Long ago and far away, I was employed by a non-profit that had developed a large publications department. We produced everything imaginable in print, including books for all age groups and a magazine with millions of readers. While working there, I learned lots of practices that had led to the organization’s success. But the one that, in my opinion, was golden was the laugh-cry formula.
I explained it to one of my clients this week and that got me to thinking you might benefit from it too. My client, who is among the three who are rewriting their manuscripts that I mentioned in my last blog post, was trying to decide what parts of her manuscript to ditch and what to keep. That’s a perennial problem for writers, isn’t it? So why would the laugh-cry formula help her?
What the Laugh-Cry Formula is
Because the non-profit had such a loyal following, the competition to have your article selected to appear in the magazine or your book manuscript chosen to be published was fierce. We had so much material to choose from, the process was dizzying. The laugh-cry formula served us well in making decisions.
As we read possible articles/books, we would ask ourselves, “Did this piece make me laugh or cry?” If we answered in the affirmative, the possibility that writing would be selected was high. If we didn’t laugh or cry–or even smile or feel sad–that piece probably wasn’t going to be chosen.
Why the Laugh-Cry Formula Works
So what’s behind that straightforward question? Feelings. If the article or book manuscript didn’t elicit an emotional response, it was viewed as not for us. After all, it’s one thing to engage a reader’s mind, but it’s quite another to engage his emotions. If a piece managed to do both, we knew we had struck gold.
For my client, she had tried to create a stew, as it were, with her initial manuscript in that sections of it delighted the reader, others made them sad, while still others stepped back from stirring emotions to conveying more mind-oriented details. She needed to focus on the stories that sought to touch the heart. Hence the laugh-cry formula of writing was just what she needed to help her to focus on the book’s intent–to move the reader.
Focusing on Feelings
I’m not suggesting that creating informative pieces isn’t important. Of course it is. What writer simply wants to evoke emotions? Well, comedy writers might, or romance writers…but especially in the Christian market, most writers are motivated by a desire to enlighten the reader. Writers speak of themselves as having a mission, a message about faith they feel called to convey.
Yet entertaining is also part of what writers do. Even serious writers like Malcolm Gladwell entertain as they inform. That’s why we flock to read whatever they write.
By entertaining, writers make their messages more accessible.
The Power of Delight
I recently heard a portion of a radio interview while I was driving around town, running errands. The interviewee was a university professor. He had devoted years of research to a single question: What is delight? During the interview, he admitted he still didn’t quite know how to define the word, but he had concluded that delight is the doorway to joy.
He pointed out that we expect children to delight in many of the world’s wonders because each discovery is like a new revelation to them. It’s the child in the room who notices the rainbow outside the window and calls everyone over to enjoy it, interrupting the adult’s conversation. (Moving them from a mental activity to a heart activity.)
The professor had determined to commit a year to finding delight in something every day. He realized you have to be intentional about it and plan for it, if you’re to experience it every day. So he would ask himself, “What would delight me today?” He then sought out whatever came to his mind.
Delighting the Reader
What if you asked yourself, What could I write that would delight the reader? That strikes me as an uplifting and joyful exercise. And one that would reward both the writer and the reader.
In some ways that’s what the laugh-cry formula accomplishes. The writer is asking, What can I write that would make the reader laugh or cry–or both? By drawing on those emotions, the writer is inviting the reader to savor the piece. It’s akin to having a good cry as you watch a movie. Or guffawing your way through a movie. At the end, you find yourself savoring the experience. And that’s what good writing does for us, too.
What creative direction could the laugh-cry formula lead you to? In what ways could it affect your writing? Or does it strike you as a dumbing-down exercise?
How the laugh-cry formula for writing can help you decide what to include in your manuscript. Click to tweet.
The laugh-cry writing formula can open up new ways of thinking about your writing. Click to tweet.