Yup, I'm committing two years and a lot of money to get a degree I don't need and won't likely use just so that I can write a scene that plays that most beguiling trick: it makes the reader feel.
Try this: take a book that really provokes strong emotion every time you read it. Maybe it's the sadness of saying goodbye to a lover, or the suppressed longing of admitting you can never have this person, or anger that your spouse has failed you, or just love -- a sweet pang at the thought that this special person is really in your life. Go find that book, flip to a scene that always does it for you: makes you cry, rage, sigh, whatever. Re-read that scene.
Go ahead. I'll wait.
While I'm waiting, let me tell you about a trip I made with Henry (Brit Hub 1.0) to Tucson, Arizona. This was early on in our 50-States-by-Age-50 tour (or, as it got to be know, the "50-by-50") and it was the next to last stop on our "Four Corners" trip. We'd done Sedona, the Grand Canyon (which was solid white with snow and cloud so we saw nothing), the Painted Desert, Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods (Utah), clipped the corner of Colorado, stood on the Four Corners, visited Route 66 in Gallup, NM, seen more snow in the White Mountains (Arizona), and were now in Egypt.
No, there's no Egypt, Arizona. We were at a B&B that featured an astronomical observatory so that guests could stargaze in the evening. (It's now just an observatory.) We'd booked the services of an astronomy student from UofA for the evening and booked some time on one of the large (but not the largest) telescopes. And our room was decorated in early Nile: a replica of Tutankhamen in the corner, lots of gold leaf everywhere, and as much early Egyptian-style furniture as you could manage in a conventional bedroom.
|Messier Object #8 or "M8" (courtesy of NASA)|
|M64 "The Evil Eye Galaxy" (courtesy of NASA)|
Okay, enough with the pretty star pictures. Everybody done rereading their favorite emotionally provoking scenes? Now if you didn't well up with emotion, I'm predicting you noticed something interesting. The emotion is not discussed as directly as you remembered. Instead, it something inchoate and irreducible that gets you every time.
That's because the author isn't having you look right at the gaping wound of loss or the moral minefield of a forbidden love or raging inferno of anger. Any of those things would probably leave you with a contrary reaction -- annoyance at the lovers, impatience with the grieving, etc.
I'm guessing the author got you to focus on something else while the emotion, like a Messier Object, is off to the side. You can see it and marvel at it, even study it, and it moves you. You're just not staring at it.
I don't know how writers do that. But I hope to find out.