As authors, we’re always trying to make an emotional connection to our readers. You could argue that emotion is the real driving force of any story. Plot may get your characters from A to B, but emotion is what makes us care.
But you can’t be too heavy-handed. People are smart. They know when someone is trying to play on their emotions.
Most of the stories I voted down had that kind of problem. One story was about a husband dealing with his wife’s death. The father’s grief was written in such grueling, meticulous, painstaking detail that after the third paragraph I was rolling my eyes and skimming the page (This may seem hard-hearted, but remember these are fictional characters we’re talking about).
You can direct emotions the wrong way, too, which ruins a story just as much. One “motherhood” story had the main character actually treating each of her child’s milestones as if they were funerals! She even used the words “death” and “die” at several points, to emphasize the loss of her child-that-was. I would never think of Avi’s milestones that way, and it offended me that the author would even say something like that! I didn’t even need to think about rejecting that one.
Approach the reader’s heart properly, and you can tell him anything. Case in point: one submission’s plot revolved around a middle school girl coming home every day with multiple stab wounds. Brutal and graphic, I know. But the emotion was handled so artfully that it won over most of the staff.
Even though I read a lot of stories that didn’t make it off the runway of emotional connection (and some that took a dive straight into the ocean), I’m not condemning their efforts. I’m trying to find that same balance in my own writing, and I know exactly how hard that is.
The lesson here? Don’t be afraid to dial it back.