September 15: Guest Blog by Michelle Miles!

If all goes as planned, today Costume Imp and I land in Prague to start our adventure.

I don’t want you to miss me too much, so I’ve got a series of guest bloggers while I’m gone –and, if I hit an internet cafe and can, I might sneak in a few quick posts myself.

My good friend and fellow author Michelle Miles kicks us off, talking about packing an emotional punch in one’s writing:

Giving Your Characters Emotional Punch
By Michelle Miles

When Devon asked me to guest blog, I had already started writing this little article on emotional punch. I thought it’d be the perfect guest post for her blog, so here I am!

Writing emotion is probably one of the hardest things to learn. You have to do it in such a way that makes the reader believe that’s what the character is thinking and feeling and you have to make the reader feel it, too.

I write romance because I love seeing two people overcome impossible obstacles and odds to get together and have that happy ending. That’s what it’s all about for me. And, as we all know, romance stories are character-driven. I can suspend disbelief in the hokiest plot as long as the characters are unforgettable and the romance is timeless. Seriously.

In some of the contest entries I’ve read, the story is great, the pacing is fine, the plot is good. The author even has a good voice. But the characters are flat, flat, flat. You have to dig deeper and go beyond the physical description to make me want to cheer for your hero or heroine. It’s not just about how they look, it’s what they feel and how they feel it. You have to make me ignore my dirty house, the litter box that needs to be emptied, and the mounds of laundry to spend three hundred pages (or more) with your peeps.

How do you give your character that emotional punch?

Dig deeper! I bet you’re wondering how you can do that. The best way I can describe it is put yourself in your hero/heroine’s shoes. Think like they do. Channel their personality through your fingers as you type their actions, thoughts, feelings, dialogue.

Before you run screaming from the blog, here are a few examples that can help you get that power punch. These are from my current work-in-progress, Phoenix Rising.

Original:
“No!” Elena shouted. “I won’t do it.”

“Oh, yes. I think you will. Because if you refuse,” the Emperor said, “then I’ll have you both killed right now. Accept and perhaps one of you will live.”

“We’ll do it,” Cassius said quickly.

“Cassius, no—”

“Done,” the Emperor interrupted.

Revised:
“No!” Elena shouted. “I won’t do it.” She floundered in the agonizing maelstrom swirling within her. She couldn’t face Cassius in the arena. She wouldn’t! She’d rather die on Death Hill. She’d rather die in the jaws of the tigers. Anything but fighting Cassius, one-on-one to the death.

“Oh, yes. I think you will. Because if you refuse,” the Emperor said, “then I’ll have you both killed right now. Accept and perhaps one of you will live.”

“We’ll do it,” Cassius said quickly.

“Cassius, no—” The desolate shock held her immobile, a terrible sense of bitterness assailing her.

“Done,” the Emperor interrupted.

When I read the revised version, I can really feel her desolation, her shock, her fear all boiling out of her. The thought of facing the man she loves in the arena is devastating to her. And when I wrote it, I tried to channel that into Elena. I asked myself how *I* would feel if I had to fight the man I loved to the death. Not a happy feeling, to be sure.

But emotion isn’t all despair like this. Sometimes, it’s all about feelin’ the love. Romance novels (and Hershey bars) are about giving the reader that intense feeling of falling in love. Who doesn’t want to fall in love over and over again? If you’ve ever been there, then you know what I’m talking about. You can’t breathe if you don’t have that person near you. Your world is whole now that you’ve found your certain someone.

Showing with your character is all about feeling it, too.

Original:
Sometime during the night, Cassius slipped out of her apartment and left her alone. It would do neither of them any good if he were to be found in her company the next morning. It was a risk both of them knew they couldn’t take, even though she desperately wanted him to stay the night.

Her sleep had been restless. She tossed and turned for much of the night. Without a doubt, she had allowed herself to fall in love with him. As she watched, the sun’s rays filtered brighter and brighter through her room.

Can you spot the telling? Here, I’ll help. Telling: Without a doubt, she had allowed herself to fall in love with him.

BOR-ING. This makes me want to hit the snooze bar. Instead of telling the reader she loved him, how can we show it? Read below.

Revised:
Sometime during the night, Cassius slipped out of Elena’s apartment leaving her to her restless sleep. Memories of skin meeting skin, breath mingling with breath, bodies brushing in the heat of desire and lust haunted her dreams. Her heart skittered in her chest more than once when she thought of him. And a constant flutter in her lower abdomen had her pressing the palm of her hand against her skin to quell the flurry.

With the blood quivering in her veins, she realized it was more than lust. More than illicit sex and defiant passion.

    By the gods, I love him.

Rolling to her side and drawing her knees to her chest, she clutched the ratty blanket and squeezed her eyes shut. Was the Goddess of Fate playing a horrific trick on the two mere mortals? Or was her love for Cassius, the man who would be the Emperor’s killer and her savior, truly meant to be?

No matter how she played out the scenario in her mind, she still came up with the same answer: she would either be dead or alone. And neither sounded very appealing.

The revision is so much better than the original, don’t you think? It really shows what Elena is thinking and feeling about Cassius. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had intense emotions like this before. And instead of telling the reader she’d fallen for him, we feel it. So much better!

One more example and then I’ll close this post.

I never really “got” the emotional punch until a critique partner pointed out all my missed opportunities. And when I forced myself to sit and really think about who my characters were and worked on their emotional responses, I think I have a much better story.

Original:
She couldn’t—or wouldn’t—let it go. She had managed to work herself into a frenzy. “Just because I’m stuck in this pit of hell doesn’t mean I want to be. It doesn’t mean I want to kill people. It means I’m a slave of Rithos, just like you are now. Just like any of us here in the Games. Forced to fight or die. I have no choice. I hate it!”

What can be changed in the above paragraph to make it more emotional? To give it more of a punch? Here’s the sentence I changed: She had managed to work herself into a frenzy.

Now, read below.

Revised:
She couldn’t—or wouldn’t—let it go. Her heart palpitated at a quick pace. Her palms had broken in to a hot-cold sweat. “Just because I’m stuck in this pit of hell doesn’t mean I want to be. It doesn’t mean I want to kill people. It means I’m a slave of Rithos, just like you are now. Just like any of us here in the Games. Forced to fight or die. I have no choice. I hate it!”

Not only do we see and feel her frenzy, we hear it, too, in her dialogue.

So, do you see how do you get an emotional punch? It’s your job as the author to feel character’s feelings, too. Don’t play it safe and tell the reader, show it. Push yourself. It’s not always going to be comfortable for you or your characters (and, if you’ve done your job well, your readers!).

If you can do that and translate it successfully on paper, then you’ll have one heckuva punch!

Now go take on the page!

Michelle Miles is a member of Romance Writers of America® and serves as President of her local chapter as well as Treasurer of the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal special interest chapter. She writes hot contemporary and fantasy romance. For more information about her books or to sign up for her monthly newsletter, visit her website at http://www.michellemiles.net.

Published in: on September 15, 2009 at 1:24 am  Comments (16)  
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16 Comments

  1. Great article Michelle. There’s a lot I can take from this, because often my first drafts slip into “tell mode” and when I go back I’ve missed the raw emotion from the first write and never quite capture it again.

    Thanks for this – you’ve given me some ideas. 🙂

  2. I’m such a teller. 😉 This is GREAT!!!

  3. Great blog Michelle. Wow I really can see the difference in how one can write emotions and make the reader see/feel it.

    Thanks.

  4. Hi all! Thanks for stopping by! Emotions is the absolutely BEST way to make your reader feel your characters. It’s also the hardest thing to write for me. 🙂

  5. Michelle, this was awesome! I am so visual that with you giving the before and after examples made me really SEE and FEEL what you are saying.

    GREAT job!

    Sandy/Avery

  6. Great post, Michelle!

  7. Great post, Michelle. And as someone who has seen your manuscript, I totally love seeing your revised work. One picture really is worth a thousand words. This book just keeps getting stronger and you’ve now shown a bunch of other people how to do it. Way to go.

  8. Hi Sandy! Thanks for stopping by. Glad it helped! I love seeing the different, too. It makes it all worthwhile. 🙂

    Hi Denise! Thanks for coming by!

    Miriam – you are awesome. Thanks for stopping by and giving me a boost. I have you and several others to thanks for showing me how much better that book can be! 🙂

  9. Great post, Michelle. It’s always helpful to see examples of before and after. Thanks for the tips.

  10. Hi Jen! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  11. Michelle, I can’t wait to read this story. Like all your characters, Elena sounds fascinating.

    You’ve definitely made me want to get back to my wip and punch up the emotions!

  12. Great article! Good seeing you here, Michelle. 🙂

    Too often, writers just don’t think they can convey emotion. I think it’s because they equate conveying with telling. Why not SHOW us?

    I have a character in my current novel whose life is controlled by others. Easy to convey the control – I use others’ stories to tell his story – the same people who are controlling his life. But to show his emotion, I have to show conflict. That’s not so easy, but showing his facial features, his interactions with others and how he leaves things unsaid, his codependency through helping those people intent on keeping him locked up in this existence….

    If you think of it from a psychological perspective, it’s damn fun to create a screwed-up character! LOL But it helps to get into their heads a bit, as you’ve said, and ask yourself, “If I were this person, how would I respond?”

  13. Hi, Misty! I’m glad you stopped by! This book was so hard to write in that there was so much death and destruction. Doesn’t that sound ominous? LOL But it really turned out well and the story does have an HEA. One of my readers said it was “gritty” and I really think that describes it well.

  14. Hi, Lori! *waves* Thanks for stopping by!

    That sounds fascinating! I’m writing a new story where I deal with a controlling character.

    That’s what I do, too – “If I were her, how would I feel?” It really works! 🙂

  15. Close POV is exhausting, but so worth it. Good examples, Michelle.

    Getting into the characters’ heads, feeling, hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling as they feel, hear, see, taste, and smell involves the reader at a visceral level. Being so involved elevates the investment. Hell on writers, but readers love it.

  16. Hi Gwynlyn! You are SO right! Hell on writers (makes you work REALLY hard). But really, the end product is so awesome and definitely something to be proud of.

    Thanks for stopping by today!


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