Monday, February 27, 2012

Creating Emotion: The Lifeblood Of Your Story

It’s our pleasure to welcome Author, Linda Style back to our blogLinda is the award-winning author of 14 novels published by Harlequin Super Romance. She’s also the co-founder of Bootcamp for Novelists Online where she teaches the advanced level writing courses. With degrees in behavioral science and journalism, Linda has worked as a case manager, a human rights advocate, a program director for mental health services, a management consultant, and as the editor-in-chief for AZ View Magazine. In addition to her novels, Linda has written both fiction and nonfiction for newspapers and magazines. Her books, described by reviewers as emotional, fast-paced stories that keep you riveted to the page, have won several awards, including the prestigious Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence, the Orange Rose award for Best Book of the Year. Linda was recently featured in a USA Today interview where she talked about her current release, A SOLDIER’S SECRET. If you'd like a more indepth discussion of today's topic, Linda offers it in her Bootcamp for Novelists online course.


Every human being on this earth experiences emotion. Every human being experiences some kind of emotion all day, every day. It’s part of the human condition.

Your laughter at someone’s joke, your anxiety while getting ready to make a public speech, your anger at a co-worker, your fear that someone will read your story and not like it, your pain at seeing your son or daughter cry because someone said something bad about him, it’s all about emotion.

Think about it. Everything we do in life is related to emotion. You laugh, you cry, you’re elated, you’re ambivalent, you rejoice, you rail at injustice. It’s one big emotional world out there.

It’s no wonder then, that because our books are about people, our stories should be infused with emotion, too. Emotion IS the lifeblood of your story. Emotion creates the richness and depth that makes your story come alive and your characters compelling. Without it, your story will be static. Your characters lifeless.

If you want your stories to succeed, it’s important to understand the dynamics of emotion. For our story purposes, there are three basic components of emotion.

1.  Reader Emotion

2.  Author Emotion

3. Character Emotion

Let’s look at those one at a time.

READER EMOTION: The first thing you must do in your story on the very first page, and preferably on the first line, is to elicit an emotional reaction from the reader. When a reader has a reaction, he’s experiencing emotion. He’s emotionally involved. When he’s involved, he’s hooked. So, our first job as writers is to create an emotional experience for the reader. How do we do that?

Human beings experience three types of emotional responses:

The first is the VOYEURISTIC response, which comes from curiosity about new information and the relationship between characters. The voyeuristic response is generated by our passions and interests. It’s something that cannot be taught.

The second is the VICARIOUS response, also known as empathy. We feel what the characters feel. It comes from character emotions, which are created by the events the writer has set up.

The third is the VISCERAL response, which is the main reason we pay to go and sit in a dark room for two hours with a bunch of strangers. It’s why we read Stephen King and Dean Koontz.  It’s what we feel as a result of reading a book or experiencing what’s on the screen. It’s our immediate physical emotional response. Your technical skills as a writer should create an environment for the reader to experience visceral emotions.

To create this environment, you must appeal directly to the reader’s emotional needs which are:
a.       The need for new information
b.      The need to bond – to empathize with characters and follow their adventures.
c.       The need for conflict resolution – we like to solve problems, take action and deal with conflict and change and triumph over them.
d.      The need for completion – to make order out of chaos. We need structure in our lives…and emotionally satisfying endings. We’re only satisfied when issues are resolved and all questions are answered.

If you create a story that caters to these needs, you will engage the reader emotionally.

Have you all heard the phrase: Write the book of your heart? I can’t tell you how many times early on in my writing career I heard that phrase. I also heard: Write what you know. Familiar? I heard those phrases so many times they were almost clichés. Not only did the phrases seem clichéd, the idea seemed really stupid if I was going to write about serial killers. I doubted anyone who wrote about serial killers really knew the subject as well as a serial killer, and the subject certainly wasn’t near and dear to my heart. But then I discovered the reason behind those two almost cliched phrases, and guess what….it’s all about emotion! That’s right.

When we write what we know, it’s more likely that we’re going to put our heart and soul into the book. We have passion about the subject and passion is emotion. Author emotion. If you write without that internal passion, you’re writing empty. You’re writing something that doesn’t mean much to you ... and it will show.  Writing without emotion will result in a story that’s like a well-dressed department store mannequin. The dummy is dressed nicely, but it’s not alive. It has no depth. It might be interesting on the surface, but it’s lifeless.

Author emotion contributes not only to the emotional depth of your story, it creates authenticity and helps form your voice and style. When your passion is revealed through your words, you show your readers a bit of who you are. That’s a pretty scary thought for some of us….and probably why so many writers avoid it. We don’t want our families to think that’s how we feel about them…or we think they might be shocked at the love scenes or the language we use. So, we pull back. We’re terrified that people will think our characters are us. Or even worse, maybe they will see us for who we really are. That’s the really scary part.

Reaching deep inside to write with author emotion isn’t an easy thing to do. But we need that passion. We don’t write about our personal experiences per se, but we must draw upon our emotional experiences to create like emotions in our characters. The person on paper is not who we are, but the emotions should be those we know and have felt throughout out lives.

Your story cannot live without emotion and understanding the dynamics -- where emotion comes from and how it’s experienced by the reader -- is just the beginning. Unless you’re one of the gifted few who can write a book on instinct, the next step involves the craft of writing and learning special techniques that help you convey the kind of emotion that makes your story authentic and your characters come to life on the page. It’s the skillful combination of technique and author passion that creates real emotion -- the lifeblood of your story.


Marriage? This must be a joke! Natalia Sokoloff has nerves of steel, but when David “Mac” MacAllister proposes marriage, she breaks into a cold sweat. A wife is Mac’s best chance at adopting the son he fathered while on active duty in Iraq. And Natalia is his buddy. Besides, she owes him for saving her life during combat.
So how can she refuse? Especially if this is only temporary—they only need to play house until the adoption is final. Except even that’s far too long and too intimate for Natalia. Because there are some things a girl doesn’t want even her best friend to know.
Buy Linda's book at Amazon, B&N and Harlequin.Harlequin


Caroline Clemmons said...

Linda, what a great post! I know what I as the author feel, but sometimes fail to get it into the scene. You have hit my weakness, and I am printing out your post to reread and reread while I edit my current WIP before I call it completed. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

Thorne said...

Thanks for clarifying what was wrong with my manuscript. When someone said it lacked emotion, I didn't quite get it. Now I do.

Jeff Turner said...

I can say that in my non-fiction there is a lot of emotion. Since the works are really memoirs the feelings are truly first person. The emotion in any work helps make it more personal and real to the reader.

George said...

A wonderful tutorial and easy to digest. Thank you.

( it just me, or did Character Emotion section get left behind?)

Ruby Johnson said...

When I have emotional information I want to convey from my characters;I ask myself how each character would translate that information through an action, a reaction, a look, a tone or dialogue subtext. It's the old "show, don't tell rule."
If your character is well developed; well rounded, the right action for that character to express his inner feelings will be there. Conflicting traits going on inside him cause the character to react to a given situation in his own unique, personal way.

After taking Linda's class, a light bulb went off and it's made all the difference to me.

SusieSheehey said...

Thanks so much for sharing! Such good info... I'll be coming back to this post as I write.

Linda Style said...

Hi everyone! I have to apologize for not stopping by sooner. I didn't realize the article was up. Thank you for all your great comments. Glad to hear the article was helpful.

George -- you're not wrong. Character emotion is a whole 'nuther article. In fact, it's what I cover in my "Infusing Your Story with Emotion class that begins on March 23rd. :-)

Thanks again to all who followed me during my time with your chapter's blog. Thank you so much, Ruby, for inviting me. I've enjoyed it so much, especially your dhapter's super friendly members, and I hope to see you all again.

In fact, if any of you participate in social media, I always love new friends on Facebook and Twitter. The Bootcamp also has a Facebook and Twitter page that you can follow for all the updates. And lastly, I hope to have my new website up withing the next couple of weeks...with many in-depth articles for writers, and a spot for Q & A. Do stop by for a chat whenever you can.

All best wishes with your writing!!
It's been a pleasure spending time with you!

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