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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Emotion, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Emotional Description: 3 Common Problems with Show & Tell

Writing compelling emotional moments is the lifeblood of any story and the key to building a relationship between characters and readers. Yet steering clear of the show-don’t-tell pitfalls requires practice and skill. I’m reposting this from where it originally appeared at Romance University to shed light on three scenarios that challenge writers as they search for the right balance of emotional description.

Telling

Telling is a big issue, especially when writers are still getting to know their characters. Often they do not yet have enough insight into the hero’s personality and their motivation to really be able to describe how they feel in a unique way. Instead of using a vivid and authentic mix of body language, thoughts, dialogue and visceral sensations, writers convey emotion  in broad, telling strokes:

EXAMPLE:

Bill had to steel himself emotionally before entering the church. He’d managed to avoid his family for seven years, but his father’s funeral wasn’t something he could blow off. Anger and jealousy welled inside him as he thought of his two older brothers, the ones who always impressed Dad by being just like him: athletic, manly, hard. Now he would have to face them, and hear once again how he was a failure, a disappointment, an abomination that should have done the world a favor and hung himself from the Jackson family tree.

What’s wrong with this passage?

While the above alludes to an unhealthy relationship between brothers and conveys that Bill is the family misfit, the emotions are TOLD to the reader.

Bill had to steel himself emotionally… What does that look like? Does he sneak a slug of whiskey in his car before going in? Shuffle around on the church step, tugging at his starched cuffs?  Something else? With emotion, the reader should always get a clear image of how the character is expressing their feelings.

Anger and jealousy welled inside him… This again is telling, simply by naming the emotions. What does that anger and jealousy feel like? Is his pulse throbbing so loud he can barely think? Are his thoughts boiling with brotherly slurs that show his jealousy: dad’s golden children, his perfect prodigy, etc. Does his chest feel stuffed full of broken glass, and with each thrum of the church organ, the pain drives itself deeper?

Showing and Telling

Another common snag is showing the character’s feelings (thoughts, actions, body language, visceral sensations, etc.) but then adding some telling just to make sure the reader ‘got it.’ This often happens when a writer doesn’t have confidence in their own abilities to get emotion across to the reader, or they question whether they’ve shown the character’s feelings strongly enough for the situation.

 EXAMPLE:

Dean Harlow finally called Tammy’s name and Lacy’s breath hitched. Her daughter crossed the stage in her rich purple robe, smiling and thrusting her arm out for the customary handshake. Warmth blurred Lacy’s vision and she swiped at the tears, unwilling to miss a second of the graduation ceremony. Her calloused fingers scraped beneath her eyelids, a reminder of long hours at the laundry, all to ensure Tammy would have opportunities she herself never did. 

When her daughter accepted her diploma, Lacy shot out of her seat, clapping and cheering. She had never been so happy and proud in all her life. 

What’s wrong with this passage?

Emotion is shown clearly through Lacy’s hitching breath, the warm rush signaling tears, her rapt attention and then finally jumping up to cheer her daughter on. But that last line: She had never been so happy and proud in all her life. This unnecessary explanation of Lacy’s happiness and pride is like hammering a nail long after it’s flush with the board.  In the book, Description by Monica Wood, there’s a great rule of writing called RUE: Resist the Urge to Explain. So when it comes to emotion, remember RUE.

Over Showing

Over showing is when a writer gets caught up in the moment and goes too far by showing everything. Too much emotional description can slow the pace of the scene, create purple prose or clichés, and come across as melodramatic.

EXAMPLE:

Finn huddled behind the rusted oil drum, dripping with cold sweat as she tried to control her loud, rasping breath. The sound of Alex scraping the crowbar along the warehouse’s cement floor turned her heart into a jackhammer. A scream built up in her throat and she clamped her teeth tight, converting it into a nearly soundless whimper. Her body trembled and shuddered in the dark, and a cascade of thoughts piled up like shoreline debris– the odd things he said, the strange gifts and creepy poems, his interest in seeing blood—why didn’t these things didn’t send off air raid sirens in her head before tonight? 

What’s wrong with this passage?

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000046_00058]In some ways, this is a great moment showing fear. Body language, thoughts and visceral sensations all work to bring about intensity, but because there is so much of it, it feels overblown. Emotion doesn’t just build here…it roars. As a result, clichés form (the jackhammer heartbeat) and purple prose emerges from too many fanciful ideas (cascading thoughts, shoreline debris, air raid sirens, etc.) The combination of too much description creates the flavor of melodrama, which can cause the reader to disengage. Showing is great, but in moderation. Sometimes an author can say more with less.

Getting the right balance of emotion on the page isn’t easy, so I hope this helps! And if you would like to read about these common problems in more detail (or the other issues with writing emotion), you can find in depth information in the “Look Inside” sample of The Emotion Thesaurus at Amazon. Feel free to take a peek!

~~~~~~~

Also, Becca’s at Rebecca Lyndon’s blog today talking about characterization techniques writers can steal borrow from the stellar cast of Finding Nemo. If you’ve got time, please stop by and say hello!

The post Emotional Description: 3 Common Problems with Show & Tell appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

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2. The Decay of the White Savior

Snowpiercer
Let's talk about white saviors, emotions, and endings.

Daniel José Older has an interesting take on Snowpiercer, particularly its ending, likening it to Children of Men:


Children of Men
But both Children of Men and Snowpiercer come crashing down to almost identical final moments. When the smoke clears and the countless bodies are carted off, what we’re left with is the same take-away: Bearded white dude saves humanity, in both cases represented by a woman and a child of color, both helpless and in need of saving, at the cost of his own life.
Basically, Older says, Snowpiercer and Children of Men are white savior movies. He proposes an alternative: "Imagine if the desperate rebels paused and elevated Tanya to leadership instead of Curtis. Snowpiercer would’ve become something truly subversive, a story some of us have been trying to tell for a very long time."

I think Snowpiercer is already pretty darn subversive, so I would replace the "truly" there with "even more", and I wouldn't call Yona in Snowpiercer helpless, really (she's smart and even seems to have some super powers). But yes, Snowpiercer could have offered an alternative to white supremacy (both the structural white supremacy of the train and the apparently internalized and patriarchal white supremacy of the rebels) instead of something closer to a satire of white supremacy ending in its own destruction — a futile destruction if you consider the likelihood of Yona and Tim's survival or the likelihood that some disease would kill off their ancestors. (For more along this line, and for thoughts on the implications of the film's take on revolutionary politics, and much else, see Aaron Bady's "Snowpiercer Thinkpiece".) It could have been a more deeply subversive, even utopian movie. It is not.

But as a savior, Curtis is pretty crappy. He's wrong about the revolution, most of the tailenders he's trying to liberate end up dead, and though he may have sacrificed his life for a woman and boy, the woman and boy are in all likelihood only going to outlive him by a day or two at most. And it's not like he set out to sacrifice his life for them. Nam and Yona caused the explosion. He just chose, along with Wilford, to see if his body might shield Yona and Tim's bodies from the blast. If you're going to die, you might as well make your death a potentially useful one, and that's what he does.

I've already proposed one way of thinking about the racial politics of the ending, and this is at least somewhat at odds with Older's reading, but I like texts that can be interpreted richly, and it's entirely likely that soon I'll think my first take was wrong. I like thinking about the lineage of white savior movies, because when I do, they give me a little bit more hope for progress than the ending of Snowpiercer does, because if we can see such stories as white supremacy talking about itself, then it's having a crisis of confidence and thinks it's going to die pretty soon.

(Obviously, it is the nature of white supremacy to make itself the center of conversation, and I am perpetuating that here. White supremacy's representations interest me. But I entirely agree with Older that we need additional storylines. Please please please somebody give Danny Glover the money to make his Toussaint L'Ouverture movie, for instance!)

There are some noticeable differences between the ending of Snowpiercer and the ending of Children of Men, but before getting to those, I want to bring up one other white savior movie, Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, which I once called "a white savior movie that questions the whole idea of a white savior movie, or, at least, that wants to put an end to itself."

Gran Torino

One of the things that I think is important to consider when viewing a white savior movie is its desired emotional effect. Where does it want the audience's sympathies to fall? What does the film seem to want us to feel, and how? In a classic white savior movie — think Dances with Wolves or The Blind Side or [insert your own title here] — the white savior becomes ennobled through their encounter with the non-white supporting character(s). They learn to be more caring, less bigoted, etc. (Yay, white people can be better! Hooray for White Guy 2.0!) The journey is fundamentally that of the white protagonist, and the audience's greatest interest should be in the white character. (This is one of the things I thought was so excellent about 12 Years a Slave, which is in the end, yes, literally a white savior movie — without Bass [Brad Pitt], Solomon Northup might never have been freed — but not at all about the redemption of white people. But that's tangential to this discussion...)

Though Gran Torino is at least partly about the end of the old white savior, it nonetheless sticks with the redemption narrative. The future is given to nonwhite characters, and those characters are shown to be the closest to a traditional (conservative) sense of American values, but grumpy old racist Walt ends up not just learning to care deeply for people he'd previously spurned, but sacrificing himself for them. And not just any sacrifice. He lands on the ground with his arms outstretched like Jesus on the cross. Like Snowpiercer, Gran Torino proposes that the future will not be white, but in Gran Torino the white savior is still pretty awesome, even if he's a relic.

In Children of Men, Theo is much less heroic than Walt. He's pointedly unheroic in his presentation. But his character arc is toward heroism — through helping Kee, he discovers something to live for, something to fight for, and he becomes somebody worth shedding a tear for when he dies. For me, it's not as big a tear as Gran Torino seems to want us to shed for Walt, but that's partly because it's not hard to imagine Theo going back to being a cynical or apathetic drunk even if he lived. Walt's death feels momentous, like a tremendous (if necessary) loss; Theo's death is sad for a moment, poignant more than devastating.

With Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón did make interesting changes to counter the whiteness of the source material (a P.D. James novel), but the character we follow from beginning to end is, indeed, a white guy who saves a pregnant black woman and her child. Here, though, Kee is, like Thao and Sue in Gran Torino, a kind of representative of the future — if humanity is to survive, it's surviving because of a black woman, and the white savior is gone from the picture. (Although everyone we see on the Tomorrow ship that picks her up looks white, so who knows what will happen later...)

Snowpiercer also kills off the white savior(s) and proposes that the future of humanity does not lie with white people, but here the journey of the white savior is even less heroic than that of Walt or Theo. At least Walt and Theo are successful saviors.

Curtis's journey is in many ways the opposite of Walt's and Theo's. Walt and Theo begin cynical (or worse) and come to see the value in being a savior. We end up feeling good about them, and proud of them for their sacrifices. Curtis starts out at 2nd in command of the revolution (though Gilliam repeatedly suggests that Curtis is really in charge, even if Curtis doesn't want to face that fact) and ends up finding out that the revolution was a sham and that his actions all served to help Wilford's overall goals. Curtis has helped lead everyone he most cares into death for an illusion. Oops.

Do we shed a tear for Curtis?

I don't know about you, but I certainly didn't. Sure, there was the monologue toward the end where he talks about how he became a savage and then couldn't cut his arm off, etc., but it's important to remember what comes next: Nam's deflating reaction — Curtis clearly thought he was sharing his deepest, darkest secret, and Nam's response was little more than, "Uh huh." He's not bowing down to this white savior, not giving in to his emotional tug.

Curtis was interesting as a protagonist, as a figure to carry the force of the action, but my own emotional commitment was far more toward Nam, Tanya, Yona, and then Tim. (Tanya's death was, for me, the most affecting.) Curtis just isn't a very interesting character; he's a foil for the other characters and a device to get the story out. The relatively bland main character is an old tradition in narrative, and it serves a similar function to a straight man in comedy. So Curtis's death is not a moment that is, for me at least, more powerful than the deaths of so many other people on the train. It's easy for my plot interest to shift to Yona and Tim because that's where my affectual interest has been all along.

Gran Torino gives us the white savior who wants to end all white saviors, but it wants to us to pause and feel real sorrow for his death. Children of Men gives us an unheroic white savior who finds some shreds of heroism and dies to save the (at-least-partially) nonwhite future; we end up sort of sad for him, but the stronger emotion is likely happiness that Kee and her child lived. Snowpiercer gives us a white savior seeking the wrong revolution, ending up a savior as much by accident as intent, and the movie drains much of the emotional power from the savior figure, while proposing that if humanity has any future (unlikely), its future isn't one with white people in it.

The white savior is in trouble.

Well, at least until the next Avatar movie.

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3. Responses to Obstacles

For every action there is a reaction. A story obstacle comes along that requires your character to say or do something in response. What are the options?


Dick can’t change other people or the obstacle presented, but he can change his response to them.

If Jane is behaving inappropriately, Dick doesn’t have to give in. He can be firm and say ‘no’ or call her on her shenanigans. Jane is then forced to change her tactics because of Dick’s response.

This could be the resolution to your protagonist’s personal dilemma. Your protagonist could find the strength to change his responses to a person or situation. It can function at the scene level in any genre and the overall story problem level in a Literary tale.

If Dick wants something, he might start off with bribes. He could beg. If that doesn’t work, he’ll resort to threats. This isn’t just the method of an antagonist. It can be the methodology of any character at any point in the story.

Dick could try cajoling Jane into going to a restaurant because he has a surprise party planned. If she refuses, he might promise to do something she really wants to do. If Jane still says no, he might threaten to not do something she needs him to do. The motivation is benevolent rather than malign, but the tactics are the same.

The same motivators can work against a scene goal.

Sally might resist the goal because to do so results in a threat to her safety or to the safety of someone she cares about. 

There are times when it is healthy to say no. If Sally lives in a gang-infested neighborhood and wants to help the police or a friend, it might mean death or harm to her friends or family. Some characters would choose to do the right thing despite the consequences. Sally might give into her fears and refuse in order to protect herself or others. She may truly want to help the police, or hinder the antagonist, but the personal cost is so high she can’t.

Sometimes the best response is no response. No matter how hard someone tries to coerce your protagonist into doing, saying, or believing something, Dick can refuse to budge. He can walk away instead of arguing or reacting. This can extend the tension because the reader knows that the character will have to deal with the request another time. How many times will Dick be able to ignore the request?

Sometimes people change in response to your reaction to them. If Dick has a nagging, hysterical mother or spouse, he can finally learn to stand up to them and assert his independence. Dick changes the parameters of the relationship by asserting boundaries. The other person must change to accommodate the new rules or break off the relationship.

What if Dick is confronted with a toxic friend, family member, or lover who will never change? Dick can’t make them want help or make them better. He may have to walk away to preserve himself. It is a heart-rending choice.

By offering a variety of obstacles and responses, you keep the story flowing. Whether you script choppy rapids or a slow, sweet stream, if your reader enjoys the ride, you’ll earn a new fan.

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4. Story Midpoint & Mirror Moment: Using Heroes’ Emotions To Transform Them

I recently read a Huff Post psychology piece on Turning Negative Emotions Into Your Greatest Advantage and immediately saw how this could also apply to our characters. Feel free to follow the link and read, but if you’re short on time, the rundown is this: negative emotions are not all bad. In fact, they are necessary to the human experience, and can spark a shift that leads to self growth.

And after reading James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between and attending a full day workshop with him a few weeks ago, I can also see how this idea of using negative emotions to fuel a positive changes fits oh-so-nicely with Jim’s concept of “the Mirror Moment.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s look at what a mirror moment is.

mirror 2Mirror Moment: a moment in midpoint scene of a novel or screenplay when the character is forced to look within and reflect on who he is and who he must become in order to achieve his goal. If he decides to continue on as he always has, he will surely fail (tragedy).

If the story is not a tragedy, the hero realizes he must either a) become stronger to overcome the odds or b) transform, shedding his biggest flaws and become more open-minded to new ideas and beliefs. One way or the other, he must better himself in some way to step onto the path which will lead to success.

Jim actually describes the Mirror Moment so much better than I can HERE, but do your writing a BIG FAVOR and also snag a copy of this book. (It’s a short read and will absolutely help you strengthen the character’s arc in your story!)

To see how the two tie together, let’s explore what leads to this essential “mirror moment.” Your hero is taking stock of his situation, realizing he has two choices: stubbornly continue on unchanged and hope for the best, or move forward differently, becoming something more.

The big question: what is the catalyst? What causes him to take stock of the situation? What causes his self-reflection?

The answer is not surprising: EMOTION. Something the character FEELS causes him to stop, look within, and make a choice.

Let’s assume this isn’t a tragedy. If this moment had a math formula, it would look something like this:

Emotion + look within = change

So what type of emotions are the best fit to encourage this necessary shift toward change? And are they positive emotions, or negative ones? Let’s experiment!

Common positive emotions, taken right from The Emotion Thesaurus:

Happiness + look within

Happiness is contentment, a feeling of extreme well being. If one feels good about themselves and where they are at, it doesn’t encourage a strong desire for change, does it?

Gratitude + a look within

mirrorGratitude is thankfulness, an appreciation for others and what one has. Because again, gratitude creates contentment, feeling “full” and thankful, it doesn’t make the best catalyst for change. However, if you were to pair it with something like relief (such as being given a second chance), then  gratitude over being spared something negative could lead to resolving to change.

Excitement + a look within

Excitement is the feeling of being energized to the point one feels compelled to act. On the outside, this looks like a good candidate for change, but it depends on the type of excitement. Is the “high” a character feels something that distracts them from self reflection (such as being caught up in the experience of a rock concert) or does it inspire (such as the thrill of meeting one’s sports hero in person)? If one’s excitement propels one to want to become something better, then change can be achieved.

Satisfaction + a look within

Satisfaction is a feeling of contentment in a nutshell. It is feeling whole and complete. As such, looking within while satisfied likely won’t lead to a desire to change anything–in fact it might do just the opposite: encourage the character to remain the same.

Common negative emotions, again right from The Emotion Thesaurus:

Fear + a look within

Fear is the expectation of threat or danger. Feeling afraid is very uncomfortable, something almost all people wish to avoid. Some even try to make deals with the powers that be, so deep is their desperation: if I win this hand, I’ll give up gambling, I swear. So, combining this emotion with some self reflection could definitely create the desire to change.

Frustration + a look within

mirror 3Feeling stymied or hemmed in is something all people are familiar with and few can tolerate for long. By its very nature, frustration sends the brain on a search for change: how can I fix this? How can I become better/more skilled/adapt? How can I succeed?

Characters who are frustrated are eager to look within for answers.

Embarrassment + a look within

Embarrassment is another emotion that is very adept at making characters uncomfortable. Self-conscious discomfort is something all usually avoid because it triggers vulnerability. When one feels embarrassed, it is easy to look within and feel the desire to make a change so this experience is not repeated.

Shame + a look within

Disgrace isn’t pretty. When a person knows they have done something improper or dishonorable, it hurts. Shame creates the desire to rewind the clock so one can make a different choice or decision that does not lead to this same situation. It allows the character to focus on their shortcomings without rose-colored glasses, and fast tracks a deep need for change.

*  ~  *  ~  *

These are only a sampling of emotions, but the exercise above suggests it might be easier to bring about this mirror moment through negative emotions. But, does this mean all positive emotions don’t lead to change while all negative ones do? Not at all!

Love + a look within could create a desire to become more worthy in the eyes of loved ones. And emotions such as Denial or Contempt, while negative, both resist the idea of change. Denial + a look within, simply because one is not yet in a place where they can see truth. Contempt + a look within, because one is focused on the faults of others, not on one’s own possible shortcomings. Overall however, negative emotions seem to be the ones best suited to lead to that mirror moment and epiphany that one must change or become stronger and more skilled in order to succeed.

1ETSo there you have it–when you’re working on this critical moment in your story when your character realizes change is needed, think carefully about which emotion might best lead to this necessary internal reflection and change.

(And of course, we profile 75 emotions in The Emotion Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, so that’s just one more way for you to use it!)

 

photo credit 1: Dhinal Chheda via photopin cc
photo credit 2: nowhere Zen New Jersey via photopin cc
photo credit 3: stephcarter via photopin cc

The post Story Midpoint & Mirror Moment: Using Heroes’ Emotions To Transform Them appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

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5. 5 Surprising Ways Regret Can Deepen Your Hero’s Arc

Super pleased to welcome Writing Coach MJ Bush today. I am a huge fan of her blog, Writing Geekery…if you don’t yet have this site on your writing resource roster, make it happen! (Trust me, you don’t want to miss any of her articles because they contain unique and valuable insight into character arc and story structure.)

MJ’s tackling REGRET, which is key to a well developed character arc. Regret can destroy a person, but it can also motivate, spurring a character to take action when they reach the point where fears, missed opportunities and poor choices lead to unbearable fulfillment and dissatisfaction. Great stuff here on how to use it in your hero’s arc, so please read on!

Fleuron

Regret is a hard motive to wrangle. Shallowness creeps in because actions seem simplistic or pasted on if you don’t establish realism and reader empathy.

Even if your reader wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly why it doesn’t seem realistic now, they’ll know realism when you use it.

And boy, can you use regret to change your character’s life in interesting ways. PLUS I’ve got some tips on creating emotional realism. Read to the end for my gift, a free report on arcs born from regret.

regretFirst, let’s clarify what regret is.

It’s an indirect motivator. For example, it can fuel a desire to right wrongs, or a fear that the same thing will happen again.

It’s grieving for what could have been. Even if there was nothing you could have done.

But it also encompasses guilt, remorse, and contrition.

Basic regret is wishing things could have been another way, guilt is blaming yourself, remorse is wishing to make amends, and contrition is acting to make amends.

So, let’s look at five realistic ways regret can affect your character.

1. Looking Ahead Too Intently

Anticipated regret is stronger than the regret itself.

Your character might be disproportionately afraid of missing out, and realize later that it wasn’t so bad. The arc from fear to relief is an especially great option for supporting characters.

►► Avery had a ticket to leave on the next ship out, headed for one of the newly terraformed colonies, but he cut it too close and he can’t get everything ready in time. He transfered to a later launch, had more time to say goodbye, and realized that it was ultimately a good experience.

2. But It’s Not the Same!

This one applies when your character has missed an opportunity. The psychological phenomenon is called inaction inertia. One missed opportunity increases the likelihood of missing another, wishing it was as good as the first.

So make sure your character has a good strong push to take a second opportunity. Or let them pass up the second only to realize that they will really regret it if they miss a third.

…If you want them to take it.

►► Avery landed on his new planetary home and immediately found a great house, but decided to check out the possibilities. Nothing compared, but when he went back, it’d been sold. Later that week, he found another great place but he decided that the first house was his dream home and this other house just wouldn’t cut it.

Desperate after realizing that he should have taken it, he gave up and took the next livable place.

3. The Growth of Resilience (or Not)

Regrets can cause a distorted self-concept, the past reflecting on the self-worth.

It’s possible to learn to see the shame, the guilt, and the situations as trials intended to give you strength. And when your character learns to adopt this worldview, his entire outlook and self-concept will shift.

He will see himself as product of adversity, not the victim of it.

Or you can let one character wallow while another improves. I do like my foils.

►► Before moving to the stars, Avery always saw himself as a victim of his circumstances. His poor upbringing, the demeaning jobs, even the dead-end romantic relationships all fed the idea that the world was against him. When he started to realize that those things made him stronger, he started tackling bigger dreams and challenges.

Until, finally, he stepped on that ship.

4. Comparing Hurts Our Health

As this article states, social comparison is a coping mechanism for regret. And the interesting thing is that it can have an effect on the character’s health.

It’s not just artistic license that has characters getting sick when they compare themselves unfavorably with others. Who knew?

►► Avery’s best friend Daniel slowly wasted away on Earth, alternately railing against the world and castigating himself for not stepping up like Avery.

5. Aged Regret = Different Flavor

We’re likely to regret actions in the short term, but in the long term it’s the things we didn’t do that get us down.

This can make a nice foil, with a younger character regretting an action and an older character regretting an “omission.” Or you can have a character arc from one to the other in the space of the story.

►► Years later, Avery forgot the decision to pass up the second house. Instead, he regretted not encouraging Daniel to see his own strength.

Show It Better Than a Movie

There’s more to regret than arcs and motivations. It’s an emotion, and as an author you need to treat it like one.

You see yourself as having lost something, or the idea of something that is profoundly meaningful to you, and the experience is every bit as real as suffering after any kind of traumatic event.Suzanne Lachmann, Psy.D.

Your job is to show that grief. The resulting actions aren’t enough. Words spoken or thought aren’t enough.

You have to show a reaction to the pain.

Give it some screen time.

Let it sink in.

It’s Time to Give Your Characters the Depth They Deserve

You’ve got the tools to show your character’s regret, and to make it a realistically integral part of their actions and emotions. Especially if you have The Emotion Thesaurus.

MJYour pen is waiting.

Get to it.

HEADS UP! You can grab the free report Seven Arcs of Regret – ONLY AVAILABLE HERE – for more ideas and details. Download it now.

MJ Bush is The Analytical Creative. Her writing advice steps back to take in the whole picture, then dives in to grab the pearls of usable detail. She’s the founder of Writingeekery.com and a full time fiction coach, editor, and writer.

The post 5 Surprising Ways Regret Can Deepen Your Hero’s Arc appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

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6. Hidden Emotions: How To Tell Readers What Characters Don’t Want To Show

pensiveOne of the struggles that comes with writing is when a character feels  vulnerable  and so tries to hide their emotions as a result.  Fear of emotional pain, a lack of trust in others, instinct, or protecting one’s reputation are all reasons he or she might repress what’s going on inside them. After all, people do this in real life, and so it makes sense that our characters will too.  Protecting oneself from feeling exposed is as normal as it gets.

But where does that leave writers who STILL have to show these hidden emotions to the reader (and possibly other characters in the scene)?

The answer is a “TELL”– a subtle, bodily response or micro gesture that a character has little or no control over.

No matter how hard we try, our bodies are emotional mirrors, and can give our true feelings away.  We can force hands to unknot, fake nonchalance, smile when we don’t mean it and lie as needed. However, to the trained eye, TELLS will leak through: a rushed voice. An off-pitch laugh. Hands that fiddle and smooth.  Self-soothing touches to comfort.  Sweating.

For a story to have emotional range, our characters will naturally hide what they feel at some point, and when they do, the writer must be ready. Readers will be primed for an emotional response by the scene’s build up, and will be on the lookout for a character’s body language cues and tells.

Here is a list of possible TELLS that will convey to readers that more is going on with your Protagonist than it seems:

  • A voice that breaks, drops or raises in pitch; a change in speech patterns
  • Micro hesitations (delayed speech, throat clearing, slow reaction time) showing a lack of commitment
  • A forced smile, laugh or verbally agreeing/disagreeing in a way that does not seem genuine
  • Cancelling gestures (smiling but stepping back; saying No but reaching out, etc.)
  • Hands that fiddle with items, clothing and jewellery
  • Stiff posture and movements; remaining TOO still and composed
  • Rushing (the flight instinct kicking in) or making excuses to leave or avoid a situation
  • A lack of eye contact; purposefully ignoring someone or something
  • Closed body posture (body shielding, arms crossing chest, using the hair to hide the face, etc.)
  • Sweating or trembling, a tautness in the muscles or jaw line
  • Smaller gestures of the emotion ‘leaking out’ (see The Emotion Thesaurus for ideas that match each emotion)
  • Growing inanimate and contributing less to conversation
  • Verbal responses that seem to have double meanings; sarcasm
  • Attempting to intimidate others into dropping a subject
    Overreacting  to something said or done in jest
  • Increasing one’s personal space ( withdrawing from a group, sitting alone, etc.)
  • Tightness around the eyes or mouth (belying the strain of keeping emotion under wraps)
  • Hiding one’s hands in some way

Sometimes a writer can let the character’s true thoughts leak out and this can help  show the reader what’s really being felt. But this only works if the character happens to be the Point Of View Character. The rest of the time, it comes down to micro body language and body tells that are hard, if not impossible, to control.

Have you used any of these tells to show the reader or other characters in the scene that something is wrong? What tells do you notice most in real life as you read the body language of those around you? (These real life interactions can be gold mines for fresh body language cues to apply to your characters!)

TIP: For more inspiration on body language that will convey specific emotions, flip through The Emotion Thesaurus.

TIP 2.0: Becca has a great post on Hidden Emotions as well, and how “Acting Normal” might be the go-to expressive that gets hidden emotions across to the reader, while potentially leaving other characters in the dark.

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7. Engaging the Heart: Poetic Tools for Writing Emotion (Part 2)

March Dystropia Madnessby Jen Bailey

In Part 1, we looked at how onomatopoeia and phonetic intensives can help you evoke emotion in your readers when writing emotionally detached characters. Today we will look at two additional sound-related poetic tools that can be carefully crafted to obtain your desired effect and keep your reader engaged.

Poetic Tool #3: Assonance

The long o sound we just looked at is not only an example of the use of phonetic intensives, it is also an example of assonance. Assonance is defined by Janet Burroway in Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft as the correspondence of vowel sounds in words.

In the following passages from Quaking, the assonance is prominent:

“leering at me, sneering” (Erskine 44)

“his oily voice” (Erskine 45)

“I see his greasy black hair” (Erskine 45)

The context of each of these lines is the presence of Matt’s bully, Rat, and she does not express her emotions at all. Instead, the repetition of vowel sounds in these examples evokes a feeling of unsteadiness and invasion – exactly what Matt must feel but can’t express.

Poetic Tool #4: Consonance

In The Sounds of Poetry, Robert Pinsky defines consonance as “a repeated consonant sound, as in ‘stroke’ and ‘ache’” (124). Erskine repeats a k/ck sound in the following passages in the context of Matt’s encounters with the Rat:

“His dark hair is rigid and sticks out at the back of his neck” (15)

“His panicked eyes flit around the parking lot” (82).

In this last example, Matt witnesses the Rat’s fear of his own father – a fear she recognizes but cannot name. The repeated k/ck sound is choppy and evokes an uneasy, jittery feeling – the kind Matt was likely experiencing in this scene.

Alliteration is a form of consonance in which there is a correspondence of consonants at the beginning of words or stressed syllables (Burroway 370). Another form of consonance is sibilance, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as an undue prominence of the hissing s sound. Consonance can have a magnifying effect when writers carefully craft their sentences. In the following sentence from Quaking, a general play with consonant sounds results in a very sinister-sounding section:

‘“Chicken-shit!’ the Rat yells in my face, and I clutch my chest but I leave a chink exposed and his elbow catches my rib. He shoves me and I fall to the floor” (Erskine 217).

The hissing “s” and “sh” sounds are sibilant:

shit                  yells                 face                 chest                exposed          catches           

The ‘ch’ sound alliterates at the beginning and middle of some words,

chicken            clutch              chest                chink               catches

furthermore, consonance is developed with the “t” sound,

shit                  Rat                  chest   

and the “k/ck” sound,

chicken            chink  

These sounds all echo each other, thereby increasing the menacing nature of this passage. Because of careful word choices the reader gets the feeling of fear and loss of control that the emotionally detached protagonist either does not admit to or cannot describe.

Poets rely on the sounds of language to evoke emotion in their readers.  Onomatopoeia, phonetic intensives, assonance, consonance are among the many tools they use to achieve this. While these tools will beautify and intensify prose with any kind of character, poetic language is especially invaluable for evoking the emotion that ventures beyond the emotional vocabulary and awareness of those characters who are emotionally detached.

Be sure you didn’t miss the first half of this article: Engaging the Heart – Part 1

Jen Bailey Author PhotoJen Bailey lives in Ottawa, Ontario and has a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She loves playing around with rhythm and sound in her writing. Should you like that kind of thing too, she recommends you read Quaking by Kathryn Erskine, Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, and any poetry you can get your hands on.

Follow her musings on writers’ craft and the writing life at writefiercely.wordpress.com

This blog post was brought to you as part of the March Dystropian Madness Blog Series.

 Sources:
Burroway, Janet. Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft. Boston: Longman, 2010. Print.
Erskine, Kathryn. Quaking. New York: Philomel Books, 2007. Print.
Pinsky, Robert. The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999. Print.

4 Comments on Engaging the Heart: Poetic Tools for Writing Emotion (Part 2), last added: 3/21/2013
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8. Creating Emotion Within Dialogue

March Dystropia Madness

By Jeff Schill

I love dialogue.

To me, a story is all about the characters.  And I especially enjoy when these characters interact with one other.  But at the same time, dialogue can fall flat when it does not resonate or make the reader feel something.

Dialogue is much more than just the words on the page. Dialogue is largely about how we, as writers, express our characters’ emotions and how the reader, in return, responds to these emotions.

Creating Emotion in Dialogue

In 1967 Albert Mehrabian, a professor at Stanford University, specifically looked at emotion and communication.  In his study, he concluded that 55% of emotion is communicated through a person’s nonverbal cues: facial expressions, gestures, posture and movement.

Nonverbals

To emphasize how powerful nonverbal behavior can be in dialogue let’s look at a few lines where I took the nonverbal cue away.

  • “And a place in Beverly Hills. Next door to your place,” he says.
  • “Be there or Be-ware,” she said.

Notice how bland and unemotional these lines are.  Now let’s add the nonverbal cue and see how it changes the lines.

Facial Expressions:

  • “And a place in Beverly Hills.” She cocks her eyebrow.  “Next door to your place,” he says. (178) – Blink and Caution

Movement

  • “Be there or Be-ware!” she said, and slammed the phone down. (243) – Dead End in Norvelt.

Notice how in each one of these examples the nonverbal cue adds intensity or emotion to the line.  In the first example, the cocked eyebrow gives us a sense of skepticism and in the last sentence the slamming of the phone gives us anger. Think about how using a character’s facial expressions, gestures, movement and posture may compliment or add emotion to the dialogue.

Paraverbal (How we say what we say)

Mehrabian went on to state that 38% of emotion is communicated through a person’s paraverbals: how they say what they say.  Look at this example from Polly Horvath’s One Year in Coal Harbor and notice how she emphasizes certain words to increase the emotion of the dialogue.

“Oh really? Well where does he think I went to cooking school?”

“I don’t think he thinks you did.  I think he thinks you just, you know, picked it up.”

“PICKED IT UP?” Miss Bowzer’s eyes were afire and her neck was getting blotches of red.  Maybe I’d gone too far.

“You know, like, on the street.”

“ON THE STREET? I’ll have him know I went to the Cordon Bleu in Paris for an entire semester!” (42)

Through the use of typography the reader can begin to feel Miss Bowzer’s frustration. Horvath is using the character’s paraverbals to stress the emotion.

Now look at this example from Tim Wynne-Jones’s Blink & Caution and notice how he uses hesitation in the dialogue to create emotion.

“After what happened… after what I did…” She finds her mouth is dry.  She remembers her soda, takes a swig.

“I’m listening,” he says.

“After that… what I was talking about… I felt like nothing was real. It was” – and this is new to her, the first time she’s thought of it- “it was as if I were the one who was dead.  I killed my brother.  But I killed myself, only I didn’t know it.  And all this – everything that has happened since then is just…” (223)

The character’s hesitation in this passage shows her struggle and reluctance at opening up to the truth.  By emphasizing how she says what she says, Wynne-Jones is heightening the emotion within the dialogue.

Often as a writer we think about our dialogue only through the lens of the words our character use.  However, more often than not it is the emotion behind these words that create a reader reaction.  We want our dialogue to make the reader feel something; to stir emotion.  Challenge yourself to use your character’s nonverbal and paraverbals to create dialogue that resonates with the reader.

*For a discussion on pacing, spacing, metaphors, objective correlatives and the actual words we use to create emotion in dialogue you’ll have to persuade Ingrid to invite me back.

Jeff SchillJeff Schill holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a proud member of the Dystropian family.  He lives, works and writes in Milwaukee, is deathly afraid of dogs and is completely creeped out by the stains found in library books.

You can read more of Jeff’s work on his blog: http://jeffschill.blogspot.com/


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9. Musicality and Reader Emotions

Guest Post by Peter Langella

brain-musicWhen I first began writing seriously, I was just telling stories. I wasn’t thinking about plot or structure or the concrete and abstract desires of my characters. Sure, a lot of that found its way into my drafts, but it wasn’t my focus when I brainstormed or sat at the keyboard.

That all changed when I become a writing student at Vermont College of Fine Arts. My faculty mentors and talented classmates made me question my intentions in every scene. Were my characters learning, failing, growing, or changing? Was my plot moving forward? Was I creating an emotional arc for my characters that future readers could connect with?

Because of questions like these (among the many other things I learned), I grew exponentially as a writer during my MFA experience. I’m now gaining confidence with my writing voice, and my drafting toolbox is larger and much more accessible.

However, the question I struggle with on a daily basis is the one about character emotions and reader connection. This literally keeps me up at night. Many, many nights. I used to think that I didn’t need to worry about a potential reader. Just be true to your characters, I’d tell myself. Write the story that needs to be written, I’d hear my past professors saying.

Just write the truth, for goodness sake!

the-great-gatsby-movie-posterThen I watched Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. I was blown away, specifically by his use of modern music in the 1920’s setting. By choosing a soundtrack that features Jay-Z, Jack White, Beyoncé, Florence & the Machine, and many other contemporary artists, Luhrmann isn’t only telling the characters’ stories, he is speaking directly to the audience.

Now, I’m fully aware that Luhrmann’s music choices made most critics cringe, but I think it was extremely innovative, and similar choices can certainly be used by writers to make our books more relatable.

Seriously. I’m not crazy.

For example, during the first huge party that narrator Nick Carraway attends at Gatsby’s mansion, Luhrmann chooses to blare techno behind the visuals with vocals by Fergie and just a tiny hint of horns from the 1920’s. It’s jarring for the viewer, but it works because the character and viewer are experiencing the exact same thing. Nick Carraway has never heard music like this before, and he’s never been to a party so lavish. He’s completely out of his comfort zone. Viewers feel the same way. Most of us have never been to a party like that, either, and we’ve definitely never heard music like that paired with the visuals on the screen. We’re completely out of our comfort zone, too. If Luhrmann simply chose a jazz number new to Long Island that summer, Carraway would probably be feeling the same. He would still be blown away by the newness of the situation. But we wouldn’t be. We’d be thinking about the nice period piece we’re watching with timeless jazz music authentic to the era. We wouldn’t be feeling the exact same thing as the character, and the scene would be much less effective for that reason.

THE GREAT GATSBY

That’s what keeps me up at night. How can I – without the sounds and visuals that Luhrmann has at his disposal – create that exact connection?

Or, at least, how can I get it close?

In my current work-in-progress, one of my main characters is the son of a presidential candidate. Obviously, most people don’t know what it feels like to go through that. Neither do I. But many people know what it feels like to have a detached parent or someone at school who doesn’t like you as much as you like them or a friend who can’t talk for more than two minutes without making reference to some book or movie or TV show they watched recently.

The musicality, so to speak, is what happens in the background. It’s what the story is about, even though a hundred people could outline the plot and not mention these smaller items. These items that (hopefully) create an intense bond between the characters and a potential reader.

Looking for AlaskaWhen I read Looking for Alaska, I was blown away by the scenes where Pudge and The Captain hang out in their dorm room. Maybe it’s because I went to boarding school, so I could understand and appreciate the rhythm of the monotony. But maybe it was because that’s where the characters figured out who they were. When I think about that book, I don’t think about Alaska Young or any other characters or anything any of the other characters did. I only think about those quiet scenes where nothing and everything happened for me all at the same time.

So, whether you’re famous like Baz Luhrmann or John Green, or you’re just someone trying to write their heart out like me, take another look at your draft and ask yourself if there’s any room for musicality in it. Ask yourself if there’s a way for your characters to connect with readers on a profound level, even if it happens in a small or weird way that might not seem to have anything to do with your story. It could be a scene from the roaring 20’s with techno music or a chapter where two friends sit around talking about nothing, but it will probably be something brilliant that only you and your characters can team up to create.

Trust me, when you’re up at night thinking about it, I’ll be up thinking about my stuff, too.

Peter LangellaPeter Patrick Langella holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives and writes in Vermont and thinks elevenses should be recognized by his employer.

Other posts by Peter:

 


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10. Musicality and Reader Emotions

Guest Post by Peter Langella

brain-musicWhen I first began writing seriously, I was just telling stories. I wasn’t thinking about plot or structure or the concrete and abstract desires of my characters. Sure, a lot of that found its way into my drafts, but it wasn’t my focus when I brainstormed or sat at the keyboard.

That all changed when I become a writing student at Vermont College of Fine Arts. My faculty mentors and talented classmates made me question my intentions in every scene. Were my characters learning, failing, growing, or changing? Was my plot moving forward? Was I creating an emotional arc for my characters that future readers could connect with?

Because of questions like these (among the many other things I learned), I grew exponentially as a writer during my MFA experience. I’m now gaining confidence with my writing voice, and my drafting toolbox is larger and much more accessible.

However, the question I struggle with on a daily basis is the one about character emotions and reader connection. This literally keeps me up at night. Many, many nights. I used to think that I didn’t need to worry about a potential reader. Just be true to your characters, I’d tell myself. Write the story that needs to be written, I’d hear my past professors saying.

Just write the truth, for goodness sake!

the-great-gatsby-movie-posterThen I watched Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. I was blown away, specifically by his use of modern music in the 1920’s setting. By choosing a soundtrack that features Jay-Z, Jack White, Beyoncé, Florence & the Machine, and many other contemporary artists, Luhrmann isn’t only telling the characters’ stories, he is speaking directly to the audience.

Now, I’m fully aware that Luhrmann’s music choices made most critics cringe, but I think it was extremely innovative, and similar choices can certainly be used by writers to make our books more relatable.

Seriously. I’m not crazy.

For example, during the first huge party that narrator Nick Carraway attends at Gatsby’s mansion, Luhrmann chooses to blare techno behind the visuals with vocals by Fergie and just a tiny hint of horns from the 1920’s. It’s jarring for the viewer, but it works because the character and viewer are experiencing the exact same thing. Nick Carraway has never heard music like this before, and he’s never been to a party so lavish. He’s completely out of his comfort zone. Viewers feel the same way. Most of us have never been to a party like that, either, and we’ve definitely never heard music like that paired with the visuals on the screen. We’re completely out of our comfort zone, too. If Luhrmann simply chose a jazz number new to Long Island that summer, Carraway would probably be feeling the same. He would still be blown away by the newness of the situation. But we wouldn’t be. We’d be thinking about the nice period piece we’re watching with timeless jazz music authentic to the era. We wouldn’t be feeling the exact same thing as the character, and the scene would be much less effective for that reason.

THE GREAT GATSBY

That’s what keeps me up at night. How can I – without the sounds and visuals that Luhrmann has at his disposal – create that exact connection?

Or, at least, how can I get it close?

In my current work-in-progress, one of my main characters is the son of a presidential candidate. Obviously, most people don’t know what it feels like to go through that. Neither do I. But many people know what it feels like to have a detached parent or someone at school who doesn’t like you as much as you like them or a friend who can’t talk for more than two minutes without making reference to some book or movie or TV show they watched recently.

The musicality, so to speak, is what happens in the background. It’s what the story is about, even though a hundred people could outline the plot and not mention these smaller items. These items that (hopefully) create an intense bond between the characters and a potential reader.

Looking for AlaskaWhen I read Looking for Alaska, I was blown away by the scenes where Pudge and The Captain hang out in their dorm room. Maybe it’s because I went to boarding school, so I could understand and appreciate the rhythm of the monotony. But maybe it was because that’s where the characters figured out who they were. When I think about that book, I don’t think about Alaska Young or any other characters or anything any of the other characters did. I only think about those quiet scenes where nothing and everything happened for me all at the same time.

So, whether you’re famous like Baz Luhrmann or John Green, or you’re just someone trying to write their heart out like me, take another look at your draft and ask yourself if there’s any room for musicality in it. Ask yourself if there’s a way for your characters to connect with readers on a profound level, even if it happens in a small or weird way that might not seem to have anything to do with your story. It could be a scene from the roaring 20’s with techno music or a chapter where two friends sit around talking about nothing, but it will probably be something brilliant that only you and your characters can team up to create.

Trust me, when you’re up at night thinking about it, I’ll be up thinking about my stuff, too.

Peter LangellaPeter Patrick Langella holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives and writes in Vermont and thinks elevenses should be recognized by his employer.

Other posts by Peter:

 


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11. Understanding Character Wounds: A List Of Common Themes

Characters are the heart of a novel, and within that heart is the Hero’s Inner Journey. The protagonist’s path is much like yours or mine–one that will (hopefully) bring him closer to lifelong happiness and fulfillment.

In real life, people strive to become something more, to be something better. But the wounds of the past never quite leave us. Old hurts, betrayals, and injustices stay in our memory. Worry that a bad experience could happen again causes us to hesitate, and sometimes readjust what we want, and what we’re willing to risk. In other words, fear gets in the way.

Wounds Change Everything

woundJust like you or I, a hero has wounds, a trunk full of scars he lugs with him wherever he goes. And like us, his determination to not repeat a painful emotional experience carries the high cost of lessening his feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment.

Because wounds influence a protagonist’s behavior so deeply (to the point he will do almost anything to avoid feeling such pain again), it’s important to have a good grasp on what emotional trauma from his past is now shaping his present. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

 photo credit: allspice1 via photopin cc

Every Wound Contains a Lie

Emotional wounds are more than just painful memories. Inside each wound is a seed of doubt. Is this somehow my fault? Am I to blame? This doubt blossoms, eroding one’s self-worth.

When something bad happens, it’s human nature to try and rationalize it, make sense of it. We often blame ourselves, believing if we had chosen differently, done something else, there would be a better outcome. Most times there’s no logic to attributing a personal failure to what happened (especially when events were out of our control), but we do it anyway. Because of this internalization, a lie is born. We believe we are somehow deserving of this pain, or we become disillusioned in some way.

Let’s say a character discovers her husband plans to leave her for another woman (wound). Under all the anger and rage and heartache she would look within, to what she did wrong. The lie she might believe could be: He cheated because I am not worth loving. This lie burrows deep into her self-esteem and self-worth. Moving forward, she may avoid relationships because she believes this lie of being unworthy. Or, she may choose men who are likely to be unfaithful, because deep down she thinks these men are the only ones she deserves.

Wounds Cause Flaws To Form

1NTWhen a character is wounded, he straps on emotional armor to keep his feelings safe. Flaws develop, working under the ‘guise’ of protecting him from being hurt. For example, a female character who was mugged and sexually assaulted (wound) might develop flaws like mistrust, paranoia, and evasiveness to protect herself from being targeted again.

On the outside, these flaws “appear” to help her be safe, but they limit her instead, preventing her from building healthy relationships, hampering her spontaneity and placing a filter of distrust on all she sees. This in turn steals her her freedom, and puts a choke hold on self-growth and true happiness. (For more on flaws & their role in Character Arc, please reference The Negative Trait Thesaurus.)

Dig Into The Character’s Backstory

A character’s past will be a minefield of negative experiences, but at some point, there should be an event you as the author can define as “the wound.” Small, painful events change a person bit by bit, but to focus all this hurt and pain into a single backstory moment can really help you better understand who and what damaged your character, and why, as a result, they question their self-worth. This also guides you to the false belief they must see for the lie it is in order to become healthy and whole, strengthening them so they can achieve their goal.

To help you pinpoint what your character’s wound might be, here are some common “themes” that could be the root of this psychological damage.

7 Common Wound Themes:

A Physical Wound. A defect, scar or condition causes real life complication, doubt, low self-esteem and can make it difficult to feel like one fits in. Handicaps are real and can alter a character’s path, limiting them and hurting their confidence.

An Injustice. Being a victim of crime, witnessing a traumatic social injustice or living in a time period or reality that is unbalanced or full of corruption will all leave a mark.

Failure or Mistakes. People are naturally hard on themselves when things don’t happen as expected.  The guilt associated with a failure or mistake (even if it is only a perceived failure) can paralyse a person, and send them on an alternative life path.

Misplaced Trust/Betrayal. Trusting or relying on someone and feeling let down in some way can cause deep hurt. This could be a parent/child dynamic, a friendship that goes sideways or even a deep betrayal of a loved one (infidelity, etc.)

Isolation. If the character felt left out or isolated in the past, it has lasting effects. Isolation might be relationship-related (a mother who favored a sibling over the protagonist), power imbalance (educational or social “status” barriers) or even simple economics (living in poverty, etc.) that restricted opportunity, achievement and fulfillment.

Neglect/Abandonment/Rejection. Some relationships are cardinal when it comes to care giving: a parent and child. Siblings. Partners in a marriage. And to a lesser degree, a citizen and his government, parishioner and his minister, or a doctor and his patient. When the person in the care giving role neglects or rejects the other party, this can cause deep feelings of abandonment to form.

Disillusionment. Believing one thing to be true and then discovering it is a lie can shake a character to their core. This might be a world views or political beliefs (discovering leaders that one has supported have been negligent or corrupt), a revelation in religious or spiritual beliefs, or uncovering immoral behavior. It could also be something closer and more intimate like a role model who was not who they pretended to be, or personal (like finding out one is adopted, for example.)

Do you know your character’s wound, and if so, does it fall under one of these  themes?

PSSST! At 5:00PM Eastern you can find me at IndieRecon discussing 6 Smart Ways Authors Can Collaborate When Marketing.

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12. Reaction Beats

When a stimulus signals the brain, the body goes through a logical sequence. Make sure you relate the beats in a logical order.

1. A stimulus triggers the senses. The brain receives the stimulus instantaneously. It can be something your character hears, intuits, sees, smells, tastes, or touches.

2. The body has an involuntary response that takes a nanosecond. The limbic system evaluates the stimulus and sends chemicals racing through the body as neurons fire, depending on its evaluation of whether the stimulus is negative, positive, or neutral. The brain decides if there is a potential threat or reward.

3. The response triggers a reflexive action.

4. The brain then regains control over the body and makes a conscious decision about how to proceed.


A posited theory is that everyone we meet (and everything we come across) leaves a neural imprint. The brain decides if a person, place, or thing is a friend or foe and whether the next encounter will be negative or positive. The composite images are stored in an easily accessed file folder for comparison. How much a person or thing resembles the positive or negative composites determines how likely you are to like or dislike a new person, place, or thing when you encounter it. It decides whether snakes are lovely or lethal, whether a physical action is comforting or threatening, and whether an action you take is likely to result in reward or punishment.

It compares faces and decides that your new boss looks a lot like the girl you liked in elementary school. Your initial reaction is positive. She may turn out to be perfectly awful.

The brain makes these split-second decisions every second of every day. It is important to understand this process as you write, but it's only necessary to zero in on this part of the response at the most critical turning points of your story.

Next, the body reacts involuntarily to the stimulus. It recoils or reaches out. It startles or is soothed. A character gasps, coughs, sneezes, laughs, or screams. This reaction is embedded deep within the animal part of the brain. It is governed by sheer instinct and raw emotion. It is the fight or flight response at play. His pulse, breathing, and muscles react. His skin erupts in chills. His mouth goes dry. The character is not speaking or moving yet. He flinches, blinks, tenses, and displays a micro-expression.

What happens next depends on how the brain filters the stimulus through the character's conditioning, personality, and emotional connection to the stimulus. It tests the emotion of the moment. The brain decides to override or reinforce the initial involuntary response. If the stimulus is a threat from a comforting person, it causes dissonance. The same is true if the loving gesture is issued from a threatening stimulus. Dick's impulse may be to hug someone. It is awkward when that someone pulls away from it.

Finally, the character's conscious mind takes over and is free to decide which course of action to take next. The body recovers from the initial reflex. It overcomes the muscle memory and moves with intention. Conscious control over his breathing, pulse, and muscles is restored. Dick moves deliberately forward or backward and speaks. He alters his breathing, flexes his trembling knees, or relaxes his tightened gut and jaw. He smiles and shakes hands or fake smiles and avoids shaking hands.

If Dick has been startled, shocked, or wounded, his body recovers. Writers often forget to mention this step of the process. His system returns to normal once the threat has passed. Make sure you show the recovery after a major impact.

Not every encounter needs to reveal every beat. Use more beats when the tension is high, less when the tension is low. Use extreme actions and reactions sparingly. The verbal camera should zoom in on the mechanics during critical parts and zoom out for the noncritical parts.

Next time we will discuss distance and touching. How close is too close?

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13. Body Language: Gestures

Gestures are not random. They have purpose. They illustrate. They convey the words we do not speak. They confirm, deny, or emphasize what we say. People "talk with their hands."


Gestures vary from person to person and culture to culture. People can have nervous ticks. They can have "tells" that indicate they are lying, anxious, or unhappy. Use gestures wisely.

If a gesture begins before the words, it is a sign of honesty.

If a gesture lags after the words, it's considered a sign of dishonesty.

A gesture can be involuntary but squelched by the character. This is especially true if he is angry with someone he cares about or fears.

Gestures include: 

air kisses 

averted gaze 

bared teeth 

biting cuticles, hair, lips, or nails 

blowing raspberries 

bowing 

chewing inside of lips or cheek 

crossing ankles 

crossing/uncrossing arms 

crossing/uncrossing legs 

curtsey 

cuticle picking 

elbow bump 

eye rolling (or eye-ball rotating) 

eyebrows lift 

eyebrows wrinkle 

finger curling 

finger pointing 

fist shaking 

fist swinging 

flapping hands 

flicking fingernails 

fingernail tapping 

genuflecting 

grasping elbows 

gripping hands 

hands behind back 

hands over face 

hands over heart 

hands together 

hands wide 

hat tip 

index finger raised 

kowtow 

lip curls or purses 

looking down 

looking up 

looking to the side 

lowering arms 

lowering hands 

middle finger raised 

mooning 

mouth purses 

mouth tightens 

nodding 

nose thumbing 

nose wrinkles 

pointing 

pouting 

raising arms in the air 

rubbing earlobe 

rubbing fingers 

rubbing hands 

scratching 

scratching chin, ear, nose, or throat 

shaking head 

shrugging 

sneering 

sticking out tongue 

swinging legs 

slash throat with hand 

smoothing hair 

tapping fingers or toes 

tucking legs under 

thumbs up 

thumbs down 

thumb to the side 

tightening fist 

tugging clothes 

tugging an ear 

tugging hair 

saluting 

sweeping hands 

waving 

Keep this list handy and add to it. 

When revising, cut repetition and make sure the gesture is used for a good reason at the right time.

Next week, we'll discuss eye contact.

All of the information on body language can be found in Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers.

http://www.amazon.com/Story-Building-Blocks-III-Revision/dp/1475011369

http://www.amazon.com/Story-Building-Blocks-III-Revision-ebook/dp/B007SPPL68

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14. Body Language: Lying

The practice of identifying liars has become an art as well as a science. There are multitudes of books, reams of research, and several television shows based on it. Dr. Paul Eckman's work is well worth reading. The show Lie to Me is well worth watching to learn more.


Whether someone is lying or honest is broadly characterized by how expansive or contractive his body language is. There may be master criminals, soulless sociopaths, trained spies, or sage sleuths who can outsmart everyone. For the rest, the normal rules governing behavior apply.

Someone who is telling the truth goes on the offensive. He is forward moving, expansive, broad gesturing, and offers distinct answers with I and me. He meets your gaze full on. His body gravitates toward yours in an attempt to be seen and understood and to connect. He gives the right amount of detail. He discusses the situation until you believe him. His story is explicit and consistent.

He may be angry at being falsely accused, or having his honor questioned, but he does not feel guilty. He mirrors your posture. He talks expansively with his hands, starting the gesture before the words. He is relaxed and his smile engages other facial muscles. He points to himself and places his open hand on his chest. He is not afraid of close scrutiny.

The exception is when an honest person grows anxious when he isn’t believed, especially in a situation where he feels unsafe. The situation may trigger anxiety responses just as in someone who isn't honest. He may flush with fury. A character that has an itch somewhere it's inappropriate to scratch isn't necessarily being deceptive. His underwear may not be where it belongs, or he may have a health problem that makes him itch everywhere. There are illnesses that trigger lip biting. Those gestures alone are not proof that someone is lying.

Someone who is lying goes on the defensive. He retracts and caves inward. He forces the gesture after the words. He rambles and mumbles and doesn't give direct answers. His smile never reaches his eyes. He gives shorter answers and changes the topic. He rarely uses I and me. His information is inconsistent. He averts his gaze. He may withhold details or gush with too much detail. It's more in the quality of what he says and what he didn’t say. He answers a question with a question. He wants to escape the interrogation as soon as possible. His voice pitch rises because he is anxious. He blinks, licks his lips, and maintains poor eye contact. He gestures with palms up in a plea.

He may rub or scratch his nose, neck, or jaw. The stress makes him itch, sweat, and flush. He may stammer and mess up his words. He may hold his head still. His limbs feel wooden. He may lean forward, resting his elbows on a table or his knees, anything to make his body smaller. He places a barrier between you. He may slide an object between you or step behind a chair.

Liars often say honestly, believe me, or I'm telling the truth. He may be smiling, but inside he is sweating. His brain races to come up with the details it lacks in answer to your questions. It is said that a liar doesn't memorize the story backwards, so asking him to repeat the information regressively trips him up.

For example, Dick asks Jane where she has been all day. She replies that she went to the hairdressers, the department store, Starbucks for a coffee, to the mall, and finally the grocery store. This answer displays the too much information rule. Most women would say, "I had my hair done and went shopping."

If Dick asks questions like, “So, when did you go to Starbucks?" Jane has to think hard about what she just made up. Did she say she stopped at Starbucks before or after department store? If your teen gives you a list, ask him to repeat it backwards. I bet he can't.

Jane might give Dick a long list if he makes the mistake of saying, "So, what have you done all day?" Those are fighting words and Jane may respond with a laundry list of the household chores, child-centered activities, and errands she accomplished in the space of eight hours punctuated by slamming drawers or cabinet doors, and a tone that drips acid. She isn't lying.

I hope you've enjoyed our lessons on body language. Now, go revise! If you want more hints on how check out Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers.

http://www.amazon.com/Story-Building-Blocks-III-Revision/dp/1475011369

http://www.amazon.com/Story-Building-Blocks-III-Revision-ebook/dp/B007SPPL68

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15. 3000 Thank Yous & GIVEAWAY

So, last week something pretty cool happened...we managed to attract our 3000th Esteemed Stalker. Look to the right. Now back at me. Now eat some bacon. Back at me.

Worthy of celebrating, yes? We thought so too!

Becca and I are super fond of celebrating around here: Milestones. Writing Heroes. Our awesome Musers. So it's only fitting we SMOOSH everything together for a fantabulous giveaway!

THE PRIZES:




1 copy of WRITING HERO JANICE HARDY'S MG Fantasy THE SHIFTER (or any other book by this author)

 



1 copy of WRITING HERO ELIZABETH SPANN CRAIG'S Adult Mystery HICKORY SMOKED SUICIDE (or any other book by this author)






 



1 copy of WRITING HERO CYNTHIA LEITICH SMITH'S YA Paranormal DIABOLICAL (or any other book by this author)







Oh, and there's MORE.

...Do you use the EMOTION THESAURUS?
...Are you excited to see it in book form in April 2012?
...Would you like to WIN a PRE-RELEASE ebook copy?

MORE PRIZES:

10 pre-release copies of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Guide to Character Expression (as soon as they're finished being formatted, we'll get them into your hot little hands...no waiting for a release date!)

Becca and I are super excited about this book, and up until now, its contents have been a well kept secret. Well, time to spill the beans. Here's a peek into what the ebook version offers to writers:

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16. Random Acts of Kindness Day 2: Win, Win, WIN!

How great was yesterday? I loved seeing all the Random Acts of Kindness throughout the writing community. A big thank you to all the great Bloggers & Tweeters & FBers who made this secret blitz happen--just another example of why writers are so amazing!

And now, I get to spring another surprise! Today, The Bookshelf Muse is turning the Random Acts of Kindness Blitz over to the INDUSTRY! All this week, our writing and publishing partners will be offering some amazing RAOK gifts for you to WIN.

When I explained the idea of celebrating writers to Industry Leaders, everyone wanted to get involved. Our RAOK sponsors loved the idea because they see first hand the hard work and commitment within the community. Not only is there a strong supportive spirit of writers helping writers, but there's the incredible dedication to the craft itself. So tune in each day as they show their RAOK generosity and celebrate the contribution of writers. Who knows, maybe you'll win something that will make your writing path a lot easier!

Today, you have 5 chances to win, so read on!

RAOK Gift #1: FOUR Scrivener Software packages (2 PC, 2 Mac)

Scrivener is billed as 'your complete writing studio' and it really is. This software, developed by a writer for writers, is the complete package. How many notebooks do you fill up as you research, brainstorm, outline, create character sketches and finally draft and revise your novel? Well, flipping through that stack of paper or set of binders is a thing of the past with Scrivener! Organize, storyboard, make notes and research all in the same place, and best of all, access it all as you write. The index card and cork board system is nothing short of brilliant. Simply put, Scrivener is a writer's best friend. I love how they evolve to serve writers in this new world of publishing, like using the compile feature to export manuscripts to Kindle or epub formats!


MORE good news: David and the crew at Scrivener loved the idea of RAOK for writers so much they are giving out software packages every day this week!

RAOK #2: ONE Premium Membership to Query Tracker (1 year)

Many of you are looking for an agent or publisher, and I hope, hope, hope you visit 40 Comments on Random Acts of Kindness Day 2: Win, Win, WIN!, last added: 5/16/2012
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17. The Plot Whisperer: Benefits of Plotting in Scenes + GIVEAWAY

I am triple-fudge-sundae excited to welcome Martha Alderson (aka The PLOT WHISPERER) to The Bookshelf Muse as she sends The Plot Whisperer Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises to Help You Create Compelling Stories off into the world. This workbook is a companion to the incredibly popular The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master. Martha as you may remember, was featured as a Writing Hero not too long ago, and in true helping fashion, is generously offering a copy of her new Plot Whisperer Workbook to 3 lucky commenters!

Here's Martha on the Benefits of Plotting in Scenes!

~ ~ ~ 

Some writers write by the seat of their pants. Others prefer to pre-plot first, write after. Some write and plot, write and plot, write and plot. Eventually, every writer who sticks with her writing achieves a draft or a partial made up of scenes. The leap from the generative stage of writing scenes to the analytical stage of analyzing what you have written often leave writers frozen or in a tangled heap.

Analyze Your Plot by Scenes
In a scene a character acts and reacts to people, places, and events. In this respect, scenes are the basic building blocks of your story. But, as with any structure, if you have the wrong scenes or if they’re assembled incorrectly, your story can—unexpectedly—collapse.

Before you can create a visual map for analyzing critical story information, presentation flow, and the overall story sequence, you have to have scenes. Likely, you have heard the writer’s mantra: “Show, don’t tell.” Summary tells. Scenes show.

I use the following partial scene from the middle-grade Newbery Medal-winning novel Holes by Louis Sachar, an example for analyzing a scene from my workbook.

Stanley Yelnats has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center where the boys build character by spending all day, every day, digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep.

[Stanley] glanced helplessly at his shovel. It wasn’t defective. He was defective.
He noticed a thin crack in the ground. He placed the point of his shovel on top of it, then jumped on the back of the back with both feet.
The shovel sank a few inches into the packed earth.
He smiled. For once in his life it paid to be overweight.
He leaned on the shaft and pried up his first shovelful of dirt, then dumped it off to the side.
Only ten million more to go, he thought, then placed the shovel back in the crack and jumped on it again.
He unearthed several shovelfuls of dirt in this manner, before it occurred to him that he was dumping his dirt within the perimeter of his hole. He laid his shovel flat on the ground and marked where the edges of his hole would be. Five feet was awfully wide.
 He moved the dirt he’d already dug up out past his mark. He took a drink from his canteen. Five feet would be awfully deep, too.

Scenes that Show Emotion
This scene, as do all good scenes, shows moment-to-moment action in real story time. The reader experiences the work as Stanley does it and learns about the protagonist, not because the author tells us but because he shows us through Stanley’s actions. We learn the protagonist is overweight and can laugh at himself. We learn he has staying power because rather than give up and suffer the consequences he finds a way to break the earth open. We learn he is bright in that he quickly realizes his mistake in dumping the dirt within the perimeter of his hole and immediately rectifies the situation.

The details of Stanley jumping on the back of the shovel blade with both feet, leaning on the shaft, measuring the hole, and taking a drink from his canteen draw the reader into the moment of the scene. The reader attaches viscerally to the fleeting happiness Stanley feels at being heavy enough to sink the shovel a few inches into the packed earth, his despondency when he understands how wide five feet actually is, his momentary success in prying up his first shovelful, and his disappointment in counting “only ten million more to go”––not to mention his despair when he acknowledges the full magnitude of the task in front of him.

Create a List of Scenes
A partial list of scenes from the beginning of the award-winning middle grade novel Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan is an example used in the companion Plot Whisperer Workbook.

The novel is set during the time of the American Great Depression and is about a young Mexican girl, who’s sense of self is stripped when she and her mother are forced to leave their life of privilege in Mexico for an uncertain future in the United States as farm workers.

In analyzing Esperanza Rising, create a list of the novel’s scenes (we only went a couple of scenes past the one-quarter mark and into the middle of the story). For your exercise, list your scenes all the way to the end of your story. Shorten scene titles while still capturing the major plot elements of the scene. Each scene title should take up no more than one line of the following scene list.

It’s not necessary for you to have written all (or any) of your scenes. Just list scene ideas in the order in which you envision them landing in your story. If your book is made up of many small chapters, each one encapsulating a scene, list events in the story by chapter.

The trick to this exercise is not to see how many scenes you can list. Instead, you want to identify and list scenes that advance the story on a multitude of plot levels.

Remember that it may take you several tries before you get the list in an order that satisfies you. For this reason, I recommend using a pencil instead of a pen, so you can erase parts of your first ordering and move scenes around. Also remember that it’s often a good idea to try out this exercise using scenes from a favorite book. The more you practice this analysis and construction, the better you’ll get at it.
~ ~ ~

Martha Alderson, aka the Plot Whisperer, is the author of The Plot Whisperer Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises to Help You Create Compelling Stories
 – a companion workbook to The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master (Adams Media, a division of F + W Media). She has also written Blockbuster Plots: Pure & Simple (Illusion Press) and several ebooks and dvds on plot, including a dvd for writers of children’s and young adult novels. As an international plot consultant for writers, Martha’s clients include best-selling authors, New York editors, and Hollywood movie directors. She teaches plot workshops to novelists, memoirists, and screenwriters privately, at plot retreats, through Learning Annex, RWA, SCBWI, CWC chapter meetings, at writers' conferences and Writers Store where she takes writers beyond the words and into the very heart of a story.

As the founder of Blockbuster Plots for Writers  and December, International Plot Writing Month, Martha manages an award-winning blog for writers, awarded by Writers Digest 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012. Her vlog, How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay covers 27 steps to plotting your story from beginning to end. Find her on Twitter, and if you like, add her workbook to your Goodreads list!

Would you like to take your writing to the next level with Martha's intuitive Plot Whisperer Workbook? This giveaway is open internationally, so just leave a comment with some contact info and share if you plot your scenes already, or if this is a technique you'd like to try. As always, tweets and shares are greatly appreciated. Good luck, everyone!

CONTEST NOW CLOSED! Thanks everyone! 

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18. NEW Writing Resource: Writing Grief in Fiction

Hi everyone! Today I'm welcoming my good friend Denise Jaden, author of Losing Faith and Never Enough (Simon Pulse), two very powerful contemporary Young Adult novels. I am thrilled to be able to share the news (and the cover) of Denise's foray into writing craft books! Her upcoming October release, Writing With A Heavy Heart: Using Grief and Loss to Stretch Your Fiction looks to be an excellent resource for all writers and I can't wait to get my hands on it! Rather than me explain how this book will help writers infuse their work with raw emotion, I'll turn it over to Denise.

A New Writing Craft Book: Writing Grief in Fiction

Grief alone is not enough to make a novel. It’s the backdrop, sometimes the obstacle, but books must be flavored with other emotions. Many an agent or editor will tell you that the first few pages of a manuscript are vital to selling your work. This is especially true in a work that deals with heavy subject matter. One question writing professionals may have in the back of their minds as they read the description of your book is, “Will this book be too heavy-handed?”

While preparing to teach a workshop for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in early 2011, I began to study the subject of grief in fiction. I chose the topic because both of my books at the time (one out on shelves, the other about to release) had the common theme of a character facing grief. I hoped to look back over my process of writing these books and find a number of enlightening nuggets to teach other writers about how to use grief more effectively in fiction.

It turned out, after scouring through my manuscripts and revisions, I felt like I actually had very little to share. I started to think about how much research I was going to have to do in order to put together an informative presentation on grief—a subject I was starting to believe I knew very little about.

Later that spring, a series of wrecking balls came pummeling at my life that quickly changed my understanding and knowledge on the subject. My tragedies started with a painful and heart-breaking miscarriage. Shortly after that, my dad died in a sudden and unexpected work accident. My family was close, so this was certainly the most brutal of the wrecking balls. In the aftermath of the accident, my son took a fall and had to be rushed to the hospital with a head wound, and finally, my husband’s place of business burned down. All of these things happened in a matter of about four months. These were all unexpected losses, and even though a year later, I am seeing some wonderful things that have come as a result—a closer family, a more prosperous working environment—the losses still affect me almost every day.

As much as I didn’t want it, I’ve had the opportunity to think on some teachable aspects of grief as I was walking my journey. I’m not a doctor or counselor. I am only a person who has explored fictional grief, experienced true grief, and written down some conclusions of how to better work the subject matter into writing.

I talk about how to increase conflict and create more engaging characters through grief and loss. Through explanation, examples, and exercises, I look at many different aspects and expressions of grief and apply it to a variety of characters and stories. Grief is not a story on its own, but it can be used to push things further.

I’ve highlighted specific ideas of how to reflect each part of the grieving process, without any melodrama, and increase character depth and conflict at the same time. I hope they’ll spur you on to come up with many of your own ideas of how to stretch your stories and prod your characters into a more engaging story!

This new book is both a labor of love and of pain, and I hope it will help enrich both your fiction and your life.


Writing With A Heavy Heart: Using Grief and Loss to Stretch Your Fiction

In her first non-fiction mini-book, Denise Jaden explores the stages and outlets of grief and how to implement them into your fiction to create more interesting characters and a more engaging plot. Some topics of this book include: grieving before the loss, spiritual matters, and how grief affects different ages, personality types and gender.

~ ~ ~

You guys know Becca and I, and how we are all over anything to do with emotion. I think I speak for both of us to say we're excited for this book, because we are huge advocates of using personal experience to bring realism to the portrayal of a character's feelings. This is a difficult area of emotion, one that many writers struggle with to write authentically. Denise's experiences with grief, along with her incredible mastery of it in her fictional worlds make this a must-read for me.

If you want to stay in the loop in regards to this release, make sure to visit Denise's blog, follow her on Twitter and add her book to your Goodreads list! 

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19. Adding Emotional Depth: Video

Adding emotional depth to a novel is important enough to warrant a special pass through the manuscript. This video talks about how I did that on a recent mss.

If you can’t see this video, click here.

This is an experiment with doing a video to explain something about writing and revising. Please comment and let me know what you think about doing this with video.

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20. Using My Fears in Writing, by Laura Pauling

I've got TWO exciting somethings for you all today. First off, I just recently discovered an awesome resource: the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), an organization dedicated to promoting, supporting, advocating for and advancing the interests of independent, self-publishing authors. Their blog is just stuffed with helpful information for anyone interested in indie publishing and I'm contributing today with a post on Conveying Emotion Effectively via The Emotion Thesaurus. I'd love for you to stop by and see what nuggets you can glean at their blog.

Secondly, and even MORE amazing: we're Stop #5 on Laura Pauling's blog tour for her new release! She's here today to tell you a little bit about her book and how she was able to use her fear while writing it. Oh, and she's got some tasty tidbits up for grabs so don't forget to sign up to win one of her awesome prize packages!






When Bianca and Melvin brave the jungle to rescue their grandfather, they stumble upon the ancient Maya city of Etza, where the people haven’t aged in 2,000 years. They must learn to work together as they face loincloth-wearing skeletons from the underworld, a backstabbing princess, and an ancient prophecy that says in three days the city will be destroyed.

No problem. They’ll find Zeb and zip right out of there. The fact that a crazy king wants to serve Bianca up to the gods as an appetizer is just a minor technicality. But this ancient evil dude has finally met his match.


Using my fears in my writing 

We are often told to write what we know. One problem. I’ve never lived with the Ancient Maya and I’ve never visited the temples. I’d love to! Believe me. But I had to rely on research and others’ first hand experiences.

But I did use fear in this story.

When Bianca, the main character, faces the stone of sacrifice and the king who wants to offer her up to the gods, I channeled my fear of squirrels and hornets. Sounds silly but it worked.

Yes, I’m the girl who screams and jerks and runs away at the sight of the brown insects with hanging legs and a buzz that strikes terror in my heart.

Last year, my family was gone. I was home alone and it happened to be the first really warm spring day. So, of course, as usual, a hornet buzzed up in the sky light in my bedroom.

I was by myself. And I had to take care of it because no way would I be able to sleep at night.

I’d like to say that I was brave and killed it with the end of a broomstick like my husband does, but no, I came out with the big guns. Raid. I know. Bad. Chemicals. Emergencies only!

I hovered by the entrance to my room, Raid in hand. The buzzing was constant. I had to do this. But seriously. My legs were shaking. And I realized that shaking legs in extreme fear is not a cliché. It’s very real. I could barely breathe. Sweat broke out all over my body.

I sprayed and down it fell. Except there was more angry buzzing! Meaning there was one half alive on the floor and another one in the window. Two! I started crying because it wasn’t over.

I sprayed the second and smashed them both. Then I crashed, my body weak from the adrenaline rush.

So when I had to write about Bianca facing death, I used my experiences. Okay, I agree. Facing death by having your heart ripped out is not the same as killing two hornets. But it felt like it to me!

Thanks Angela and Becca for having me today!

How To Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings released in November. Pugalicious Press did a fantastic job, and I’m extremely happy with the results. This book would make a fantastic gift for boys or girls who enjoy adventure stories with lots of excitement! You can purchase it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You can read the first chapter here. Thankfully, my journey is just beginning and I’m excited to see where it leads. Click here for the list of blog tour stops! Enter to win these prize packages!

Prize Package One (signed paperbacks)


Prize Package Two (signed paperbacks)


Prize Package Three



  Refresh the page if you can't see the Rafflecopter form! a Rafflecopter giveaway


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21. When Emotion Is Free

EmotionsEmotion is what we strive for in writing. Get your reader to feel something! This isn’t a new idea. There’s been plenty of blog posts and craft books on the topic. It’s why Twilight is so successful, because the audience falls in love with Edward. Not stellar writing, sure, but it definitely got thousands of readers to feel something. Yes, this may seem like a no-brainer. We go to a comedy film to laugh. We read a drama to cry. The point is to create a catharsis.

But why is emotion so important? Possibly more important than plot or even good writing?

There’s a quote from Janet Burroway’s book Writing Fiction that has been on my mind for weeks, and I think it gets it the heart of this question.

Burroway says:

“Literature offers us feelings for which we do not have to pay. It allows us to love, condemn, condone, hope, dread, and hate without any of the risks those feelings ordinarily involve, for even good feelings – intimacy, power, speed, drunkenness, passion – have consequences, and powerful feeling may risk powerful consequences.”

This quote stuck with me because it has so many implications for writing and what an audience wants from a literary experience.

I’ve always hated the concepts of writing as entertainment or even escapism. But the idea of experiencing emotion – emotion that is not our own, that we pay no consequences for – is in a way entertainment. But it’s not “entertainment” as a word associated with money or the market, but entertainment as experience. It’s a real human need to feel, to connect, to have the opportunity to experience something – gain understanding – but in a safe environment without consequence.

And that is pretty powerful.

TexasChainsaw1The idea of free emotion puts a new slant on many of own personal struggles with writing honestly. I’m often annoyed with “rules” that there must be conflict, or catharsis, or change in a character. I’m not convinced these things happen in “real life” – and yet perhaps that’s the point. Emotion without consequence allows us to step out of reality, and live vicariously through the fictional characters that are willing to put up the fight, deal with the consequences, and lose everything. We watch a horror film – not because we want someone to chase after us with a chainsaw in real life, but because we want to feel the thrill of fear and not almost die. We want to know the whole gamut of human emotion. And to do that there must be some fabrication, coercion, perhaps even a heightening of the truth, if you like.

Granted, this is a slippery slope. If we read too many romance novels we might forget that great passionate love comes with consequences. You can’t have the glorious love affair without the tears, and the work, and the heartbreak. We might start expecting our partners to be something they aren’t – something easier. We might want a relationship with emotion that’s free.

But then…that’s what books are for. In real life we have to pay the consequences and make the hard decisions.

Breaking the RulesI realize this post is rambling a bit. I’m still wrapping my head around how this affects my work. But it does give me insight and respect for some of the mainstream “popular entertainment” books and films out there. They create an emotional response in their audience – and that’s not easy to pull off.

It also makes me consider the emotional response I want in my reader. Are there enough risks and consequences in my book to create a truly exciting “free” emotional experience? Are my characters really put to the test? Or is my book about creating a pleasurable intellectual experience for my reader? Maybe it isn’t about making a reader cry, but activating their curiosity, or letting them feel the wonder of a new phrase of language.

The concept of “free emotion” opens you to so many possibilities.


1 Comments on When Emotion Is Free, last added: 12/28/2012
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22. When Emotion Is Free

EmotionsEmotion is what we strive for in writing. Get your reader to feel something! This isn’t a new idea. There’s been plenty of blog posts and craft books on the topic. It’s why Twilight is so successful, because the audience falls in love with Edward. Not stellar writing, sure, but it definitely got thousands of readers to feel something. Yes, this may seem like a no-brainer. We go to a comedy film to laugh. We read a drama to cry. The point is to create a catharsis.

But why is emotion so important? Possibly more important than plot or even good writing?

There’s a quote from Janet Burroway’s book Writing Fiction that has been on my mind for weeks, and I think it gets it the heart of this question.

Burroway says:

“Literature offers us feelings for which we do not have to pay. It allows us to love, condemn, condone, hope, dread, and hate without any of the risks those feelings ordinarily involve, for even good feelings – intimacy, power, speed, drunkenness, passion – have consequences, and powerful feeling may risk powerful consequences.”

This quote stuck with me because it has so many implications for writing and what an audience wants from a literary experience.

I’ve always hated the concepts of writing as entertainment or even escapism. But the idea of experiencing emotion – emotion that is not our own, that we pay no consequences for – is in a way entertainment. But it’s not “entertainment” as a word associated with money or the market, but entertainment as experience. It’s a real human need to feel, to connect, to have the opportunity to experience something – gain understanding – but in a safe environment without consequence.

And that is pretty powerful.

TexasChainsaw1The idea of free emotion puts a new slant on many of own personal struggles with writing honestly. I’m often annoyed with “rules” that there must be conflict, or catharsis, or change in a character. I’m not convinced these things happen in “real life” – and yet perhaps that’s the point. Emotion without consequence allows us to step out of reality, and live vicariously through the fictional characters that are willing to put up the fight, deal with the consequences, and lose everything. We watch a horror film – not because we want someone to chase after us with a chainsaw in real life, but because we want to feel the thrill of fear and not almost die. We want to know the whole gamut of human emotion. And to do that there must be some fabrication, coercion, perhaps even a heightening of the truth, if you like.

Granted, this is a slippery slope. If we read too many romance novels we might forget that great passionate love comes with consequences. You can’t have the glorious love affair without the tears, and the work, and the heartbreak. We might start expecting our partners to be something they aren’t – something easier. We might want a relationship with emotion that’s free.

But then…that’s what books are for. In real life we have to pay the consequences and make the hard decisions.

Breaking the RulesI realize this post is rambling a bit. I’m still wrapping my head around how this affects my work. But it does give me insight and respect for some of the mainstream “popular entertainment” books and films out there. They create an emotional response in their audience – and that’s not easy to pull off.

It also makes me consider the emotional response I want in my reader. Are there enough risks and consequences in my book to create a truly exciting “free” emotional experience? Are my characters really put to the test? Or is my book about creating a pleasurable intellectual experience for my reader? Maybe it isn’t about making a reader cry, but activating their curiosity, or letting them feel the wonder of a new phrase of language.

The concept of “free emotion” opens you to so many possibilities.


0 Comments on When Emotion Is Free as of 12/19/2012 12:14:00 AM
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23. Making the Pages Cry



Woooot! It's FRIDAY, y'all! And I've just discovered that instead of spending hours looking for free photos that fit my posts, I can just spell out what I want to say with my kids' magnetic letters. I have a feeling you'll be seeing more of these incredibly professional images in the future.

Riveting as this is, it's not what I popped in to say. What I really wanted to share is that I'm over at Kristen Lamb's blog talking about how to infuse emotion into your writing. If you're not familiar with Kristen's blog...oh my heavens. Just...go. Right this second. It's a gold mine of instruction and inspiration for the creative soul. I hope to see you there.

Have a great weekend!

2 Comments on Making the Pages Cry, last added: 2/22/2013
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24. Engaging the Heart: Poetic Tools for Writing Emotion (Part 1)

March Dystropia Madnessby Jen Bailey

As writers who are true to our characters, we allow them to express themselves as they are able. We typically rely on actions, dialogue, physical reactions, and thoughts to do this, but what’s a writer to do when the character in question is emotionally detached, that is, unaware of his or her emotions?

Writing emotionally unaware characters can be challenging because they are unable to communicate their feelings about what would normally be viewed as emotionally-charged incidents. This kind of detachment can be all-encompassing (e.g. a result of psychological trauma: abuse, neglect, abandonment), or transient (e.g. hearing very jarring news). The character may also have a highly intellectual and logical personality and not be attuned to their own emotion. No matter what the source of detachment, if not handled carefully, there is a great chance of losing your reader if they can’t become, or stay, emotionally engaged in your story.

In part one of this blog post, I’ll discuss a couple of ways in which you can engage your reader’s heart all while staying true to your emotionally detached character. Using examples from the novel Quaking by Kathryn Erskine, I’ll show you how you can evoke the emotion your character cannot express through the use of sound-related poetic language.

Poetic Tool #1: Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoetic words sound like their meanings and call to mind images and/or feelings for the reader. The use of these words is powerful but limited, as they can only be used to describe sounds. Here are some examples of onomatopoetic words – pay attention to what they evoke in you as you read them:  ring, hiss, clatter, bang, grunt, slam, and snap.

In Quaking, Matt, an emotionally detached character, is taunted by a bully she nicknamed “Rat.” Erskine describes Matt’s encounter with the Rat as follows:

“I smell his smoke. His sneer and hiss are quiet but still forceful. ‘You’re dead…Quaker!’” (Erskine 217, emphasis added).

The words sneer and hiss are onomatopoetic. They imitate the dark, sinister sound of Rat’s voice for the reader. The reader thus feels Matt’s emotion, even though she cannot express it.

Poetic Tool #2: Phonetic Intensives

Arp and Johnson define phonetic intensives as words “whose sound … to some degree connects to their meaning.”   Here are some examples:

Phonic Intensives

It is important to note that while these phonetic intensives can contribute to meaning, they are not in themselves prescriptive of meaning. For example, many words that begin with the ‘fl’ sound can be associated with moving light, but there are many others that have nothing at all to do with that association: think flower, flounder, flask, flamingo. Phonetic intensives must be used judiciously.

Let’s look at an example where they are used well:

I am cold all over. He knows. I am dead. It is really over. (Erskine 217)

The long o sound creates a feeling of a moan coming from Matt and to the ear of the reader. It is like a lament and can place the reader with Matt, evoking the sorrow and melancholy Matt is not expressing in this scene.

While the use of onomatopoeia and phonetic intensives is somewhat limited, the sound-related poetic tools I will be discussing in part 2 can be more carefully crafted to obtain your desired effect and keep your reader engaged.

Stay tuned!

Jen Bailey Author PhotoJen Bailey lives in Ottawa, Ontario and has a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She loves playing around with rhythm and sound in her writing. Should you like that kind of thing too, she recommends you read Quaking by Kathryn Erskine, Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, and any poetry you can get your hands on.

Follow her musings on writers’ craft and the writing life at writefiercely.wordpress.com

This blog post was brought to you as part of the March Dystropian Madness Blog Series.

Sources:
Arp, Thomas R. and Greg Johnson. Perrine’s Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry. 11th ed. Boston, Mass.: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005. Print.
Erskine, Kathryn. Quaking. New York: Philomel Books, 2007. Print.

11 Comments on Engaging the Heart: Poetic Tools for Writing Emotion (Part 1), last added: 3/20/2013
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25. Engaging the Heart: Poetic Tools for Writing Emotion (Part 1)

March Dystropia Madnessby Jen Bailey

As writers who are true to our characters, we allow them to express themselves as they are able. We typically rely on actions, dialogue, physical reactions, and thoughts to do this, but what’s a writer to do when the character in question is emotionally detached, that is, unaware of his or her emotions?

Writing emotionally unaware characters can be challenging because they are unable to communicate their feelings about what would normally be viewed as emotionally-charged incidents. This kind of detachment can be all-encompassing (e.g. a result of psychological trauma: abuse, neglect, abandonment), or transient (e.g. hearing very jarring news). The character may also have a highly intellectual and logical personality and not be attuned to their own emotion. No matter what the source of detachment, if not handled carefully, there is a great chance of losing your reader if they can’t become, or stay, emotionally engaged in your story.

In part one of this blog post, I’ll discuss a couple of ways in which you can engage your reader’s heart all while staying true to your emotionally detached character. Using examples from the novel Quaking by Kathryn Erskine, I’ll show you how you can evoke the emotion your character cannot express through the use of sound-related poetic language.

Poetic Tool #1: Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoetic words sound like their meanings and call to mind images and/or feelings for the reader. The use of these words is powerful but limited, as they can only be used to describe sounds. Here are some examples of onomatopoetic words – pay attention to what they evoke in you as you read them:  ring, hiss, clatter, bang, grunt, slam, and snap.

In Quaking, Matt, an emotionally detached character, is taunted by a bully she nicknamed “Rat.” Erskine describes Matt’s encounter with the Rat as follows:

“I smell his smoke. His sneer and hiss are quiet but still forceful. ‘You’re dead…Quaker!’” (Erskine 217, emphasis added).

The words sneer and hiss are onomatopoetic. They imitate the dark, sinister sound of Rat’s voice for the reader. The reader thus feels Matt’s emotion, even though she cannot express it.

Poetic Tool #2: Phonetic Intensives

Arp and Johnson define phonetic intensives as words “whose sound … to some degree connects to their meaning.”   Here are some examples:

Phonic Intensives

It is important to note that while these phonetic intensives can contribute to meaning, they are not in themselves prescriptive of meaning. For example, many words that begin with the ‘fl’ sound can be associated with moving light, but there are many others that have nothing at all to do with that association: think flower, flounder, flask, flamingo. Phonetic intensives must be used judiciously.

Let’s look at an example where they are used well:

I am cold all over. He knows. I am dead. It is really over. (Erskine 217)

The long o sound creates a feeling of a moan coming from Matt and to the ear of the reader. It is like a lament and can place the reader with Matt, evoking the sorrow and melancholy Matt is not expressing in this scene.

While the use of onomatopoeia and phonetic intensives is somewhat limited, the sound-related poetic tools I will be discussing in part 2 can be more carefully crafted to obtain your desired effect and keep your reader engaged.

Stay tuned!

Jen Bailey Author PhotoJen Bailey lives in Ottawa, Ontario and has a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She loves playing around with rhythm and sound in her writing. Should you like that kind of thing too, she recommends you read Quaking by Kathryn Erskine, Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, and any poetry you can get your hands on.

Follow her musings on writers’ craft and the writing life at writefiercely.wordpress.com

This blog post was brought to you as part of the March Dystropian Madness Blog Series.

Sources:
Arp, Thomas R. and Greg Johnson. Perrine’s Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry. 11th ed. Boston, Mass.: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005. Print.
Erskine, Kathryn. Quaking. New York: Philomel Books, 2007. Print.

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