Monday, May 13, 2013

The Nuance of Emotion

Lately, I’ve been studying ways to make my books richer, deeper, and hopefully connect better with readers. One of the things I’ve been working at is showing varied emotion.

When you write a story, especially in a romance, everything leads you to the drama of the black moment. The point about three-quarters of the way through when all seems lost for the heroine. It’s as if she’ll never reach her goal now. We know more often than not, she’ll find a way to get through this moment and ultimately to the HEA. If it sounds formulaic, it is. We romance readers not only know this, we expect it.

But what helps your heroine or hero move through all of those chapters leading up to the black moment? And why does the reader care? It sounds simple. It’s just emotion. The reader empathizes with the characters. Yes, I hear you about the plot, but bear with me. We’re talking delicate tree leaves here, not a redwood trunk.

It’s easy to hit the high notes of emotion. Anger, passion, jealousy, love. But using too many of these too often, can actually make a reader really not like your story. Okay, for what it’s worth, it’ll make me not like your story. If you’ve read for any length of time, you’ve probably come across a book where every time something doesn’t go the heroine’s way, she gets mad. Or jealous. She’s not usually a teenager, so as a reader, I’m not buying into it. Nor am I wasting my precious time to finish it.

I don’t know about you, but in real life, I don’t always have the energy to get mad. Or the situation doesn’t really warrant all that emotion. I get irritated, embarrassed, disappointed, or frustrated. Those feelings are way different than when someone’s got a good mad on. And how they appear to the reader is very different as well. There are both verbal and non-verbal ways to show (notice, I didn’t say tell) these emotions. Dialogue usually comes to mind first, then character action or reaction. But don’t forget things like body language. As humans we give subtle hints or make unconscious movements, and possibly go through physical changes when we feel certain emotions. Think about them. Feel them. Live them.

Put them on the page. Share them with your reader. You’ll both be glad you did.


  1. The most common shortcut new authors seem to make to show emotion is by saying the character's eyes are "mad, upset, sympathetic, apologetic" etc. LOL

    Which is basically still simply "telling", rather than your nice examples of dialogue, body language, etc. We have to give the reader something to see for herself, so she can decide on her own what that character is feeling.

    So, I'm forever asking authors "what does this look like? Give us something specific. What do apologetic eyes look like?" lol

    My authors probably hate it!

    1. They might, but they'll be way better authors if they listen to your advice. :)

  2. *Brow furrows*

    *Twists mouth*

    *Scratches chin*

    *Makes his eyes as non apologetic as he can*

    Thanks Sutton. I'm gonna think about this stuff.

    1. Ah, Mr. V. Don't you worry about this stuff. You've got your hands full with Housty. She gets a might fired up. lol.