Friday, October 12, 2007

Gerri Russell Talks Tips

Guest Maven Gerri RussellEmotion is one of the most important tools a writer has. Emotion affects every other element of fiction, including dialogue, action, character development, plot and theme.

Emotion allows your characters to act, speak and think in richer, more genuine ways. Emotion pulls the reader through plot twists, dramatic tension, lets them experience things they have never experienced before. Emotion makes the reader care about the your characters, their circumstances and the situations they find themselves in.

The following is a list of nine techniques that might help intensify the emotion in your work:

Technique #1 Finding Your Voice

Your voice is you, talking through your characters. This is just something you have--your writer's gift. Use it, exploit it, it will be the thing that sells you and makes readers come back to your books over and over again.

Technique #2 Handling POV

Point of View plays an important role in creating emotion. It allows you to look at the world through a character’s eyes. POV shapes the readers perception of the character's emotional self.

Interior monologue/questioning can also demonstrate a character’s emotional state. Your character can relate the emotion he/she feels now by relating themselves to the world around them. Emotions should always follow an external event. And that new emotion causes cause yet another external event. It's an unending chain until the character is willing to sacrifice it all for a break in the cycle (ie: change).

An favorite POV approach of mine is to watch/experience a character’s emotions through another characters eyes. This can be very effective during times of intense emotion, i.e. you have to watch a character’s pain rather than feel it.

Technique #3 Mastering Show Don't Tell
Filter everything in your story through a character's senses. They must taste it, smell it, see it, touch it, hear it, or imagine it.

One pitfall to showing is the possible lack of authenticity. This happens when the writer doesn’t trust her/his own ability to portray emotions, or backs away from what a situation really requires. This is probably one of the hardest parts of writing. This is where we have to push past our own “safety net” of emotion and delve deep into our own inner lives, revisit things that may have happened in our past that might be uncomfortable for us. Think of this process as a “self-imposed” therapy.

Technique #4 Embarking on the Emotional Journey

Romantic fiction is all about the emotional journey of a character. You can have a great plot, but without a good emotional journey to compel the reader to read, the book will fail. All characters in good fiction go through emotional growth and change.

Each character in your story should have his/her own emotional journey. I call this their emotional timeline. When I plot out a book, I plot out the emotional timeline of each character as painstakingly as I do the plot.

An emotional time line helps you stay on target with the points of change in your story and helps you grow your characters toward these points in a logical and organic way.

Your emotional timeline needs to follow your plot. When the plot peaks, so should the emotional circumstances of either your hero or heroine.

Technique #5 Creating Memorable Characters

Memorable characters have one thing in common- they evoke an emotional response in us. Why? What was it about these characters that grabbed us by the gut and wouldn't let us go? All these characters were larger than life. They jumped off the page and into our heart because the writers let us into their deepest thoughts, fears, desires. We cried with them, we cheered for them, because we were intimately involved in who they were--all because of the way they were portrayed emotionally.

Your characters are your story. Without characters that readers can identify with and relate to, you have only people moving around on a page.

Technique #6 Using Props to Show Emotion

Suggestion can play an important role in portraying emotion. Using props is an effective way to show a character’s emotion, rather than stating how they feel.

For example, let's say the character is sad. Instead of telling us she is sad, we could see crumpled tissues overflowing from the garbage can, mascara smudges beneath her eyes, and perhaps a picture of a loved one laid flat on the table, out of place from the rest of the pictures there.

Technique #7 Using Setting to Convey Emotion

You can use the setting a character finds him/herself in to portray their emotion. A character in a desert setting will react differently to the environment than a character on a lush, tropical island.

Technique #8 Using Indirect Action
Sometimes showing emotion through an indirect action can be more powerful than stating the emotion.

An example of this from my own work is: My heroine Scotia in The Warrior Trainer has a habit of tugging down the edge of her armor when she is nervous. I repeated the action several times in the book, and each time, I allowed the reader "insight" without saying a thing about what Scotia felt in that situation. It's the subtext.

Technique #9 Using Metaphors and Similes
Emotions are never one-dimensional. They are complex, and often mixed together. It is not easy to always describe this mix. Metaphors and similes help.

Again, let's take an example: “Henry was angry, confused, nervous, and afraid.”

How much better would it be to convey Henry’s emotions with a simile, or an image?

Henry felt like a marble caught in a pinball machine.

Jimmie’s eyes narrowed. “You have a problem with that?”

The ball hit the targets, bouncing wildly back and forth. He wasn’t about to risk his family’s safety by smuggling a total stranger across the border.

I hope the above tips helped you think a little deeper about emotion as it relates to your characters. Character makes your story come alive for the reader.

Happy writing!


Gerri Russell is a two-time recipient of the Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart award and winner of the American Title II competition sponsored by Dorchester Publishing and Romantic Times BOOKreviews Magazine. Her latest book, Warrior's Bride, is an October 2007 Leisure Books release.


Jackie Barbosa said...

Wow, Gerri, great posts. Lots of wonderful, helpful tips. (If only it were as easy to put them in action as it is to read about them :)!)

Erica Ridley said...

Hi Gerri! Fabulous post. I'm definitely going to make it a point to master #4 and #8. Thanks for blogging!

Darcy Burke said...

Gerri, love the emotional timeline. I had started doing that with the book I'm working on now, but didn't think of it in those terms. Love it! Am adopting it as part of my personal lexicon...

Thanks for posting with us!!

Carey Baldwin said...

Writing emotion and writing it fresh is the hardest thing to acheive for me. Thanks so much for the helpful tips. I look forward to reading your new book!

Lenora Bell said...

Thank you, Gerri. It's so weird because I've been thinking about this issue of emotional connection so much lately. It seems to be the lesson I really need to learn. Your tips were so helpful. I printed them out and put them above my desk. Now I'll have to buy one of your books to see it in action!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Thanks, Gerri. Great post. And timely for me, since I've started writing a particularly emotional story. =o)

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