Social Networks

Back to website

Monday, July 30, 2007

Getting Summer Write - Emotion/Blog Contest

I was thrilled to have received this wonderful inscribed marble plaque last week for winning the 2006 National Readers' Choice Award for Bunking Down with the Boss. It was unexpected and quite an honor because of all the books I've written thus far, this one ranks up there with highly-packed EMOTION.

And for fun, I'll be running a weekly CONTEST about the Writing Topic of the Week. This week it's emotion -- so all you have to do is post here Monday through Friday about what book you've read recently or in the past that really hit you hard with emotion. What emotions did the book evoke and why?

One winner will be picked randomly from your comments and I'll send out a signed Bunking Down with the Boss, or any other of my available titles you'd like. Read the blog all week and I'll post the winners on Friday.

I'll go first. I just finished Susan Mallery's SIZZLING. It was a great story about a famous jock baseball player and his grandmother's nurse, a sort of plain Jane. Susan has a way to suck you right into the story immediately with intriguing characters that you instantly care about. Why? Well the heroine has lived all her life envying her "perfect" sister and as a result, she feels inferior. It's something we can relate to on a very elemental basis. We've all known someone close to us,that seemed to have it all. But our heroine isn't a wilting flower - she's good at her job, feisty and takes no bull from the handsome hunk who's had women adoring him all of his life.

Immediately our hero sees something different in the heroine. And she makes him sees that living the good life, isn't good enough. Through her, he believes he can be a better man. There's heart tugging emotion when we learn the "perfect" sister is dying and the sacrifices our heroine makes because of her love of the sister she'd always envyed. There's a scene in the story that is so heartbreaking, that I talked myself out of crying, "I'm okay. I can handle this." But the words and the emotion evoked were too much for me and soon I found tears running down my face. And just minutes later into the story, I'm cheering and happy again. That's the benchmark for a good story - make the reader feel emotion, make it real and make it believable.

When writing a story, put your whole heart into it. Dig deep inside and flesh out all the emotions you can. An easy way to do this is to really "know" your main characters. Know who they are and what's most important to them. Feel what they feel, see what they see. Know their perceptions and what's underneath the facade that they show to the outside world. Most often when I see unpublished works the key element missing in the story is that, I don't care. I don't care about the character. I don't care about what they want in life. I don't care to continue reading the story.

Putting a level of emotion in the story from the very beginning is fundamental. The opening line or opening few paragraphs should give the reader a real clear sense of who the characters are - on an emotional level. Emotion shouldn't be resigned to just dialogue. Put it in description, narrative action and certainly in introspection. Think about some amazing opening lines of books you've read. Didn't they make you want to read the entire book in one sitting? This is Susan's opening line in Sizzling. Note how it immediately tells you something about the hero and the line makes you want to continue reading to find out more. "Until six forty-five that Thursday morning, women had always loved Reid Buchanan. "

Okay, we've all known men like Reid Buchanon, right? But what happened to him that day? Why did everything change for him? The author's next few witty paragraphs go into detail about Reid's life to date, very briefly, but immediately we feel something about this man. We've already formed an opinion about him. That's a good thing. We care.

So what book have you read lately that evoked a good deal of emotion in you? Why? Remember to post here and check back during the week.

Next up on the blog: More on emotion! Contest continues...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Getting Summer Write - Emotion!

Speaking of emotion - I was thrilled to learn that my 2006 Bunking Down with the Boss won the 2006 National Reader's Choice Award! The reception was held in Dallas at our national convention and I hear the ceremony was lovely. Though I wasn't there to personally accept the NRCA, I couldn't be more thrilled and excited.
And it fits perfectly in the tips on emotion this week. That book, Bunking Down with the Boss, had the highest level of emotion of any book I'd ever written.

So what do you do if: YOUR STORY DOESN’T HAVE AN EMOTIONAL PUNCH. Emotion, emotion, emotion. Without making the reader “feel” something for the characters, you can’t have a compelling story. Readers must love the characters, or love to hate them. They must want what the characters want and care about whether they achieve their goals. Readers need to be “swept” away. This is after all, romance. Pacing, dialogue, conflict, characterization, description all lead to emotion. It’s important to “Show, don’t tell.”

Telling: Claire was afraid to see Joe at the prom.

Showing: Claire’s heart skipped a dreadful beat the moment she noticed Joe enter the room.

The first sentence is okay, a bit bland, but has no emotional value. It’s classic telling. The second sentence has a sense of urgency, using time and vivid description to say basically the same thing.

Laura Baker says in her workshop, “Top Ten Tools in a Writer’s Toolbox”, - “Always write to evoke an emotion.” That’s great advice because so often we hear, there’s not enough emotion in our stories. If you write each scene to evoke some emotion you’re laying the groundwork for that big emotional turning point or upheaval in the story.

We must feel what the characters feel and be able to express that on the page without telling. Here’s a good example:

“She nodded and tried to swallow, but couldn’t. Her eyes were now so dry it hurt to blink. The emptiness inside her burned and burned.”
Penelope Williamson, “The Outsider.”

“Although she hadn’t laughed again, since he’d come around the back of the barn, he kept hearing the echo of it. He felt the echo of it in the pit of his belly. It made him uneasy like the hot chinook wind.”
Penelope Williamson, “The Outsider”

Emotions deepen a character’s humility. It makes us care. If emotional layering is missing in a scene, go back and try to understand what each character is feeling.
In one of my stories, the heroine who is in love with the hero listens to him toast his sister’s engagement amid a roomful of friends. When the confirmed bachelor raises his glass and jokingly says, “I’m glad it’s you and not me, sis,” the heroine slowly lowers her champagne glass without taking a sip.
No words were spoken, there was no introspection in this scene, but that one gesture says it all. We feel what the heroine is feeling, and know she feels he’ll never believe in love, he’ll never commit. We feel her devastation -- with that one small gesture.

Jo Ferguson, our past RWA president says, she puts herself in the character’s head. She also says “write what you know best”. And that doesn’t mean just events, but also “how we feel” and “how we react” to those events. We need to break down the barriers within us and free those memories of emotion.

Emotions don't stand alone. They are complex. They integrate with other emotions. For instance what do you suppose might go hand in hand with

Anger? --- regret
With honesty? ----- embarrassment
With loneliness?----- sadness

Use all the tools at your disposal to put emotion in your story -- Dialogue, introspection, description, pacing and characterization.
Don’t force it, let it come naturally
Be true to your characters.
To me the greatest compliment an author can receive is to hear from a reader, “The story made me laugh, the story made me cry, the story made me feel.”

Here is another example of great emotion:

The tongue-and-groove wood floor threatened to come up to meet her, so Brynna collapsed onto a chair and closed her eyes until the light-headedness passed.

A few minutes later, when she could see straight, when the room had stopped spinning, she found the letter on the floor and read it again

She and Dev weren’t legally married.
Their marriage had been a sham all along.

As if she hadn’t suffered enough pain and humiliation, now this on top of it? And she’d thought things couldn’t get any worse. She couldn’t let this news get out or everyone in Rumor – and soon enough Whitehorn – would know of it. The gossips would have a field day!

Brynna thrust her fingers into her hair and closed her eyes as if not seeing would make this go away.

Marry Me ... Again,
Rita Nominated Author, Cheryl St. John

Here’s what Cheryl has to say about emotion:

AUTHOR QUOTE: The reader must feel the story. The more real or genuine the feelings you tap into, the more the reader will identify. Tap into a comfort zone, a childhood security or insecurity. Several years ago, a promising new writer in my critique group wrote a battered child into her romantic western. He hid a dirty worn-out stuffed dog under his pillow. Each time the boy got out the dog for comfort, half the critique group fumbled for tissues. It got to the point that the writer placed the tissue box on the table before she read the scenes involving the dog. A publisher snapped up that book and my friend is now a multi-published author. Why? She hooked into the readers’ feelings.

Same goes for insecurities and fears. Familiar things stir memories. Ground the reader in what he knows, then take him where you want him to go.

Tap into a feeling and the reader’s memory accompanies it. Use preconceived notions. Here are a few basic ideas that come with built-in feelings, but the possibilities are unlimited: animals of any type, orphans, abused women, abused children, underdogs in any shape or form, step-fathers, step-mothers, mental imbalances, grandparents, babies, strangers, money or lack of money, uniforms.

From Charlene – Yes, Cheryl is a dear friend and she knows how to evoke emotion in her stories so expertly, you immediately get drawn in and don’t want to stop reading. Small wonder she’s been nominated twice for a Rita and has won numerous awards through the years.

What I want to say is in your stories, MAKE EVERY SENTENCE COUNT. Does it move the scene forward? Does it evoke emotion through description and dialogue? Does it define the conflict? Each sentence has value. Don’t just throw them up there, hoping they’ll stick. Give thought to why you wrote it, and how does it help make the story compelling.

Up Next on the Blog -- Some insights on how I used emotion to make this book work. And A NEW Blog Contest to celebrate winning the NRCA!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Getting Summer Write - THE WHY'S of your CHARACTER

Often your main characters, the hero and heroine, define the conflict in your story, so it's important to know them before you start writing. Have a character sketch in your mind about who these people are - and why the reader/editor should care about them.

If you don't have characters that are sympathetic, meaning they don't evoke emotion and aren't people a reader can relate to, then you might as well not write the story. So often, I've tried to start a story without really knowing my characters and the results were not pretty. I usually ended up scraping the story. The characters weren't working, therefore, neither was the conflict.

Some writers do a complete bio of their characters in writing. They know what their favorite movie is and why. They know their favorite foods, colors, type of cars, etc. For me, those things come naturally as I write the story, so I don't set them up that way. But I do know WHO they are before I write. I know their past and what they want in their future. The backstory of your character defines them.

In BETWEEN the CEO'S SHEETS, I knew that Gina was desperate for work. She'd been embezzled by her partner and needed a job to get her lifelong dream -- GiGi Designs back on track. Since she'd been tricked by a con man, she had trust issues. But that wasn't enough. I knew I had to dig deeper with her character. She needed a reason to be wary of Wade and his job offer.
Gina and Wade had a past history together. Both felt betrayed when their very young and innocent relationship ended. Both had lost something in knowing each other.

The characters grew from that knowledge. Who they are today, was a direct result of what happened between them in the past. Knowing the backstory and how they once felt about one another, helped me to design their story today.
Each were motivated from sources and conflicts that had occured when they'd first met. So, when they meet again, nine years later, their conflicts, emotions, resentments and anger were easy to bring to the surface.

The best thing a writer can do is constantly ask yourself WHY? Why is he acting and reacting this way? Why doesn't she trust the hero? Why does he want to gain revenge on the heroine? Why... why ... why?

You must know the answers to these key questions. Sometimes the answers are simple, but sometimes they are complex. And how do each characters' WHY's intersect in the story?

In my upcoming western Bodine's Bounty - my bounty hunter hero is after the man who killed his brother. That in itself wasn't enough. That meant my hero wanted revenge. But he needed more WHY'S -- so it wasn't JUST for revenge and a sense of justice. His brother Josh was his TWIN. He was shot innocently when the outlaw had mistaken him for Bodine. NOW -- we have more Why's. NOW, we have more conflict. Bodine wanted revenge, but he's also dealing with guilt. His brother took a bullet meant for him. That rounds out the character and we know his motivation. We feel his pain. And the vows Bodine made to his brother to take care of his wife and child, keep Bodine from allowing himself to fall for my heroine. He's committed to another woman - it's his way of easing his guilt. He sacrifices his own happiness to honor the vow he made to his dying brother.

Everyone has their own style in developing their characters. It's up to the writer to figure this out for themselves. As I said earlier, I don't do bio's on my characters, but I jot down key points. Mostly, I develop a character in my head and I think a long while about them, before I write a single word. When I do finally begin writing, I LOVE how the characters come to life. They TELL me who they are. THEY often say and do things - true to their character that I'd never consciously planned out before. It's what I love most about writing them. They surprise me. They become real. Their motivations are clear.

Think about your characters and the Why's in their lives. Delve as deep as you can. All of us are very complex beings. Our "character" is defined by how we were raised, our culture, background, religion and the friends we keep. We are defined by events both good and bad in our lives. We have issues, fears, loves and desires. When you write your characters know as much about them as you can before you write a single word. Then let them tell you who they are. It's a collaberation and a partnership that you'll come to enjoy.

Coming Next on the Blog -- Emotion!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007




Monday, July 02, 2007


And the winner of two autographed Desires and a $20.00 Borders Gift card is:

Carol Mintz --- Congratulations!

Here's what Carol wrote:

Thank you so much!

I really enjoy your books and I'm looking forward to reading more of them. I would love to have copies of Bunking Down with the Boss and The Heart of a Cowboy!
Be sure to enter my new
Summer Contest at Romance Junkies!