’ That’s where you want to put your reader.
Show the small details
It is the small details that convey the meaning of an event to us; a shoe on the ground after an accident, the charred remains of someone’s clothing after a fire, or a scattering of glasses and empty plates after a party – it doesn’t have to be suffering and horror.
Strip back your writing when describing a big event and concentrate on the things that ‘show’ your reader what it is you want them to see. By describing these small details you can show them a dramatic event and leave a far deeper emotional impact, especially if you are showing the personal side. This is what readers relate to.