One Writer’s Journey

January 30, 2019

Character Emotion: Emotion Ranges from a Little to a Lot

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:28 am
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Character emotion is one of the first things that writers learn to show vs tell.  An angry character yells and stomps.  A sad character cries.  A happy character dances for joy.

But emotions aren’t binary, either on or off.  Sometimes emotions are strongly felt.  Other times they are more subtle.  Part of showing character emotions is learning to express where on a scale of one to ten your character is experiencing this particular emotion. Let’s take satisfaction as an example.  Your character needs to drop something into the mail.  Sealed letter in hand, she hurries to the front door to see the mail carrier stepping up on the porch.  She’s made it.  It’s a small victory so she simply nods her head to herself.  Job well done.

At lunch, she is discussing getting her scholarship application sent out with a friend.  This friend is certain she did it wrong.  “You should have e-mailed it.”  Your character is sure she is right and she’s more than a little tired of this particular friend second guessing everything she does.  While her friend is texting with her latest boyfriend, your character quickly pulls up the information about the scholarship on her phone.  Questions may be e-mailed in but all applications must arrive via snail mail.  She slides her phone across the table and gives a jazz hand salute.  “Ta da! I told you it had to be mailed in.”

Stronger emotion, stronger reaction.

A month later, she’s listening to messages on her phone before she walks to class.  “We’re pleased to inform you that you’ve been selected to receive a full scholarship to state university.”  A full scholarship!  She shrieks, jumps up and down and throws her arms around a passing student – a victory of this magnitude will play out bigger than getting to the mail box before the mailman.

When you are thinking about how to share your character’s emotion, consider not only the emotion but how strongly it is felt.  Will this call for a small, medium or large reaction?


October 24, 2017

Interiority: What It Is and Why It Matters to Writers

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:58 am
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Interiority. Help your reader connect the dots.

Monday, I learned a new-to-me term. Interiority.

Interiority consists of a character’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  It is the stuff that is going on inside her head.

Interiority matters because, without it, our character’s actions don’t always make sense.  And this is a problem because some of us, myself included, work so hard to show emotions by physical expressions and actions that we may not back them up with enough thought and feeling.

I read about interiority in a blog post by Mary Kole.  For those of you who don’t recognize her name, Kole is a former agent and current freelance editor.

Think about it.  Your protagonist is visiting her great-grandmother.  The woman calls her Clara and your protagonist snaps at the older woman.  “I am not Clara!”

We get the emotion. She’s angry.  Or maybe she’s hurt?  But we don’t know what’s going on unless you also tell us that this is the name of …

A. Her beloved twin sister who died last week in a swimming accident.  What was she doing near the water?  She couldn’t swim.

B. Her twin sister who had recently started runnig with a wild crowd and  died last week in a swimming accident although she was an excellent swimmer.

C.  The twin sister she despised who had won the gorgeous boyfriend and the college scholarship they had both coveted and, coincidentally, was an excellent swimmer.

You need to know what is going on in the character’s head. You need to know the motivation.  Why?  Because backstory matters.  A, B, and C will each yield a very different story.  You have to give readers more information than just the raw emotion if you want them to successfully connect the dots.


October 18, 2017

Leaving Room to Spook Your Reader

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:01 am
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About a month ago, I read a post on Writer unBoxed about keeping your writing, especially your emotional scenes, clean and spare.  In “Say a Little Less, Mean a Little More,” Kathryn Craft talked about leaving space for your reader in the scene by not over-writing your “emotional peaks” as she calls them.  She put it so well, “They shouldn’t have to sift through the rubble of your exploded verbiage to find what it’s really about.”

I know it bothers me when I read but sometimes I wonder if that is just because I’m also a writer.  Is it just because I want other writers to do things my way?

Today, I got my answer.  My son was home from school and we were chatting about videos while we made lunch.  He likes to watch various YouTubers who are urban explorers or who check out other eerie situations.  The other night, he watched a video where four guys spent the night in a forest in Japan where numerous people to commit suicide.  I haven’t seen the video but he said that in spite of the setting, which is super sad, the whole thing was laughable.

Why?  Because they over did it.  They spend so much time psyching each other out that they scare each other.  They scare each other so badly that one guy threw up.  The super scary noises they kept going on about were wind and rain in their microphone and other electronics.  But they kept talking about how super scary it all was.  They kept making super scared faces.  Did it work?  Nope.

He had watched a video of another group exploring a haunted hotel.  They were moving through the hallways and the rooms.  Here and there were abandoned bits of furniture, papers, and whatever.  The overall effect was sad and dilapidated.  They were busy filming this and that and although their whole party is on-screen, you see someone move past the doorway.  That’s all.

But because they weren’t playing things up for the camera, it was much spookier.

Provide some detail, provide a bit of mood and tone.  But then get out of the way.  Let your reader connect the dots on his own.  If you can pull this off, it will have a much greater effect than piling emotional detail on top of emotional detail.

I’m not saying it’s an easy balance but it is necessary.  See Craft’s post for several writers who do this well.  Study them and practice using the technique yourself. Your readers will thank you as they step into your stories.


March 6, 2017

Emotion: Making the Reader Feel It Too

What is the most vital job that you have as a writer?  To hook the reader and keep them reading.  To do this you need to emotionmake them care about what you are writing.

In fiction, this means making the reader care about and relate to the character.  One of the best ways to do this is with an emotional connection.  Even if the character is an alien, a sprite, or a yeti, you can help your reader connect by bridging the gap between reader-experience and character-experience using emotion.

First things first is identifying your character’s emotion.  It sounds a little goofy but there you have it.  So often when I am reading a manuscript from a newer writing, the character is moving from event to event without an identifiable emotion.  You might get the occasional jump when they are startled or “ouch” when they are hurt, but that’s about it.  So first things first, identify the character’s emotion at this point in st0ry-time.

Second, think about the emotion as it relates to this particular character.  How does it feel?  What does it mean?

It is way too easy to say, Chet was mad.  Amy was happy.  Bartholomew was confused.  Fantastic.  But how does it feel to these characters?

This is why I have such a love affair with The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.  Each entry lists a wide variety of reactions to each emotion.  What are the external responses?  What are the internal responses?  How does a character respond who is try to suppress this emotion?  How does this emotion change if it is felt over an extended period?

Let’s take anger.  My husband bites his bottom lip.  A friend of mine, if angry enough, literally sees red.  People clench their fists, grind their teeth, narrow their eyes and more.  One friend sounds extremely country when he’s trying his darndest not to throttle someone.  Each person has a different response.  Some are external, observable by anyone who cares to take note.  Others, like seeing red, are internal and only the person feeling this emotion may be aware.

Use some of these indicators in your writing to help your reader connect with a familiar emotion.  In this way, you will help them bridge the gap from their world to the world of your character.



November 11, 2016

Plotting a Novel with Depth

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:45 am
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Plot WhispererAs I get ready to make a second attempt at plotting out my novel, I’m rereading The Plot Whisperer and The Plot Whisperer Workbook.  I’m not even past chapter 2 and I’ve already found a problem with my earlier attempts at plotting which felt confused and haphazard.  The best books are plotted at three levels — the action, the emotional arc and the theme.  I had all three — sort of.

And, that’s good, sort of.  If an editor tells you that your story feels slight, you probably have all action and no character growth.  Or your theme isn’t well developed.

I wasn’t heading into a slight plot. I was heading into a haphazard plot.  One plot point would be from the action plot.  The next might be from the emotional plot or the thematic plot.  I couldn’t get things moving forward because I had created a tangled mess.

The first step to untangling it is to understand the three plots.

Action plot.  This is the part of the plot that we most often discuss when we say plot.  The character has a goal and these are the steps that are taken to reach it.  If I had plotted the action and neglected everything else, it would have made sense but it would have been slight.  Unfortunately, I created a jumble.

Emotional plot.  I notice this one missing from a lot of adult books.  Your character needs to grow and change.  This might mean that they discover that something they believed at the beginning of the book was a lie.  Or they misunderstood something.  Or they just needed to come to a more mature understanding.  This emotional plot needs to more or less keep pace with the action plot.  I often figure this one out last, right after I figure out the theme.

Thematic plot.  Is your story about family?  Or independence?  Or hope?  Along with the arc that deals with plot and the one that deals with character emotion, you need one for theme as well.

Now that I’m thinking about them as three distinct entities, I can make sure that all three are present in my story.  They will intertwine, but now that I know to keep track of them they (hopefully) won’t again become a tangled mess.


January 15, 2016

Inspiration from Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:56 am
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snow-landscape-trees-winter-largeIn order to help your readers connect with your writing, it helps to provide an emotion that resonates with them.  Explorers feel excitement and anticipation.  When things go wrong, they may feel dread or frustration.  To write these things realistically, you just need to connect with emotional inspiration in your own life.

Recently, my son and I were in the dining room when he said something about the baby birds in the back yard. Baby birds?  In January?  We’re in the Northern Hemisphere, Meriwether.  I don’t think so.

Sure enough, I looked out the window and they weren’t baby birds.  “Those are junco.”

“They look like babies.”

“They’re still junco.  Your grandmother called them snow birds.”

“Every baby bird I’ve ever seen looks like that.”

Honestly, I’m not sure what baby birds he’s been perusing but as I tried to discuss facts with Mr. Thanks-but-I-don’t-think-so, it hit me.  This must have been what it felt like for Sacagawea.  Having read bits and pieces of the Lewis and Clark journals, I’ve always been amazed by the healthy dose of stupidity that they drug along with them.  Want to intimidate a vastly superior force?  Shoot at them!   Want to convince someone to take us seriously?  Shoot at them!   Never seen anything like that before?  Who cares if our guide has a name for it, we’re going to call it a brarow.*  We’ll probably take a shot at it too.

Have I ever had the frustrations of leading two mighty explorers? Thankfully, no.  But I have tried to reason with my son.  I’m pretty darn sure I can draw on one to illustrate the other.

What emotion does your reader need to connect with in your story?  Remember a time in your own life when you experienced similar joy, frustration or angst and you will be able to bring it to life for both your characters and your readers.



July 10, 2013

How to Connect with Reader

lindbergh2“If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others.”
–Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Translated into writer speak, this quote might read “writer, know thyself.”

As writers, we want to hook our readers.  This is especially difficult if, like myself, you are an adult writing for non-adults.  Why?  Because in our society we often think of children as different from us.  While they are different in experience, they are the same in many ways.

Children and adults both want things.  Sometimes they want things so badly that it makes them just a little crazy and they do something that they truly know better than to do.  Sure, what a five year-old wants more than anything may be different than what a forty-five year-old wants, but the wanting will be the same.

Children and adults both fear things.  Sometimes it is the fear of being found out or caught.  Sometimes it is the fear of some natural force that they cannot control.  Fear motivates both children and adults.  Fortunately, fear isn’t the only motivator.

Children and adults both want to be loved and accepted . . .

So, do you get my point?  If you want to write for children, connect with something that they will understand.  Don’t look down on the things they want, fear  or love.  Instead, think about how you feel in a situation that scares you, that drives you to excel, that makes you want to show how much someone else means to you.  Once you’ve connected with your own feelings, you can bring them into the story where your young reader will encounter it and think, “Wow.  This grown up really understands.”


November 13, 2012

How to Base Your Writing on Truth

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:53 am
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Weave a truthful emotional path through your story and readers will respond.

Recently, Tara Dairman wrote an Emu’s Debuts blog post called Based on True Events.  She asked her reader whether or not people could tell which elements of their stories were true.

Writing based on life is tricky.  What really happened may not make for a good story.  Perhaps the tension doesn’t build effectively or the antagonist’s motives are unconvincing.  When you get comments back from an editor, your instinct is to resist.  “That isn’t how it happened!”

No, but how it happened apparently doesn’t make an effective story.

What writers often need to do is turn loose of the plot points that don’t work.  They need to relax about characterization.  They need to do what needs to be done to tell a story that works.

The truth that they need to tap into is emotion.  How did it feel to be betrayed by a family member?  Your best friend?  What was running through your mind when that phone call came?  You may not have experienced events as they happen in your story, but as some time in your life, you’ve felt what your character feels.  Tap into the character’s emotions, fiddle with the story as needed, and things will ring true.

I know this because of reader reaction to one of my stories.  “Wow.  You must be a youngest child.  You really know how they feel.”

Actually, I’m the oldest.  That said, this particular story needed to be told from the POV of the youngest child.  I drew on what my sister has said about being the youngest.   What were her experiences?  Her emotions?  I may not have felt those things at those times, but the emotions themselves were familiar.  All I had to do was find them in my own life and tell the story that needed to be told.

Do it and readers will respond to the truth in your story.



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