The cover quote from a well known author on my latest book said that “the love affair would make you laugh, cry and sigh.”
One of the most challenging tasks for a writer of romance, and indeed any genre, is to engage the reader’s emotions. How do you enable the reader to immerse themselves in the lives of the characters, and to experience the full gamut of emotions that the character experiences throughout the development of the story?
For me as a writer, one of the most satisfying comments is to hear that the reader didn’t want to finish the book and leave the characters behind. How many times have you finished a book with a warm glow in your chest, and think about the characters and their experiences for a few days after you put the book down?
Years after reading it, I can still feel the emotion that tugged at my heart as I read the last words of one of my favorite books—Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy—“but each night when I drive toward my southern home and my southern life, I whisper those words: “Lowenstein, Lowenstein.”
Storytelling finesse and creating unforgettable characters will cast a spell over readers and engross them in your story. As well as being a large part of an author’s natural voice, writing true emotion is a craft that can be learned and refined as an author grows. A combination of techniques will draw a reader into an emotional scene. Perhaps you want the reader to experience fear or grief, or fold them in the warm satisfaction of being loved and desired.
Whatever you do must keep them turning the pages and pull them into the story so they want to stay.
So what are these techniques?
The basic blueprint for writing satisfying emotion is comprised of structure, emotion-rich dialogue and narrative, visceral reactions, internal thoughts and setting. I will provide some examples from my most recent book, Italian Affair and briefly deconstruct the example into the craft techniques listed above.
Tight structure is essential to good writing and applies equally to conveying emotion as well as immersing the reader in rich story telling. Tight writing which follows the correct techniques such as showing and not telling, avoiding filtering through the use of words such as felt, watched and heard, as well as effective use of point of view will provide a framework for the characters to interact and speak.
‘Her face was full of mirth and she held his gaze as her lips twitched. What the hell was she on about? Just his luck to sit next to someone who was two bricks short of a load.
“Sorry, I keep forgetting I’m not in Scotland. A balloon…” She tipped her head to the side and he read the mirth in her expression. “Ah…it’s someone who thinks they are pretty damn good. After all, I did catch you checking out me wee arse.”’
In the excerpt above, Tom and Brianna are two characters who have very different temperaments and come from opposite backgrounds. They have just met and dialogue is used to offer an insight into Brianna’s character and to show Tom’s emotional response as she speaks.
Emotion rich narrative and dialogue is used to immerse a reader in the middle of an exchange between characters, whether it is heated, humorous or loving.
Physical cues are given. Her face is full of mirth and her lips twitched.
Facial cues can range from a wrinkled brow, a frown, twitching lips, a smile. Although each micro- movement of the human face can be used to describe emotion, it is a good to vary your description and ensure that facial expressions are not overused in describing emotion. Describing a myriad of facial expressions can slow down pace and draw the reader out of the story. So don’t use the face, the look, the expression constantly. Vary the description to incorporate all body language.
“She tipped her head to the side.” Body language is one of the most powerful ways to show how a character is feeling and reacting to a situation. Visceral reactions are shown bybody language, which comprises a surprisingly high percentage of how we communicate as humans. Most of our communication is non-verbal. If you provide an experience that the reader is familiar with, it can provide an empathy link for the reader. The challenge is to create that empathy link when you are writing a feeling or a response that is out of the reader’s range of experience. Be aware that each reader brings different experiences to their reading and may have a different response or understanding to what you intended.
Physical feelings must be described in depth, even though they may only last for a fleeting second or may be long term. The body can provide a huge number of physical movements that are a clue to the feelings of the characters.
A few examples: anxiety can be shown by hands repeatedly touching one’s face or rubbing or wringing hands together; surprise or shock can be shown by a stiffening of muscles or posture, or fingers touching a gaping mouth. These are shown from the point of view of the observer.
Internal feelings such as tingling skin, a fluttering in the chest or stomach and mental responses such as wanting to hide or leave must be shown from the point of view of the character that is experiencing these physical feelings.
There are many ways physical movement, or internal physical responses can be used to convey emotion. It is one the most powerful tools a writer can use. Good authors are observers of their fellow humans in all situations and it is this observation which strengthens their ability to convey emotion without basic descriptions.
Internal thoughts can be used to express emotion. In this exchange as well as developing Brianna’s character, Tom’s internal thoughts give a clue to his reaction and his befuddlement with her unfamiliar language and behavior. “What the hell was she on about?”
Use internal thoughts briefly and as snippets only and take care not to pull the reader out of the emotion with too much introspection.
All of the above techniques must be used in conjunction with the creation of a rich setting to provide a framework for the characters and their interactions. A good setting will contribute to the emotion of the scene. It will make for an easier transition for the reader from reading the words to immersing themselves in the characters’ heads and hearts because the setting has drawn them in first. Some authors require visual cues to set the scene where the characters interact; others have vivid imaginations and are able to conjure a setting completely from their imagination.
She led him into her bedroom, and Tom closed his eyes as the smell of roses mixed with camphor and mold hit him. Opening them and looking around, his stomach sank. The walls were papered in huge pink roses, and on the east-facing wall a small shrine protruded out into the middle of the room. Tom placed his bags next to the table, which was filled with candles, rosaries, holy cards, and a huge photograph of Uncle Renzo. Incense burned in a small brass receptacle and his stomach moved toward his throat at the mix of the cloying smells.
Here the setting, and the memorabilia in the room takes Tom back to his childhood, through the use of sight, smell and his visceral reaction. His physical reaction makes him more vulnerable to what is to follow.
Effective emotional writing that will make a reader ‘laugh, cry and sigh’ is achieved through tight structure, emotion-rich dialogue and narrative, visceral reactions, internal thoughts and the effective use of setting.
Are there any scenes which evoked an emotional reaction in you as a reader that have stayed with you for a long time? I would love to hear them.
Annie Seaton lives with her husband, and ‘Bob’ the dog and two white cats in a house next to the beach on the east coast of Australia. She sits in her writing chair, gazing at the ocean and writing stories. Their two children are grown and married and she loves spending time gardening, walking on the beach and spoiling her two grandchildren. She has always been fascinated by all things romantic and has found her niche in life writing romance novels, ranging from contemporary to paranormal with a foray into steampunk!
Her debut full length novel, Holiday Affair, a contemporary romance set in the South Pacific was released as part of Entangled Publishing’s Indulgence line in March 2012 and has been a best seller on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The sequel Italian Affair will be released in June 2013, followed shortly after by Outback Affair. Annie has more books being released in 2013 with Entangled Publishing in the Bliss, Entangled Suspense and Covet imprints.
Annie has also ventured into independent publishing with her de Vargas family steampunk series: Winter of the Passion Flower and Summer of the Moon Flower. Blind Lust (Musa Publishing) a paranormal novella is a sweet romance and one of Annie’s favourites.
Free-spirited sex therapist Brianna Ballantine has four days to find a fiancé so she can inherit her birth mother’s Italian villa. Commitment is not on the agenda. Writing her sex therapy book and signing legal papers are. And once all is said and done, she’ll return home to Scotland.
For finance guru Tomas Richards, relationships have been a bad investment—give him stocks and shares any day. When Tomas offers a marriage of convenience to help Brianna secure her inheritance, the sizzle between the sheets promises an affair to remember, despite family complications at every turn.
But Tom must convince Brianna to stay, and make this Italian affair a lifelong commitment.