Social Networks

Back to website

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!

1 comment:

CherylStJ said...

Congratulations on that Reader's Choice Award, Char! yee haw! You deserve it, so enjoy the honor.