Contemporary romance author Jane Porter shares some essential lessons on emotional writing for aspiring authors.
Writing women’s fiction is about writing stories that are relevant to our women readers. According to Donald Maass, in Writing the Breakout Novel, today’s readers want an authentic experience. So if many modern-day readers expect to live the story through the mind of the character, than its our job as writers is to make the experience as real as possible. We must infuse our characters with depth and emotional integrity.
Last August in New Zealand I attended an all day seminar given by Christopher Vogler. It was an amazing session and he talked about how people are always looking for meaning in life, and how we especially look for it in stories. Readers crave stories that help them sense of life. Readers want to connect emotionally and spiritually.
So how do we write emotion? How do we show rather than tell?
I. KNOW YOUR CRAFT
There are six different techniques for conveying emotion in fiction writing:
1. Stating emotion - The easiest means of adding emotion to a story is for the narrator to simply state the character's emotion.
2. Explaining emotion - One step beyond simply stating an emotion is to explain it or tell about it.
3. Dialogue - Emotion can be conveyed though dialogue. The language we use says it all, literally.
4. Introspection - Emotion is also conveyed through a character's thoughts.
5. Bodily reaction - Bodily reactions to emotion range from subtle to extreme: goose bumps, blushing, sweating, increased heart rate, laughing, crying, upset stomach, shaking, tingling nerves, vomit, etc.
One of the reasons body reactions are so useful for us as writers is because we frequently react to emotion physically before we've had a chance to process information rationally.
6. Action - Emotion portrayed through physical action. Action that expresses emotion may range from subtle to pronounced. Love scenes are one way to express emotion in action.
II. MAKING CHOICES THAT WORK FOR YOU
Depending on your scenes goals, you will sometimes use one or two techniques more than others, but you’d never want to use just one technique exclusively.
I also have other tips and tricks that reveal, or heighten emotion, including:
In Robert McKee’s book Story, McKee talks about the need for "opposing goals." Give characters a conflict. Make sure characters goals aren’t easily met. When a character is thwarted, there is emotion. Emotion is revealed in conflict. Tension heightens emotion, too. One way to generate this tension is through opposing goals.
Setting is another way to enhance emotion in scenes. Certain settings like closed rooms, the night, remote foreign places, troubled social or political periods heighten one’s sense of vulnerability, both emotionally and physically. Use these. It’s not a trick. It’s a technique.
The emotion has to be authentic. It has to be true. Melodrama doesn’t create genuine emotion. It creates melodrama and clichés, and once a reader smells a cliché, they disconnect emotionally.
There are times you want a lot of emotion, and then there are times that suppressing the emotion in a scene creates tremendous emotion because you are creating tremendous tension within a character.
If you can not cry in any circumstance, there’s a lot of inner activity and push and resistance which makes a scene interesting and builds emotion for a stronger climax later.
To sum it up, we create emotion through good choices, and later through careful revision. You can write powerful, emotional scenes that capture a reader’s heart. It takes practice and time but once you master writing authentic emotion, your readers will never forget you, or your stories.
- Jane Porter
You can see Jane Porter put these rules into practice in her latest novel, She's Gone Country, which is in stores now.