Although many of the tips I shared above are perhaps used by all writers, my aim is not to teach you how to be a screen writer or a novelist. (I do not have the calling or the skills to do that anyways.) What I can do, however, is share with you how I have bent -- or broken --conventional writing advice in order to write emotionally powerful grants under the pressure of significant and unalterable due dates.
1. Don't Worry About Originality
Traditional writing coaches caution us not to plagiarize someone else's work. They may even teach their students not to risk plagiarism in the first place by even trying to take inspiration from books, movies or popular television shows. As a grant writer, however, some of my greatest successes have involved copying, almost word-for-word, an existing story that made me tear up and simply changing a few of the details to match the experiences of my non-profit client. When you are preparing a last minute grant because the previous grant writer passed out from overwork and exhaustion you can always rely on proven stories to work in your favor. If this bothers your conscience, you can take comfort in assuming that as you go through the rewriting and editing process that you and your team (boss) will make enough minor changes to personalize and make your material fresh.
2. Don't Worry About Being Sappy
Novelists and playwrights have the time it takes to create exotic or complex emotional situations. Grant writers do not. We have no choice but to be sappy which basically means we have an un-limited license to write in a manner which is overly sweet or sentimental. A choice which would seem lazy or silly or predictable in a major motion picture can nevertheless succeed in a grant proposal because we have a different format, an extremely limited exposure to our reader, and we need to balance out the other parts of the application which can be very dry including the budget or our goals and objectives.
3. Embrace Cliches
As grant writers, we are not really in the business of creating brand new characters who have deliberately different or idiosyncratic emotional reactions. We do not have the time. Instead, we need to latch on to overly familiar or commonplace applicable story elements which, in another context, would rightly be considered cliches. We can produce tear provoking material at short notice by polishing up and reusing cliches which are already known to hook readers and draw them into an appropriate empathetic response. Therefore, we can get away with telling stories that include a child who loses a father to a gang attack (Lion King, 1994), a husband's fight to maintain custody of his son after his unfaithful wife leaves him (Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979), or a wife diagnosed with early onset dementia whose Alzheimer's stresses her family life (Still Alice, 2014).
4. Add Emotion Enhancing Coincidences
When we tell stories in real life, we typically add in amazing coincidences. Although writing instructors would disagree, it is okay for us to create scenes where the rains start to fall the moment your character gets sad news, or sees a beautiful sunset as an answer to a prayer. In grant writing, we have a poetic license which allows us to report scenes that have as much emotional punch as possible.
5. Don't Rewrite or Revise Too Much
While your initial draft of your story should make you cry do not get disappointed if you do not feel the same emotional impact after you are on your seventh or eighth edit. When you get bored or numb to your own story it will actually hurt you if you take the time to rewrite your material in order to create an improved emotional impact on yourself. Instead, I have found it useful to assume that the reader, who will be reading the story for the first time, will most likely have the same initial emotional experience as I did when I first created my over-the-top tear producing story.