Catharsis for the Reader (Step 4)

Catharsis is the expulsion, repulsion, or purification of toxins and impurities. Emotional catharsis can allow the release and possible transformation of many different negative feelings. These may be toxic emotions built up from real life or emotions instilled by the writer.

In Step 1, we looked at various seeds to plant in order to produce the reader emotions of anxiety, fear, and sorrow. The seeds you have planted included character traits, goals and dreams, premonitions and prophecies.

In Step 2, we grew these seeds until they tangled up inside the reader and turned toxic. You grew these seeds by nurturing reader investment in the characters as situations grew progressively worse.

In Step 3, we harvested the negative feelings in dramatic and definitive ways.

In the final step, we will feed the reader with good feelings that result from the harvesting.

Feed Wisely

To sustain reader interest and tension, be sure that the only completely cathartic experience is the final one. If you fully meet the reader’s need before the end of a book, she might not read to that end!

All the same, Don’t let the reader burn out on negative feelings.

  • The reader needs relief. Anxiety, fear, and sorrow wear away at the reader. She can only go on so long before she burns out. A burned-out reader just doesn’t care anymore.
  • The reader needs variety. This might sound strange, but a reader can get bored if the pressure never lets up. She becomes accustomed to it. Lighten the pressure briefly and then crank it up so she can never fall into a stupor.
  • The reader needs hope. If only bad things happen to thee character — and if only bad emotions are offered to the reader — then the reader will have no reason to hope. Hope is an important motivator for the reader.

You can provide these things by filling up the reader with good emotions after an intensely negative response. The negative experience was the climax or semi-climax in the third step.

While any happy feelings will work, for maximum impact you may want to focus on positive emotions that are the opposite of the negative feelings you harvested during the climax or mini-climax. This tactic also follows the cause-and-effect rules of writing. While writing “rules” can be broken, it makes sense that a strong “down” will be followed by a strong “up”. The reader will expect it, the story often suggests it, and doing so will provide all the benefits listed above.

That’s all the steps for creating a cathartic reader experience! If you outline, this process occurs once for every climax and semi-climax. If you are a “panster”, you can still use these steps to track reader probable reader reactions at every step along the way or while editing for the reader.

Share Your Voice: Catharis is a powerful technique. But in the final post of this series, we’ll look at when NOT to use it. Any guesses?
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