Emotion in your Story

This post summarizes a workshop I took at RWA Nationals in June 2011. The title of the workshop was: Techniques for Adding Emotion

Presenters: Lindsay Longford and Jennifer Greene

This section is from Jennifer Greene.

Conflict drives emotions.

Conflict is what the main character cannot walk away from.
The main character must be trapped.

Think of ways to make the main character as miserable as possible. Choose what your trap will be (for example, loyalty) and then braid together the emotion and conflict.

To have strong emotion, you must put the protagonist in a situation requiring:




She needs to be damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t.
She must be at emotional risk because you’ve set her up that way. Forcing her into a situation of risk that requires choices resulting in change will add the emotion.

Example: Cop moves onto heroine’s street. She’s attracted to him (and vice versa) but she can’t enter a relationship with him because she has a younger brother who has committed a small crime. Now increase the stakes.

The younger brother is the only family she has.

The cop asks her out.

She needs to make a choice. It will be difficult to make because she’s interested in the cop, but she loves her brother.

Increase the stakes again.

The brother commits another crime.

The cop kisses her. And it’s the best kiss she’s ever had.

Now, the kiss is steeped in emotion because she’s at risk.
Either choice, to accept the kiss and move forward with the cop, or withdraw
and protect her brother – either presents her with emotional risks.

Keep raising the stakes, increasing the risk. She starts falling in love, or the cop gets her in bed. Whatever will force change and choices upon her is what will add the emotion to the story.

Love will be the reward the heroine gets for solving all her problems.

So, first, define the heroine’s problem.

Then, every scene should force changes and choices. If the action doesn’t put her at more emotional risk, drop it.

Action comes from conflict.

Reaction comes from emotion.

The conflict forces her to define the woman she wants to become.

This section is from Lindsay Longford.

She outlined 5 steps to infuse your story with emotion.

1. Story Setup – create a sense of tension in every scene. Use details to strengthen the tension and
create a mood.

“He stumbled through the shadows.” (mood)

  1. Pull through – Required in every scene. Make sure the reader wants to find out what happens next.

“Approaching the door, he touched his pocket.” (Why? What happens next?)

  1. Mind meld – POV – anchor the reader in one POV.

“John felt the knife cut his palm” is different from “He felt the knife cut his palm.” The
use of the name anchors us in John’s POV.

  1. Establish a  goal.

“He would kill her tonight.”

  1. Thwart his goal. Make something happen so he can’t reach it.

“You can’t come in,” she said, her voice coiling around him.

A visual motif running throughout the story can generate a visceral response.


Romance Reviews

This workshop was a little disappointing to me, though perhaps it was my expectations that were wrong. I went because I thought they’d be talking about different review sites. Instead, they only talked about the 3 sites managed by the 3 panelists.


Moderator: Angela James, Sarah Wendell (Smart Bitches),
Elissa Petruzzi (Romantic Times), Rose Fox (Publishers Weekly)

Twitter: #rwareview

PW: Books are reviewed by freelancers. They do write negative reviews. They’ve been doing a romance section about 1 year. They do not review digital first, but plan to.

Sarah Wendell: she tries to review books she likes. She was asked what her traffic was and didn’t say. Her DNF (did not finish) review sells as many books as her books she gives an A.

Elissa: reviews are primarily done by readers. They review more than 250 books/month. They also do urban fantasy, mystery and YA. They do digital first and a bit of self-published. They review 3000 titles/year in print and 250 online.

They have Reviewers Choice which they consider the best books of the year.

What will make you more likely to review a book?

PW: the book has to reach me (physically). Small publishers should send her the books. But they must be sent months in advance. Submissions guidelines are way at bottom of site in small print.

PW tries to pick books their readers need to know about –she errs on side of debut authors.

RT also works well in advance. In back of magazine are books they plan to review – 4-5 months in advance. Include: title, genre, your name, one sentence blurb and publication date.

Sarah:  Reads what she’s interested in. She’s not fan of romantic suspense.

Who are you writing the review for?

Sarah – for romance readers

Elissa – for people who love genre fiction – also for industry

Rose PW – for professionals in book world (librarians and booksellers)

Should an author respond to a review?

Elissa – don’t blog negatively (but they will still continue to review someone who does)

Rose – blog your reviews if you want. If you find an error let them know.

Sarah – should author comment on blog? Have a sense of humor if you respond. Don’t try to hide hurt; we’ll see it. But, if an author enters conversation, it will inhibit the conversation. People then know the author is listening. Never tell a reviewer their opinion is wrong.

Can reviewer be impartial with an author they know?

Rose: no review is impartial but she asks reviewer if he can be impartial. Reviewer can always turn down books.

Elissa: yes, they can be impartial

Sarah: authors are not really friends.

Should you say thank you for a positive review?

Elissa – yes

Angela – some reviewers don’t want a thank you.

Sarah – yes

Rose – her reviewers love them.