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.

Bicycling in Amsterdam

 What is the most common mode of transportation in Amsterdam? If you looked at the picture, you know the answer. A bicycle.

As a city reclaimed from the ocean, Amsterdam is totally flat. Therefore, bicycling is easy, and everyone does it. You will see chic ladies in high heels and skirts, businessmen in suits and ties, senior citizens, and kids of all ages, including teens in social groups.

The authorities have encouraged the practice by building bike paths everywhere there is a road. Bicyclists also have the right of way over anyone else, including pedestrians. Which means walking can be hazardous. Each road consists of the car roadway, a paved bike path, and a sidewalk. Major streets also include tram tracks. Oftentimes, all these things are on the same level, with little to mark one lane from a different one, not even a curb.

Whatever method you are using to get around, you need to be very careful as people and cars come from all directions. Cars often park on the sidewalks, which forces pedestrians onto the bike path, and bicyclists will not be happy to see you there.

Notice the child in the box on the picture to the right. To his right is another child on his own bike. It is common to see a mom moving her children around this way. Or here’s an alternative method (left picture).

People ride on the back of the bike. Even adults. I loved this shot of an older couple. The woman is pedaling along and the well-dressed man is enjoying the ride.

You will see people carrying umbrellas, texting, talking on their phones.

If you are observant, you will have noticed one unusual fact about bicyclists in the Netherlands (versus the US). No one is wearing a helmet. No one. I never saw a single helmet on a bicyclist in Amsterdam. Not even toddlers in the little boxes attached to the front. But I did see my first bicycle garage. The bike garage is right over a canal. How cool is that?ETA: I almost forgot to mention the scooters zipping around! They apparently can go on either the bike path or the road. But Amsterdam is a very safe city traffic-wise. I did a little research. Approximately 200 people per year die in bike accidents in The Netherlands, with an average of only 6 per year in Amsterdam. http://www.tobysterling.net/2007/12/bike-accident-deaths-in-amsterdam-and.html

Death in traffic accidents overall is the lowest in Europe at 45 deaths per million inhabitants per year vs. the comparable US rate of 147 deaths per million and the European rate of 90 deaths per million. (credit Toby Sterling). So I guess that’s why they don’t feel the need for helmets.

Gratitude – Not Just for Thanksgiving

Today is Memorial Day. I’m sure we all are grateful to the members of the military who work hard, often in dangerous and unpleasant conditions, to keep our enemies away from us. Sometimes it’s easy to take peace (in our country, anyway) for granted, and it’s good to have a day to remind us that everything has a price.

I am always interested in psychological studies, and ‘gratitude’ is a subject receiving some attention in the field of “positive psychology”. What they are finding is that maintaining a positive attitude of gratitude can improve your psychological, emotional and physical well-being.

Wow. That’s a lot of benefits from a simple thing that anyone can do at any time. I won’t cite all the facts and figures because they can get dull. But they say that people who have a positive mindset of gratitude are happier, healthier, more successful and have more friends. I’ll take a large helping of that.

How can you make gratitude more a part of your life?

Every day, write down something that happened that day which you are grateful for. Hey, this one is easy for us, right? We’re writers. Be specific. Not: I’m still grateful to be alive, but I’m grateful my husband greeted me with a kiss this morning.

Try sharing things you’re grateful for with your friends, rather than sharing only complaints.

You can join an online gratitude group (Facebook, Myspace, etc.). There’s also an iPod app.

Most importantly, adopt a more positive mental attitude. Focus on the good things people have done for you, rather than the not-so-good.

The final benefit? I think it may be the biggest. While you are expressing gratitude to those around you, you are also improving their well-being. That’s what psychologists call a win-win situation.

So think about it. What are you grateful for today?


In the springtime, the events keep coming right up, don’t they? Yesterday, my oldest child graduated from college! It’s a big day, representing basically a lifetime-to-date of hard work.

College graduation is a life-defining moment for the whole family. This particular bird is leaving the nest for good. Though we are delighted that she found a good job and an apartment with roommates, it is a moment of finality. I find it difficult to let go, though I’m not worried about her ability to live on her own and provide for herself. She got the job. She got the apartment. For some reason, I find it difficult to stop buying things for her, though I think it’s important for her to become financially independent.

In what I consider to be her first adult act, she and her housemates organized and executed a lovely dinner party for all of their families on Saturday night. She didn’t ask us for one penny. My husband and I were touched by her desire to offer this contribution to our weekend of celebration.

Of course, we know many of her friends after their four years together, and it was fun to see them graduate as well. I have a nephew who also graduated from college yesterday, and a niece who graduated from a graduate program in business. Plus one more niece will graduate next week. Whew. It’s hard to keep track.

What are you celebrating this spring?

Mother’s Day 2011

 Happy Mother’s Day to everyone!!

Today I went to visit my mother who lives, unfortunately, in a senior citizens home. But the seniors made it such a life-affirming experience.

A man was performing, singing and playing an electric piano. He had serious hearing aids in each ear, but here he was, joyfully making music. He said he’s loved the same woman for 49 years. So he wasn’t young. But he had a smile on his face the entire time, performed for 1 and a half hours, told jokes, said a few bits about each song. He had a beautiful voice and gave us a great show.

The last song he played was ‘America, the Beautiful’. These seniors, at least half of them in wheelchairs, all of them infirm in some way, sang along. Many held a hand to their heart. One gentleman in a wheelchair saluted.

Honestly, it was so touching I started to cry. (I’m not known for being sentimental.)

On the way home, I heard one of my all-time favorite songs on the radio. Louis Armstrong, singing ‘It’s a Wonderful World’. He sang these words:

“I see friends shaking hands
Saying how do you do,
They’re really saying,
I love you.”

Those are wonderful words. Louis Armstrong lived during a time of pervasive racism. Yet he could sing this song with beauty and  meaning. That, to me, is a testament to the human spirit.

I wish all of you a wonderful day commemorating a day that is a testament to mothers everywhere. We know what we do.

Frog Dissection-Has Feminism Made Any Progress?

Romance novels have, in my opinion, made great strides in portraying females as strong people who must participate in saving the day. We rarely see helpless heroines saved by manly men. But have people changed so much in real life?

I try very hard to raise my children without stereotypes and to encourage my girls to be interested in all avenues of study and to consider all types of careers. But…

Yesterday, was the day in freshman biology that my daughter had been dreading all year. They had to dissect a frog. There are 8 girls in the class and 6 boys. They always choose their own partners for lab. The boys had paired up among themselves weeks ago for the frog lab. (They weren’t going to do all the work for these squeamish girls.) The girls had wailed and moaned for weeks.

My daughter threw up before class, just to get ready. (She actually brought a toothbrush and toothpaste to school, giving new meaning to the phrase ‘prepared for class’.)

She arrived in class and decided to ask the one boy who’s her friend to be her partner. (Never mind that everyone was already paired up.) He said sure, but he had to admit he might get queasy and need help. She ditched him pronto (and reported that he did get lightheaded later on, thereby embarrassing himself).

She contemplated another boy, Joe. Even though she’s barely ever spoken to Joe, and he’s a nerd, she knew he was the one boy who would do the work on his own. Desperate times call for desperate measures. She asked him to be her partner. (At least she’s not a shrinking violet in the boy department.) He agreed.

Joe’s original partner said, “Hey, what about me?”

Joe said, “Sorry, I’m working with her.” (Girls rule.)

Meanwhile, my daughter had abandoned her friend, a girl with whom she’d been partnered for every lab the entire year. (Did I raise her?) That girl and another began crying (!?!) when they realized they had no one to lean on. The teacher finally had to assign them to a couple of boys and allow groups of three.

The class started the job. My daughter said her goal was to do nothing and look at nothing. (This is honors biology, BTW.)

The next exciting moment arrived when a girl fainted, sliding down to the floor in a swoon worthy of a 19th century heroine. (No stigma of shame assigned to her.) They revived the girl and she and her female partner decamped for the nurse.

Now as my daughter is telling this tale, I’m thinking, Whatever happened to women’s lib? It’s 2011 and these girls are behaving no better than I did back in the dark ages, when, I am sorry to report, I somehow managed to escape dissecting the frog. How hard can I be on my daughter, when I know exactly how she feels? But I have to try. Women need to be positive about science.

I say to her, “The girls didn’t make a good showing for themselves.”
She says, “At least I helped Joe pin the frog to the board.”
I say, “That’s good.”
She adds, “By handing him the pins.”

The frog had still better be the prince, and not the biology lesson.