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.


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