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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Emotion, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 45
1. 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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2. 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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3. 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/


5 Comments on Creating Emotion Within Dialogue, last added: 3/28/2013
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4. 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:

 


0 Comments on Musicality and Reader Emotions as of 8/12/2013 3:54:00 AM
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5. 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:

 


2 Comments on Musicality and Reader Emotions, last added: 8/12/2013
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6. 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.

The post Understanding Character Wounds: A List Of Common Themes appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

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7. 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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8. 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)


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Prize Package Three



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16 Comments on Using My Fears in Writing, by Laura Pauling, last added: 12/9/2012
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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. 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.

0 Comments on Engaging the Heart: Poetic Tools for Writing Emotion (Part 1) as of 3/18/2013 12:58:00 PM
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14. 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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15. Poets Talking About Poetry

Robert Frost (1875-1963) American Poet.
Poetryis finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses theuniversal, and history only the particular.

Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC) Greek philosopher.
Poetryis not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not theexpression of personality but an escape from personality. But, of course, onlythose we have personality and emotion know what it means to want to escape fromthese things.

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) American-English poet andplaywright.
IfI feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that ispoetry.

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16. One thing too many…

The Straw That Broke the Camel's Back

Image by mikecogh via Flickr

What was the last straw that broke your camel’s back, overwhelming the otherwise calm and collected you?


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17. Nuts and Bolts and Chocolate

Picture book author Tony Johnston has over 125 books for children in her repertoire! She was kind enough to speak at the 2011 Southern California SCBWI Writer’s Day and share her immense knowledge and insight. This was one of the most heartfelt talks I’ve ever been too. Johnston is passionate and moved by her responsibility as a writer.

The following notes were taken during her talk:

"Giant" by N.C.Wyeth

Where Do You Find Inspiration?

  • “Keep alive to everything.” – N. C. Wyeth
  • Bumble through life at the ready.
  • “If I keep alive to everything, a story will find me.” –Tony Johnston
  • “I have not exhausted the ground I stand on.” – N. C. Wyeth (on why he doesn’t need to paint the alps. There is plenty to see and explore where he lives.)
  • Notice things more and more. Inspiration doesn’t always come from an emotional core.
  • The LA Times is a great place to find stories.

 Let the Feelings Catch You:

  • “Be caught by feelings.”
  • “Words from the heart, enter the heart.” (Saying in the Torah ??)
  • Sentimentality is the cheapest lie.
  • You don’t have to include significance and meaning to have a heartfelt moment in your book.
  • Make ‘em laugh, but do it honestly.
  • Heartfelt silliness is also an emotion.
  • When writing about difficult subjects (like racism) remember that children don’t flinch. It is the grownups that flinch.

On Writing Picture Books:

  • Keep it simple.
  • “How difficult it is to be simple.” – Vincent Van Gogh
  • Writing simply does not mean words must be short and easy. It should be the words that belong.
  • “The difference between the right word and almost the right word can be the difference between the lightning and a lightning bug.” – Mark Twain
  • Don’t slip into Cinderella’s Syndrome. Don’t try to fit a story into something that doesn’t fit. The glass shoe is the shape/structure of your story, if you try to force it, it will break.” Johnston’s example of this was a picture book that was really a novel, but she didn’t realize it till an editor pointed it out to her.
  • Find the right form for your story.
  • Listen to your editor.
  • Don’t sentimentalize or trivialize.
  • The process for every book is different.

The Essence of Childhood:

  • Great picture books deal with the essence of childhood. Essence is the spirit, the pith, the heart of a story.
  • The language of essences is clean, like an arrow, straightforward.
  • “To the memory nothing is ever truly lost.” –Eudora Welty
  • You must get back to the place where it hurts.
  • “No tears in the writer. No tears in the reader.” –Robert Frost

Be Bold When You Write:

  • Don’t play it safe. Writing is about risk taking!
  • Writing is about sharing yourself.
  • “Don’t hold anything back. Don’t hold anything for the next

    2 Comments on Nuts and Bolts and Chocolate, last added: 5/31/2011
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18. Characters: Bigger Than Life

Character Emotions MUST Spill Out into Big Actions

Characters, even supporting characters, should be bigger than life. No flat characters. Fiction demands round, “fleshed-out” characters. I’m working on a revision and I know this. Yet, when a friend read my revision, her response was that I needed big actions for my characters.

In the revision, I had noticed that the supporting character (Father) didn’t have much reaction to the main character (Laurel). I revised, adding in actions. But the actions were small: fist clenched, raising eyebrow, turning away.

Nothing wrong with those actions if Matt Damon was doing them on the big screen. There, the small actions would mean more. But think of him as Bourne and you’ll remember the BIG actions.

Revise for Emotions that Spill Out into Action

Revised: now, Father picks up a blanket and shakes it, snapping it up and down. He throws it onto a bed and when it falls off, he wads it up and throws it at the wall. It’s not the huge actions of an action-thriller, but in the context of the current scene, these are big actions. (Make sure you keep everything relative and in context!)

Even supporting characters need big actions. So, why didn’t I use them before? I think it’s because I’m a very restrained person myself. I keep a tight rein on emotions, not letting them spill out into big actions. That means for my characters, I need to push them to build emotions so strong that they MUST spill over into big actions.

And yes, the revision is much stronger. My early readers report that the Father is starting to come alive. Hello, Dad!

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19. Frustration: Your Novel's Best Friend

You're thinking that title must be a typo, aren't you? It isn't, I promise. :) Frustration is awesome.

Sure, as writers, we want NOTHING to do with this emotion. Between manuscripts returning from critique partners with their guts ripped out to a book review that compares our writing skill to that of a lobotomized hamster, frustration awaits at every turn.

We develop coping strategies to avoid it: pep talks before opening email. Chugging Diet Dr. Pepper by the six pack. Sucking on the sweet innards of M&Ms, pretending each one contains a Muse's orphan tears and gives us writing superpowers. *coughs* What, you don't do that? Erm, yeah....me neither.

So, on the keyboard side of things, frustration sucks. But on the page? MAGIC.

Frustration--that hair-pulling, chair-kicking delight--is what drives our novel. It juices our plot, makes our characters twitchy and unfulfilled, and glues the reader to the page. Keeping characters from their goals creates Frustration (AKA Tension, the Heartbeat of a story).

So while WE try to avoid this emotion, it's important we make sure our CHARACTERS don't.  In this state a character reveals who they really are. Frustration is emotional GOLD, forcing them to ACT, which pushes the story forward.  

Of course, no two people express their Frustration the same way, and neither should characters. Understanding their Emotional Range (how they express emotion and to what degree) is key to creating believable emotion. 

When up against a wall, a character might:

Retreat inward
Run from the problem
Try to manipulate/influence
Give up
Get angry
Vent out loud
Cry
React with violence
Feel depressed
Lay blame
Seek revenge
Take out anger on others
Berate themselves
Ask for help
Analyze what happened in hopes of understanding
Fall into a bottle, feed an addiction, drink orphan tears
Act like it doesn't matter
Bounce back & try again

Do Reactions Fit the Character? 

A hardened criminal character isn't going to ask for help or have himself a weepy moment. A skittish, shy teen isn't about to rant and rave in the middle of the school, and I doubt a Kindergarten teacher would whip out her AK-47 to get her rage on. These things don't belong in their Emotional Range.

Who our characters are at their core--their values, their sense of self, their confidence levels and insecurities--dictate how they behave. The hardened criminal is gonna get himself some reve

41 Comments on Frustration: Your Novel's Best Friend, last added: 9/15/2011
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20. Illusory Happiness

 

It’s been said that, “When you look at your life, the greatest happiness [es] are family happiness [es].” One of the questions, for me, is whether that statement is true or not.

I’ve had many happy moments in my life with and without family members in attendance. I tend to focus on how one quantifies happiness.

Does extreme happiness always have to be accompanied by tears, for instance? Or, is such a deep emotion as true happiness so overpowering that expression of any kind is beyond the ability of the one experiencing it?

What about a lack of happiness? I’ve seen occasions when great sorrow, not happiness, was what took over when family arrived. Where does a person draw the line of family involvement in one’s personal happiness?

Here’s another example of relevant questions. How many degrees of happiness does a person feel and does everyone feel the same degrees of that emotion and label them the same way? I don’t think anyone has a definitive answer to either of these questions simply because each person’s emotional thermometer registers feelings differently based on personal experience.

When you realize how genuinely moved a person is to meet you, does that evoke great happiness, sweet satisfaction, or deep humility coupled with gratitude. If humility, does that constitute a portion of happiness? If you feel satisfaction only, does that mean that conceit has crept into your thermometer?

You see how complicated emotional definitions and signals are? What if you feel nothing at all except seeming boredom when someone exhibits excitement at shaking your hand and talking with you face-to-face? After all, this could be a cousin that you’ve never met before.

Does your lack of emotion mean that you really don’t want to know any more family, that you’re too important to worry about those on the fringe of the family, or that you’re just a jerk?

Or, could it mean, as it does with me, that caution and trust issues rule your actions and responses during first meetings?

Circumstances dictate our responses to events in our lives. The exact experience also contributes to those responses, as well as the circumstances immediately preceding an event.

For instance, many years ago, when I was teaching in an elementary school, I’d gone outside during recess. I needed some quiet time without children’s voices in my ears or designs on my next thought. I spent my ten minutes breathing in the scent of blooming forsythia and tulips in nearby private yards, listening to birds announcing their romantic intentions, and generally decompressing. The afternoon sun warmed my face and hands, clean air wafted past my nose, and a sense of rightness filled me.

On my way back to the classroom, a curious sensation flooded my body. I stopped walking. I closed my eyes and felt my whole body fill with blinding light from the inside. I could see it, behind my eyelids, flooding through me. Such a wave of pure joy washed over me that there were no words, no other sensations, no sound. All else in the world fell away, leaving me held within this personal lightshow.

It ended, and I nearly cried. I felt in that instant the most amazing happiness. I’ve yearned for another taste of it ever since. I wait for the day I can feel that sensation, that joy, again. Where it came from, or why it came, I have no idea. I don’t care.

I only know that that one blazing event taught me more about joy than a lifetime of other experiences. Nothing can compare to it. I wish everyone could have their own instant of pure joy that they can aspire to feel it again.

 

 

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21. Waiting by the Box

I got a pingback on yesterday’s post and it got me to thinking about another item between family members and friends.

Dreams flow well in letters, don’t they? I think we’ve lost part of that connection, especially because of the internet. No anticipation flutters our heartbeat when we think of getting an email. That sensation came when we waited for real mail, on paper, with ink covering the page like so much ivy growing out toward us, carrying dreams, images, and speculations. Secrets huddled within the lines of word leaves, providing us with tiny thrills and mysteries.

These were the reasons we wrote to cousins, best friends on vacation, or pen pals. Most of that is gone now with the arrival of internet. That loss is what I regret, for now, instead of picking up fountain pen and paper, I reach for a keyboard, and the thought and care that would had gone into writing to a love one has dissipated into a mist of remembered pleasure.

Can you imagine how much of our world’s history, knowledge, and philosophy would not exist if it weren’t for written letters?

Much of the ancient world would be a mystery to use without those letters between philosophers and historians. The treatise is a simple extension of the letter. Those documents formed the very foundation of what we know as literature, scientific notation, constitutions, etc.

Family members wrote to one another, knowing that they might never get a response from the one who’d moved so far away, or the one who’d stayed in the old neighborhood/country. Hope clung to fragile ink-covered pages, written with love, despair, anticipation, disgust, and all the rest of human emotion. Did those pioneers recognize the tradition they followed from a thousand years before?

As we move further into a new world that disdains the tangible personal letter, we need to look back for a moment to imprint in our minds what we’re giving up. Physical remains of letters have survived for thousands of years. One badly timed lightning strike can wipe out years of work or correspondence.

Mother Nature doesn’t care about electrons that floated around or are stored in the ether around us. A scrambled atmosphere can do as much damage in the long run as a flood. All communication is vulnerable to disaster, computer driven no less than the Pony Express.

At the end of the day, though, we choose to use our time to communicate with dreams, aspirations, and secrets from one person to another, or merely to open a channel and punch keys.

The individual decides. Quick and dirty or thoughtful and fulsome? When is the last time letters arrived in your mailbox?


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22. 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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23. 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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24. 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!

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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.
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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! 

25 Comments on The Plot Whisperer: Benefits of Plotting in Scenes + GIVEAWAY, last added: 9/8/2012
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25. 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.

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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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