Seekerville: The Journey Continues | category: conveying emotion


Seekerville: The Journey Continues

Eliciting Emotion in your Characters and Your Reader

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here.
Back in Jan 2018 I wrote a post here on Seekerville about a workshop I was developing on the subject of evoking Emotion. It was just a rough outline at that point with a few of the bullet points filled in. Well, last month, I along with two other authors, gave that workshop at RWA Nationals in New York so I thought I’d do a follow up post with the other elements I developed for the presentation.

So here it is:

Eliciting Emotion in your Characters and Your Reader

One of the ingredients that will take your story from good to great is the infusion of organic, realistic, believable emotions. It’s what causes the readers to care about your protagonists and what draws them into the story and turning the pages.
Marion Bauer put it this way: "People read fiction in order to feel, to have strong feelings in a context of safety. The thrill of danger without the threat of harm. Cleansing tears, but without loss. Even laughter, dignity intact."

What I want to do today is give you a few tools to use to effectively evoke emotion

Before I start, though, I need to say that most of the examples I’ll be using here will be from my own work, not because I think I do it better by any means, but simply because I knew right where to go to pull specific examples.

The items I covered in the January 2018 post are:
  • The Senses
  • Internalization
  • Body Language
  • Tells

Though I expanded a bit on those for the workshop, I won’t repeat them here. Instead, let’s move on to WORD CHOICE.

Eliciting Emotion in your Characters and Your Reader

Focusing in on specific key details with your Word Choices can indeed affect mood and emotion.

Consider this bit of description from my book A Matter Of Trust:
The heat of the day was softened by the dappled shade of the woods.  She and Toby were out to enjoy  an afternoon of picnicking and berry picking.  Lucy stepped over a knobby root and paused while Toby studied a shiny beetle lumbering up the side of a hickory tree. They’d been strolling along this leaf-carpeted trail for about thirty minutes now, and the creek crossing was just past the bit of leafy brush up ahead.  Some of the choicest blackberries in the county grew there. And Toby deserved to have a bit of fun today.

Now see what happens if I had made some different word choices

The hot summer sun slashed down through the spidery shadows of the too-quiet woods.  She and Toby hoped to spend the afternoon gathering the blood red berries that grew near the old creek.  Lucy stepped over a gnarled root and paused impatiently while Toby eyed a large beetle fleeing up the side of a dying tree. They’d been picking their way along this twisting, rocky trail for about thirty minutes now - thank goodness the creek crossing was just past the clump of thorn bushes up ahead.  Some of the best berries for making her potion grew there.

Though on the surface these are two views of the same scene, just by the word choices made I’ve set two very different moods, evoking different sets of emotions. 
In the first version, the reader will assume that the characters are enjoying themselves and that the outing is a pleasant one. In the second example, the reader sees this as a much more ominous experience for our characters and will feel some level of anxiety about what comes next.

Of course it doesn’t have to be this dramatic. Simply describing someone as crying as opposed to bawling with gut-wrenching sobs, or a sky as cloudy versus one that’s ominously overcast will elicit different depths of emotion from your reader.

Another way to heighten emotion, is to sharpen and focus it for the reader. You can do this by OBJECTIFYING and CONTRASTING the emotion.

To objectify an emotion, you either give it a physical manifestation, such as:
  • His words brought the heat to her cheeks
  • At the sight of his injury, the bile rose in her throat

Or you can use metaphors and similes
  • The look she gave him made him feel like a low down skunk
  • The little girl was like a kitten, all soft and playful

Comparing the emotion is just what it sounds like, you compare the emotion the character is feeling to other times when similar feelings arose
  • This was more embarrassing than when she walked out of the dressing room with her skirt hem tucked in her waistband
  • She was happier than the day her crush had asked her to the prom

You can also contrast the character’s emotion toward a particular person or situation at this point in time to their emotion to the same or similar situation earlier in the story. This would be a good way to show emotional growth.

The next thing I want to talk about today is CHARACTER EMOTION vs READER EMOTION
Eliciting Emotion in your Characters and Your Reader

A well-crafted scene will evoke emotion of some sort, both in the characters on the page and in the reader. 
But, these won’t necessarily be the same, and that’s ok, as long as it’s deliberate.  

A good writer will choreograph her scene to tease the emotions she wants from both the characters and the readers.

This next example is pulled from The Unexpected Bride. The set-up is:  The heroine Elthia and her pet Yorkie have just arrived at her destination via stagecoach and is about to disembark.

She picked up the basket that served as Poppy’s carrier, tightened her hold on her parasol, and shifted forward.  Moving to the door as if it were heaven’s gate itself, she barely avoided a tumble when the coach lurched and then stilled again.
She turned to apologize to the passenger she’d inadvertently jabbed with her parasol.  “Mr. Jenkins, I’m so–-”
“Watch out!”
Elthia pivoted, this time carefully pointing her parasol toward the floor.  “Oh dear, Miss Simms, I didn’t mean–-”
The matronly woman gave her a tight smile as she straightened her tipsily-angled hat.  “That’s all right, dear.  This isyour stop, isn’t it?  You just go on now.  Don’t want to keep whoever’s meeting you waiting.”
“No, really, just go on.”
Elthia looked around.  Several other passengers were enthusiastically nodding agreement.  Really, this was just the nicest group of people.  Especially considering the fuss Poppy had made with his yipping eagerness to get to know the other passengers this past hour.
She gave them all a big smile, then stepped through the coach door, ready to begin her new life. 

Now we have quite a range of emotions here:

  • Elthia is eager to start her new life, is apologetic to the passengers and thinks everyone around her is feeling friendly towards her. 
  • The other passengers, if you pick up the subtext here, are irritated and glad to see the last of her and her troublesome dog.
  • The reader, if I did my job right, is feeling a bit amused and sympathetic toward our clueless, rose-colored-glasses-wearing heroine

The key here, is to make certain you are aware of these dual perspectives and that you are deliberate in how you nurture them.

What you DON’T want to have happen is to inadvertently craft a scene that you intended to be dramatic but that causes your reader to roll their eyes or snicker, or to craft one you intend to be comical but that falls flat or outrages your reader.

A few final things to consider:
Eliciting Emotion in your Characters and Your Reader

  • Deep emotion comes from Character rather than plot. You need to dig deep into your character’s backstory and fully explore their goals, motivations and pain points to find their emotional triggers and to really draw out emotions that feel organic and realistic.
  • Authentic emotion also comes from the writer. You need to draw on the emotional landscape of your own life. Remember your first crush, your last big breakup, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, that time you were alone and the lights went out. Try to remember what your physical reactions were as well as your emotional ones.
  • Keep in mind that no emotion is singular. Instead they are a complex blend of several reactions, feelings and perceptions. For example, a student going off to college for the first time might feel eager, anxious, excited, adrift and adventurous all at the same time. 
  • And of course, it is always better to show rather than tell. Don’t just say he’s scared, show me the tremble of his hands, the widening of his eyes, the nervous glances he casts over his shoulder
  • Make sure there is an appropriate balance of light and dark emotions. Even in a heavy gothic, horror or thriller, there should be some light moments to provide relief and contrast to the heavy grimness that the story requires. And just so, a romantic comedy should have at least a few serious or somber moments.
  • Take a look at your story stakes – the higher the stakes, the deeper and more profound the emotions will (or rather should) be
  • Ultimately, your reader can forgive many craft and plot issues if you can tap into their emotions with your story. And conversely, you can have a perfectly constructed story from a craft and plot perspective, but if you don’t make your reader feel, if your story is emotionally barren, you will leave them dissatisfied.

There you have it – my take on how to effectively evoke emotion in your writing. Did any of this resonate with you? Do you have some insights or tips that I missed - please share!

Leave a comment to be entered into a drawing for winner's choice of any book from my backlist.

Eliciting Emotion in your Characters and Your Reader

Eliciting Emotion in your Characters and Your Reader
Award winning author Winnie Griggs has written both single title and category romances. She has published with three different houses since her debut in 2001 and has 25 books (and counting) in print.  Her work has won a number of regional and national awards, including an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award. 

Winnie is the wife of a rancher and the mother of four exceptional children.She has a BS in Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science, as well as an advanced degree in the art of procrastination. Winnie is also a list maker, a tea drinker and lover of dragonflies.

Bleeding onto the Page: a writing exercise

by Jan Drexler

One of the most often heard criticisms of stories is that the characters lack depth. I’m sure you’ve heard the term, “cardboard characters.” On the other hand, I’m sure you’ve also found yourself in tears while reading a book whose characters tugged at your emotions.

But how do you make sure your characters are filled with enough emotional depth to touch your readers’ hearts?

Bleeding onto the Page: a writing exercise

You have to tap into your own emotions. That heart-tugging connection with your readers comes from the depths of your own soul.

We have all had experiences in our lives. You know the kind. Sad ones. Tragic ones. Or the longing to experience something that never happens.

The experiences and longings we really don’t want to talk about.

We bury them deep within our souls and keep them between us and God. We might not even share them with our spouse or other loved ones. Not even our most trusted friend.

Those are the experiences we need to tap into. 

Bleeding onto the Page: a writing exercise

Here’s an excerpt from my book, “The Amish Nanny’s Sweetheart” where I dig deep into my character’s soul. Guy is an orphan, working on an Amish farm, and Judith is the neighbor girl he's falling in love with.

Guy took three steps into the barn before he remembered the work he needed to do was inside the house instead of out here. But his only thought had been to get away from Judith. He heard Eli’s crying end and turned to watch Judith comforting the boy. Her head bent over his brown curls as she talked to him, then she wrapped him in her arms as he clung to her, safe and secure.

Judith rose and went into the house, but the scene clouded over as tears filled Guy’s eyes. He let them fall, leaning his head against the solid wood of the door frame. He had shut her out and pushed her away just as much as he had shoved Eli off his lap and onto hers. But why?

Because the feelings she brought out stopped his very breath. He dug his fingernails into the oak beam as the pain of those feelings overwhelmed him. If he could be little again…if he could see Mama again…if he could feel safe again…

He tore his thoughts away. He was a grown man, not a child. His life was laid out in front of him. A stark and lonely track with no end.

What was it about Judith that upset his well-ordered life? Before she’d come along, he had been happy.

Well, maybe not happy. But he could work, laugh and enjoy David’s company and Verna’s cooking. But now that he knew her, it was as if her steady blue eyes looked right into him and saw the scared little boy who needed a friend.

She made him long for things that would never happen. Things like a home. His own family. A…a wife. A partner in life. Someone to love and to love him. Someone who wouldn’t leave him behind.

How could something he wanted so badly hurt so much?

So he had pushed her away when she awakened those longings in him again. But the hurt only grew worse until it felt like someone had sucker-punched him and left him gasping for breath.

“Please, God.” The words came out as a whisper, barely passing over his lips as he breathed out.

I never had the same experiences Guy had lived through – no family, no place to call his home – but I have experienced unfulfilled dreams. I knew the pain Guy was feeling, and the confused emotions. The lashing out when I should have been holding close. Despair rather than trust. I tried to give Guy those thoughts and feelings – even though bringing them into play was more painful than I ever thought it would be.

How can you bring your emotions into your characters’ lives? Let’s do a little exercise.

Take a moment right now and dig deep into your soul. Deeper. Open those closed doors. Do you remember that heartache? That unfulfilled dream? That painful loss? That thing that hurts so much that it takes your breath away? You can feel the ache…physical…emotional…

Don’t hide from it. Don’t push it away. Feel it. Let the tears fall.

Now, capture that feeling. Write down that feeling. Write from your pain. Bleed onto the page.

And don’t worry…you’re not going to share this with anyone.

Do you have it? Did you capture that feeling?

Now, give that feeling to your character. If you haven’t already, dig into your character’s past. Find out what wound she holds close that has never healed. Find out what her deepest secret desire is. Tap into that. Give your character the words she or he needs to express that deep want. The unfulfilled dream.

Take your time to do this exercise. We’ll wait.

* * * * * * * * *

All right! Is everyone back with us?

Let's go on - -

You might never put the words of this exercise into your story, but you will use the emotions you uncovered.

And if you did this exercise with us today, I can hear you asking: 

“Why? Why put myself through this pain? I’ve been there before, 
and I don’t want to go back there.” 

I can only say this: It would be tragic for you to have traveled that path and suffered what you have suffered if you never handed it over to God to redeem it. He knows your pain and sorrow, and maybe…just maybe…He will use what you have written to comfort someone going through the same kind of sorrow. Maybe…just maybe…He will use that to bring someone to Himself.

Isn’t that reason enough? 

Bleeding onto the Page: a writing exercise

Let’s talk about story characters! Tell us about a story character that has touched you deeply. What do you like most about that character and why?

One commenter today will win one copy of their choice of my Love Inspired Historical books! 

Bleeding onto the Page: a writing exercise
Bleeding onto the Page: a writing exercise

There are six to choose from!!!

Emotion and The Setting: A Powerful Story Combo

By Guest Angela Ackerman

Emotion and The Setting: A Powerful Story Combo

An interesting thing happens when setting and character come together, something writers don’t fully realize, or if they do, may not use to its full advantage: combined with intent, these two elements produce emotion. 
What do I mean by that? Well, think about us in the real world. Are there places you choose to vacation again and again? Is there a specific route you like to walk the dog, or areas in the city you enjoy visiting? Do you have a favorite restaurant, room in the house, coffeeshop, or park to sit in? I’m betting you do. Spaces we return to are special in some way, causing us to experience positive emotions. We may enjoy them for their beautiful scenery, their energy or solitude, because they remind us of the comforts of home, or some other meaningful reason. 
Just as we gravitate to places that make us feel good or safe, we also make emotional decisions about locations to avoid: that dark ally shortcut, the friend’s car that smells like spoiled milk, the high school football field where we were humiliated in front of the entire senior class. These spaces make us feel unsafe, vulnerable, or unhappy.
Our characters are just like us, so they will also have a catalog of places that hold personal meaning, good and bad.

Emotion and The Setting: A Powerful Story Combo

The difference between the real world and the fictional one? Rather than shield our characters from uncomfortable emotions, we want to encourage them.
I know, it sounds a bit sadistic but exposing them to settings that trigger a range of emotions, some of which they desperately want to avoid, will not only produce conflict (a necessary ingredient in story), it will help to reveal their hidden layers. 
Beneath the surface of any character is a dark underside: insecurities, fears, and pain caused by negative past experiences and unresolved emotional trauma. This baggage is costly to lug around, causing unhappiness and steering the character’s life off course. This is usually how readers find them at the start of a story: incomplete, adrift, and hurting. And, if the writer has chosen a change arc for the character, it’s even more important to pull this pain to the surface where it can finally be acknowledged and dealt with. Only then can the character move forward toward happiness and hope, fulfilling the change arc and achieving their goal. 
Positive and negative, emotions are the lifeblood of a story. The setting we choose for each scene is a vehicle to bring out a wider range of emotions, including those that provide a window for readers to see inside the character and the struggle going on within. Here are three ways you can deliberately use the setting to bring out your character’s deeper emotions. 

Emotion and The Setting: A Powerful Story Combo

Choose Specific Settings for a Reason
With each scene, think about the actions that will unfold and what each character’s emotional state will be. If you can, find a setting location that will amplify these emotions, perhaps by choosing one that holds personal meaning (good or bad). For example, what location would be a better choice for revealing a parent’s betrayal to her adult son: in the car on the way to the airport at the end of a visit, or at the playground where the character and his mother would come every day after school? The setting itself can trigger powerful emotions in the right circumstance.
Provide Obstacles
If your character is under so much pressure they’re struggling to function or they are on their final frayed nerve, use the setting to plant a natural obstacle in their path (a nosy security guard, a locked door, a car that dies halfway to their destination) that pushes them past their limits to cope. This new difficulty will trigger powerful, raw emotions whether they break under the strain, or find inner strength to prevail. 
Resurrect a Ghost
When it comes to the painful past, characters want it to stay there: in the past. So instead, we writers should dig around in that old suitcase of pain and resurrect a ghost: a person, thing, situation, or experience that will act as an echo of that past trauma. It might be a setting itself, or something that can be inserted into the setting. Maybe the character’s alcoholic dad shows up unannounced to her child’s graduation party at a restaurant, or a couple planning a honeymoon trip arrive at their appointment to discover the travel agent is a bitter ex-girlfriend. Perhaps the character is ill and is forced to pull into a roadside stop, a place she normally avoids at all costs as she was carjacked at one once.
What does the character feel in this moment? What will they do? Choose settings and setting elements specifically to awaken complicated emotions and possibly force them to deal with something from the past. 
Becca and I love to think about how we can push description to work harder in our stories. The possibilities are endless, so we encourage you to always think deeper, combining elements and experimenting with ways to increase tension, personalize story moments, and especially to deepen emotion. 
Emotion and The Setting: A Powerful Story Combo

If you ever need help, visit our website or check out our books. And if you happen to be a fan of our work, you might be interested to know there is now a Second Edition of The Emotion Thesaurus. We’ve added 55 new emotions to the original 75 and have made a lot of other improvements. We also have a free webinar on Using Emotion to Wow Readers that we’ve made available until the end of February. If this is an area of struggle, visit this post to grab the link!

Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, (now an expanded 2nd edition!) as well as six others. Her books are available in six languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop for Writers, an innovative online library built to help writers elevate their storytelling. Find her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination

by Jan Drexler

In my June post, I talked about giving your readers a complete story experience by immersing them in your fictional world. We discussed how to make that world come alive for you, the writer. You can read that post here.

Today we’re going to take your story world a step further: how to convey what you see in your mind onto the page and into your reader’s imagination.

Because, really, isn’t that the where the magic of story-telling happens?

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination

We use the setting of each scene to convey emotion and increase our reader’s perception of our themes. Every word reveals details about the scene that provides an undercurrent to strengthen the action and dialogue. Many writers talk about using your setting as another character in the scene, but I think it goes further than that.

Yes, your characters interact with the setting, but the setting also creates a framework that helps to communicate your theme and subtexts more effectively than any other aspect of your story.

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination
To help illustrate what I’m talking about, I’m going to use some scenes from one of my early books, A Home for His Family, published by Love Inspired in September 2015.

The opening scene of the book takes place in a gulch outside of Deadwood, Dakota Territory, in 1877. Yup, that’s right. Just like in a Hopalong Cassidy story. It’s May, there’s a snowstorm coming, and it’s one of only three roads into town. The spring influx of miners is arriving, and the place is a chaotic mess.

The heroine, Sarah, and her Aunt Margaret have been traveling to Deadwood in a stagecoach and are anxious to get to the end of their journey. But there is a delay ahead of them on the trail and the stagecoach is stuck until traffic starts moving again.

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination
Deadwood, South Dakota

Here is Sarah’s first glimpse of the setting:

Sarah climbed out of the stagecoach, aching for a deep breath. With a cough, she changed her mind. The air reeked of dung and smoke in this narrow valley. She held her handkerchief to her nose and coughed again. Thick with fog, the canyon rang with the crack of whips from the bull train strung out on the half-frozen trail ahead. She pulled her shawl closer around her shoulders and shook one boot, but the mud clung like gumbo.

In describing this scene, I wanted to show the unexpected hardships Sarah was facing in her new adventure, but also her determination to follow through with her plans. So I let her leave the stagecoach to get some fresh air, but then she comes nose-to-nose with reality. The weather creates an oppressive layer of fog that obscures her vision and concentrates the odors of hundreds of animals and men confined in a narrow space.

There’s a subtext going on in this description, too. Sarah has come to Deadwood to bring the light of education to the children in the town and to the prostitutes who make up a significant number of the female population in 1877. A recurring theme in the story is that the prostitutes are trapped and confined in their lives with little hope for escape. The narrow gulch in this first scene is the reader’s – and Sarah’s – first hint of that unsavory reality.

This isn’t the only place I use the setting to convey that subtext. I scatter it throughout the story:

This cabin and a few others were perched on the rimrock above the mining camp, as if at the edge of a cesspool. Up here the sun was just lifting over the tops of the eastern mountains, while the mining camp below was still shrouded in pre-dawn darkness. 

* * * * *

The businesses crowded together between the hills rising behind them and the narrow mud hole that passed for a street. Nate slowed his pace as the storefronts turned from the saloons to a printing office. Next came a general store and a clothing store, with a tobacconist wedged in between. Across the street was Star and Bullock, a large hardware store that filled almost an entire block.

And in the middle of it all, just where the street took a steep slope up to a higher level on the hill, men worked a mining claim. Nate shook his head. In all his travels through the West, he had never seen anything quite like Deadwood.

But even amid the chaos of the mining town, Sarah’s spirit is focused on her goals. I use descriptions like this one to show Sarah’s hopeful courage:

Sarah took the bucket to the door and tossed the dirty water into the gutter. As she did every day, she looked past the crowded streets and crooked roofs of the neighboring buildings to the towering hills beyond. She let the bucket dangle and leaned against the door frame as she gazed at the white rocks at the top of Boot Hill. What would it be like to climb that mountain someday? 

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination
Deadwood from White Rocks

Another aspect of any story is contrast. In this story it is between chaos and order; sin and forgiveness; the wandering life and home.

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination

How can you convey the contrasts in your story? Choose your words carefully.

Yesterday's rain had made a miry mess of the streets. Horses walked in mud nearly up to their knees, while the drivers of the wagons shouted curses to keep their teams from stopping before they got to firmer ground.

Sarah crossed Lee Street on the wooden crosswalk and paused on the corner, looking up and down Main. Aunt Margaret had been right. The saloon girls crowded the board walks in front of the stores, their bright silk dresses and fancy plumed hats lining the street like a show of exotic tropical flowers. Not one “respectable” woman was in sight.

Finally, she caught sight of Maude’s red dress and purple shawl in a cluster of girls outside a peanut vendor next to The Big Horn Grocery on Upper Main. She hurried across the street on the wooden walk, soaking her kid shoes in the slime as the boards sank into the mud beneath the weight of the crowd doing the same. Thankfully, she climbed the stairs between Lower and Upper Main, out of the mud for a change.

Compare that to Nate observing Sarah’s first view of the land where he intends to establish his home:

He drove the team along a natural shelf on the side of the slope and then turned up. As they crested the rise, the sight that greeted him still took his breath away.

Green meadows stretched away in a wide swath at least a half mile across and twice that long, curving around the wooded slopes that crowded close to the open space. An eagle drifted above them against the clear blue sky.

Sarah whispered, “It’s perfect.”

Nate chirruped to the horses, driving them slowly through the knee-deep grass, heading for the grove of trees at the far edge. In his mind the mountain valley was dotted with horses—brown, black, white, gray—all grazing on the rich green grass that grew in a thick carpet everywhere he looked. Across the meadow, a meandering line of cottonwood trees followed a fold in the grass. That stream cutting through the land was the crowning touch.

He glanced at Sarah, still standing in the wagon bed, holding on to the seat between him and James. Her face was bright in the clear sunshine, the wind pulling loose hair from her bun. Her gaze went up to the tops of the hills surrounding them.

When she looked at him she smiled, and his heart swelled. Everywhere he looked he saw his future, waiting for him to reach out and grasp it. It was as if the past twelve years had never happened and he was just starting out, full of promise. 

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination

What is the biggest difference between these two scenes? It isn’t only the contrast between the crowded streets of Deadwood and the open spaciousness of Nate’s land.

In the description of the town, I used a lot of words with hard consonants: curses, crosswalk, corner, crowded, walk, silk, exotic, respectable, kid…along with some “dirty” words for good measure: mud, mess, soaking, slime, sank.

But in the description of Nate’s land? The opposite. I used soft consonants and “clean” words: green meadows, meandering, wide swath, curving around, wooded slopes, drifted, clear blue sky, swelled, full of promise.

Words are important – not only their meanings, but their sounds. The soft consonants convey the underlying theme present in all my books: home.

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination

Do my readers notice these details? Not consciously. But they play a role in the total reading experience.

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination

Now I’d love to hear your ideas. How do you use your settings to add depth to your stories? Or for readers, how do carefully written settings add to your reading experience?

"A Home for His Family" is now out of print, but the e-book is still available! One commenter will win a Kindle copy of their very own!

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's Imagination
The Rancher's Ready-Made Family 

Nate Colby came to the Dakota Territory to start over, not to look for a wife. He'll raise his orphaned nieces and nephew on his own, even if pretty schoolteacher Sarah MacFarland's help is a blessing. But Nate resists getting too close—Sarah deserves better than a man who only brings trouble to those around him. 

Sarah can't deny she cares for the children, but she can't let herself fall for Nate. Her childhood as an orphan taught her that opening her heart to love only ends in hurt. Yet helping this ready-made family set up their ranch only makes her long to be a part of it—whatever the risk.

Order your copy here!

Using Settings to Tap Your Reader's ImaginationJan Drexler lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband of (almost) thirty-six years and expanding family. While she writes Historical Romance with Amish characters, the romance of cowboys surrounds her, tugging more story ideas from her imagination than she can hope to write in one lifetime.

Layering In Texture and Emotion

Layering In Texture and Emotion
Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here.

Today I want to talk about my favorite part of the writing process.  Once I finish the first draft of a book, I get to dig into the polishing phase. In addition to cleaning things up and making sure there are no loose threads I forgot to wrap up, this is the phase where I go in and look for ways to layer in texture and emotion.

Texture is about specificity. It includes the specific detail you need to include in order to convey feelings, color, atmosphere, setting – in other words, it’s about allowing your readers to immerse themselves in your scene with all of their senses. To do this you add descriptors and sensory words, but you do this with surgical precision – too much and you risk bloating your prose, too little and you miss opportunities to paint a vivid picture for your reader.

Layering In Texture and Emotion

I always do better with examples, so I’m going to draw from the opening of one of my books, A Matter Of Trust.

Here is the stripped down, bare bones version:

“The preacher’s cat is an elegant cat.”
“The preacher’s cat is a frightened cat.”
“The preacher’s cat is a gregarious cat.”
“Gregarious.”  Toby drew the word out.  “What does that mean, Ma?”
Lucy Ames smiled down at the boy walking beside her. 
“It means to be sociable, to want to be part of a group of other folk rather than off by yourself all the time.” 
Lucy watched him mentally file away her definition.  Her sweet little boy. 
She stepped over a root and paused while Toby studied a beetle.  They’d been strolling along for about thirty minutes, and the creek crossing was just up ahead.  Some of the choicest blackberries in the county grew there. 
Once they’d picked enough for Lucy to make a cobbler or two, they’d eat the picnic lunch she’d packed. 
A noisy commotion from somewhere up ahead caught her attention.
Toby whispered,  “What’s that?”
I told you it was bare bones - not much sense of place or anything else here - mainly just talking heads.

Now here it is after I add in a texturing layer (noted in blue text):

“The preacher’s cat is an elegant cat.”
“The preacher’s cat is a frightened cat.”
“The preacher’s cat is a gregarious cat.”
“Gregarious.”  Toby drew the word out as he stretched the band on his slingshot.  “What does that mean, Ma?”
Lucy Ames smiled down at the boy walking beside her. 
“It means to be sociable, to want to be part of a group of other folk rather than off by yourself all the time.”   Lucy pointed to the floppy-eared dog capering along beside them.  “For example, Jasper here is very gregarious, but Mustard, for all his skills as a mouser, isn’t.” 
Lucy watched him mentally file away her definition.  Her sweet little boy. 
Then she hitched her shoulder, shifting the weight of the basket she carried.  It was a beautiful day here in the dappled shade of the woods, and they had an afternoon of picnicking and berry picking ahead of them.
She stepped over a knobby root and paused while Toby and Jasper studied a large beetle lumbering up the side of a hickory treeShe inhaled, drawing in the scent of pine needles and just a hint of honeysuckle.  They’d been strolling alongthis leaf-carpeted trail through the woods for about thirty minutes, and the creek crossing was just past the bit of heavy brush up ahead.  Some of the choicest blackberries in the county grew there. 
Once they’d picked enough for Lucy to make a cobbler or two, they’d eat the picnic lunch she’d packed. 
A noisy commotion from somewhere up ahead caught her attention.
Toby whispered,  “What’s that?”
This version is a bit better. Hopefully I’ve added enough detail here to give the reader a sense of place, enough to help her really visualize the setting.

But we can do better. Where Texture is all about grounding the reader in your scene, Emotion is about subtext, nuance, feelings, mood – in other words, it’s about allowing your readers to engage with the characters in your story.

Layering In Texture and Emotion

Using the same scene, here is how I layered in the emotion (again in blue text):

“The preacher’s cat is an elegant cat.”
“The preacher’s cat is a frightened cat.”
“The preacher’s cat is a gregarious cat.”
“Gregarious.”  Toby drew the word out as he stretched the band on his slingshot.  “What does that mean, Ma?”
Lucy Ames smiled down at the boy walking beside her.  The Preacher’s Cat was a favorite game of Toby’s.  He collected new words like other six-year-olds collected rocks and bugs.
“It means to be sociable, to want to be part of a group of other folk rather than off by yourself all the time.”   Lucy pointed to the floppy-eared dog capering along beside them.  “For example, Jasper here is very gregarious, but Mustard, for all his skills as a mouser, isn’t.” 
Lucy watched him mentally file away her definition.  Her sweet, curious, intelligent little boy, so precious to her.  Now that her mother was gone, he was all she had that truly mattered.
Her smile faltered at that reminder, and she pressed a hand lightly against her bodice, comforted by the feel of her mother’s locket, cool against her skin.  Then she hitched her shoulder, shifting the weight of the basket she carried.  It was a beautiful day, tranquil here in the dappled shade of the woods, and they had an afternoon of picnicking and berry picking ahead of them.Time to concentrate on her blessings, not her losses.
She stepped over a knobby root and paused while Toby and Jasper studied a large beetle lumbering up the side of a hickory tree. She inhaled, drawing in a feeling of serenity along withthe scent of pine needles and just a hint of honeysuckle.   There was no need to hurry, no sense of urgency.  After all, the walk was as much a part of the outing as the destination.  They’d been strolling along this leaf-carpeted trail through the woods for about thirty minutes, and the creek crossing was just past the bit of heavy brush up ahead.  Some of the choicest blackberries in the county grew there. 
Once they’d picked enough for Lucy to make a cobbler or two, Toby’s favorite treat, they’d eat the picnic lunch she’d packed.  Afterwards, they could wiggle their toes in the creek, or look for cloud pictures, or--
A noisy commotion from somewhere up ahead caught her attention. At the same time, Toby reached for her hand.  “Ma,” he whispered,  “What’s that?”

In the above version, I’ve added in the cues to let you in on what the characters are felling, how they view the world around them and each other. I’ve given you more reason to care about them and reason to feel things more deeply when their peace is shattered, which it will be in the next few paragraphs 😊.

Adding layers to your story is not difficult, but it does take a deft touch.  It’s important to pay attention to your story as a whole, but especially those key scenes in your story. Give your readers layers to discover, to absorb, to delight in. And they will reward you by returning to your writing again and again.

Layering In Texture and Emotion

So now it's your turn.  Do you have any tips on how you go about adding layers to your work? Any examples you find particularly well done?

Comment below to be added into a drawing for a copy of A Matter Of Trust, the book I drew my example from. Or, if you prefer, you can select any book from my backlist.


Layering In Texture and Emotion
Texas, 1892 - He’s a man with a mission...
When Lucy Ames rescues a stranger from being beaten and robbed, she can’t just leave the man to die. But with her reputation in town already in tatters, how can she take this wounded man into her home? All she can do is what’s right…and hope for the best. Unlike Lucy, Toby, her little boy, is delighted to have a man in the house. As much as Lucy wants the man gone, she can’t begrudge Toby the kind of father figure he’s never had before. 

On a self-assigned mission to locate his nephew, Reed Wilder can’t believe his luck when he realizes his beautiful rescuer is the strumpet who beguiled his arrow-straight brother. But she’s not at all what he expected. She’s independent and feisty and…captivating. 

Before either of them realize it, Lucy and Reed fall in love. But how can their relationship survive the secrets that plague them both?

A Short Introduction & Writing Emotion

A Short Introduction & Writing Emotion
Hi everyone, Winnie Griggs here. First let me say how absolutely thrilled I am to be joining the Seekerville line-up! This has always been one of my favorite blogs to visit so I was incredibly honored to receive an invitation come on board as an official Seeker.

I gave a lot of thought into what I should write about for this, my first post, and I suppose I should start by telling you a little about myself. I’ll keep this part brief.

I grew up in SE Louisiana, right across the river from New Orleans in a decidedly rural area.  I’m the oldest of five siblings, though we are spread out in age – my youngest sister is 20 years younger than me (Imagine getting the news that your parents are expecting when you’re in college!).

I met the man who would become my husband while I was in college and we celebrated our 42nd anniversary just before Thanksgiving. We have four children, the youngest two are twins. I always thought three was the ideal number but I like to say that the Good Lord knew better and gave me two that last time around and they have been a joy to us ever since.

Professionally, I worked for an Electric Utility Company for 35 years as an IT professional and a Project Manager and I am now very happily retired. 

On the writing front, I made my first sale to Dorchester Publishing’s Leisure Books line in 2000 and published four additional titles with them before moving on to Love Inspired where I sold sixteen titles. I've also made several sales to small presses in the interim. And, with the closing of the Love Inspired Historical line, I’m facing yet another change in my career. I can’t see what the future holds for me and my writing at this point, but I have faith that it will all work out as it should.

So that’s me in a nutshell. On to the more important part of this post.
A Short Introduction & Writing Emotion

I’m developing a new workshop I’ve titled Delivering Emotion. Below is a short excerpt from my WIP that I’d like to get some feedback on. So here goes.

When depicting character emotion, the cardinal rule is - Don’t tell me what your character is feeling, SHOW ME.  Here are a few ways to do that:

A Short Introduction & Writing Emotion

Use the five senses
The senses, and how they influence and trigger thoughts, can be a powerful emotion indicator. Look at the two passages below. 

As he tended to her cut finger, she felt a deeper connection between them.
Reggie stared down at her hand in his.  A tiny rivulet of blood seeped out from the shallow slice, curling around her finger and onto his, like a narrow ribbon binding them together. Amazing that such large, work-callused hands could feel so warm and gentle without losing their sense of strength… she stared down at his bent head, so close she could smell the scent of soap and cigar smoke and night air.  So close her breath stirred his hair.  So close she could press her lips to his temple without moving much at all.

Use Internalization
What a character is thinking communicates emotion to the reader even if the other characters in the story don't see it.

His words made her happy

She could hardly believe it—he’d supported her over Ava. That had never happened before. What a wonderful way to begin their vacation.

A Short Introduction & Writing Emotion

Use body language

Body language is another powerful indicator of a character's emotional state. It's a tool that can convey a whole lot, both to the reader and to the other story characters without one bit of dialogue being exchanged.

He was angry
He slammed his mug down, pushed away from the counter and stormed out of the room.

Use Subconscious ‘tells’

This is one of my favorite ways to convey emotion - using little tics and unconscious habits to betray what a character is feeling. But be careful, a little goes a long way when using this method.

Alice could tell he was lying.
Uh-oh, he was twisting that signet ring on his finger. He always did that when he was lying.

So that's as far as I've gotten.  The examples obviously need a little more work, but hopefully they convey what I'm going for. The other topics I intend to cover in the workshop are:

Showing emotional growth

* Discuss key steps along the character’s emotional arc that should be highlighted for greatest impact

Layering it in

* How to weave it in without hitting the reader over the head

Knowing when to punch it home

* Discuss a structure for those big emotional pay off moments

Being aware of the emotions you want to elicit in your reader

* These may or may not be the same emotions you are putting your character through.

* Viewing it with a reader’s eye


Now it's your turn. What do you think? Am I hitting the right points? Is there some aspect of this topic I'm missing?

Anyone leaving feedback for me today will be entered into a drawing for their choice of any book from my backlist.

Eliciting Emotion in your Characters and Your ReaderBleeding onto the Page: a writing exerciseEmotion and The Setting: A Powerful Story ComboUsing Settings to Tap Your Reader's ImaginationLayering In Texture and EmotionA Short Introduction & Writing Emotion

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