Graduate Essay: “Adventures in Emotional Craft” by Sam Weiss

Sam Weiss is a graduate of the 2007 Odyssey Writing Workshop and the 2021 Odyssey Online class Emotional Truth: Making Character Emotions Real, Powerful, and Immediate to Readers.” She is an applied mathematician who works in Boston with her husband and two cats. Her first professional sale, “There Will Be No Alien Invasion,” was published in Fireside in August 2021.


When I first started writing, I got a lot of “pretty writing but this isn’t really a story” critiques. I didn’t have a clue how to fix those stories or even what underlying problem those critiques pointed to. Once I wrapped my head around active main characters working toward a specific goal, obstacles, causal chains, and the framing of character change, those criticisms abruptly stopped. My stories fared better in my attempts to publish them (and caused less pain to those reading them), but I acquired a new set of criticisms: that my point of view was too distant, that I was telling and not showing, that I was showing but not telling, that the emotions my characters felt seemed inauthentic or inappropriate for their situations, or that the emotions were too on the nose.

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