As a member of the San Antonio Romance Authors, I’ve written several articles for their newsletter. If you would like to use any of them, please include the short biography listed below, and credit them properly.
In the weeks following the national convention, I found myself seated on my sofa, barely recovered from my post-conference, knowledge ‘hangover,’ watching rented movies I’d seen several times before. I was about halfway through a bowl of popcorn and just starting to appreciate how good Brendan Frasier looks covered in a fine film of dust when it hit me. Everything — well, nearly everything — I’d learned at the conference was right there in the movie.
Harry Potter. Everyone’s talking about Harry. With Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone coming out on video and DVD, the fifth book looming on the horizon, and the second movie slatted for fall, the Harry buzz is gearing up again.
His stories have transformed the video-game generation into readers. His books have revolutionized the publishing industry (foreign rights are now sold by language rather than country because so many people ordered British copies of HP IV on-line). And his movie has broke a slew of records (it broke Jurassic Park II’s ‘best single day’ record twice).
So what’s so great about Harry? What exactly did J.K. Rowling do to deserve so much hype? Surely nothing is worthy of all this fuss.
I beg to differ.
When I was a sophmore in high school, I tried out for the Junior/Senior drill team. When I got home after try outs, I discovered I’d left my brand-new Reebok cross trainers at the school. My mom drove me back to look for them, but they weren’t there.
Don’t you love it when you read a book that runs you through the emotional gamut? Whether it be side-splitting laughter, or having to sleep with the lights on because you’re so damn scared, or even using that extra box of Kleenex. There’s nothing like that emotional high you can get from reading a well-crafted book.
When it comes to the romance novel, emotion is king. You’ve got to have it on every page. Which emotion depends on you and your characters and their individual situation, but emotion is the kicker. It’s the reason we read romance. We’re emotion junkies.
Learning how to add emotion to every page though can keep that elusive first sale just out of your reach. Use our tried and true methods and it just might lead to “the call.”
I. Holding your emotions at bay
- It’s all personal
- What about Aunt Mildred? (learning to let it all hang out)
- Layering in emotion, the best way to do it (on both a macro and micro level)
- Macro – large in scope. This is looking at each scene as an individual unit and deciphering what you can do to make the emotion have the biggest impact. Consider scene transitions and plot points and characterization.
- Micro – small and localized. In terms of emotion this is your specific word choice. Once you’ve identified the key emotion for the scene, consider individual word selection to mirror that emotion.
II. Use the 5 senses – going beyond the visual and how to make a basic description do double duty
III. Be specific – the more specific something is, the more general it becomes
IV. Character voice – you say T-O-M-A-Y-T-O and I say T-O-M-A-H-T-O
V. Deep point of view – completely removing author intrusion, and enveloping your reader into the story
VI. Pacing – fast and hard or slow and steady
VII. Subtext – what really lies beneath
Use the 5 senses – push yourself and don’t rely on the inventory list at the front of scene. The senses should do more than assist your setting.
Excerpt from Seduce Me Robyn DeHart 2009
Sometime the next evening, after an exhausting journey, the coach rattled to a stop. At some point during their long ride, the men had untied her hands and removed the cloth in her mouth making it far easier to breath. Esme was most eager to escape from the vile enclosure so that she might stretch her legs and relieve herself. Neither man offered her assistance, but she managed to climb out of the rig.
Of course her hope that they had stopped at an inn and she’d be able to seek help from a stranger were dashed when she saw no welcoming lamps. Instead she faced a barren landscape without a house or even a barn in sight. Her first few steps were unsteady, but she was able to maneuver herself behind the nearest bush.
“Stay with the girl and see that she doesn’t try to run away,” Thatcher yelled.
Desperate to avoid being seen by her abductors in such a state of dishevelment, Esme hurriedly tugged her clothes into place. She stepped back onto the path. Waters grabbed her arm and led her through a clearing. She surveyed their surroundings as best she could in the dusky evening light. The moon hung heavy and low behind her, still rising, but illuminating the stone walls in front of them. Off in the distance she could hear water lapping at rocks and gulls crying. She inhaled deeply and filled her lungs with salty-crisp air; they were on the coast.
It had taken them a while to leave London, but once they were on the road, they’d traveled all day and into the early evening. Not long enough to reach a western or northern coastline.
Waters grabbed her arm. “We won’t hurt you if you just do as you’re told.” He led her forward toward crumbled rock walls.
“Considering I’m not certain what you want, cooperation might be challenging.” Esme waited for his response, but none came. Indignantly she jerked away from the man.
The ruins stretched on as far as her eye could see, in some spots nothing more than a pile of stone, whereas other sections still had full walls standing. He led her to a spot where the wall had crumbled down to nothing and stepped over the threshold into the ruins. Cold stone chilled her feet through her thin slippers, and the damp night breeze scattered gooseflesh across her body. In a futile effort, she pulled her thin robe tighter. The scent of damp earth and moss permeated the air as they moved further into the decaying building, past more piles of rubble, through tumbled down archways and heaps of rotting timbers.
“What is this place?” she asked.
“It was a monastery,” Waters said.
They came to a steep staircase, which proved difficult to maneuver. The moss-covered stairs were slippery and lacked a railing, but with careful steps, she made it to the bottom unscathed. Water dripped into several puddles in an odd cadence, giving the large cavernous room a hollow feeling.
They had said they were taking her to a dungeon and they made good on that promise. In the flickering light of the men’s lanterns, she saw that a torture cage hung loosely from the ceiling across from her, although thankfully, it looked to be in rather poor condition. Several sets of manacles were fastened to the wall, the ceiling above them partially collapsed. She suspected the thing off in the far corner was a pit. She shuddered to think of being crammed into the tiny box with nothing but the dark surrounding her.
Be specific – using universal details to maximize reader experience.
Excerpt from In the Tycoon’s Debt Emily McKay 2009
Suddenly, she wasn’t kissing a cold-hearted stranger. That man disappeared. And in an instant she was kissing Quinn.
Quinn. Who she’d loved like she’d loved no one else. Who’d been the single bright spot throughout her very rough teenage years. Who’d always made her laugh. Who’d listened to her ideas. Who’d expected more of her than anyone else. Who’d made her stretch. Made her yearn.
For her, Quinn was youth and hope. He was strength and defiance. He spoke to the wildness of her soul. To the restless, untamed corners of her spirit.
With his lips moving over hers, with the scent of him in her nose, she felt sixteen again. Full of hope and lust for life. Thrilled with the pleasure humming through her veins. Giddy with the power to give as much pleasure as she received.
Lost in that memory, her whole being sank into the kiss. Her arms snaked up around his shoulders. And dang it, those really were his shoulders. No fancy padding lining his jacket. No flabby belly beneath his shirt. Just Quinn.
Character Voice – making certain every character sounds different and can be easily identified in dialogue or internalization
Excerpt from Treasure Me Robyn DeHart 2011
Vanessa Pembrooke crept down the staircase, careful not to make a noise. She would marry in two more days, and thoughts of the ceremony plagued her mind, keeping sleep at bay. It would take hours for her mother and her army of servants to primp and curl and shine every last inch of Vanessa’s person. Not to mention the dress that she was expected to wear. She’d be head-to-toe ruffle and lace; a doily with feet. Needless to say, all these wretched thoughts left her wide-awake. Currently she tiptoed to the library to find something to occupy her mind.
The house sat void of sound, the servants all off to bed, her family long ago retired. Her fiancé was staying in the house, but he had gone to bed early with a sour stomach. So at this late hour she would have the library to herself. All those books waiting just for her. She’d already read the latest scientific journal from front to back. Perhaps she’d pick up a history text.
A soft noise caught her attention, and she paused at the door. She turned behind her, but saw no one there. Perhaps her nerves about the wedding made her more jittery than usual. With a silent turn of the knob, she opened the library door.
Vanessa paused just short of entering the room when she caught sight of something, or rather someone, on the floor in front of the fading fire. Naked limbs writhed around one another, glistening with sweat. The man groaned, and the woman, who sat atop him as if riding a horse, whispered a series of soft “yeses” again and again.
In all her imaginings, Vanessa would never have guessed that couples could copulate in such a manner, having only been told of the traditional man-on-top-under-the-covers-in-the-dark position. Vanessa wondered at what might compel two people to do such a thing in a public room. It was rather scandalous, and were her mother to discover such activity, she would have the servants fired immediately. The woman leaned back giving Vanessa a clear view of the man’s face–Jeremy, her fiancé.
Vanessa knew her mouth had fallen open, and protocol demanded that she turn away and leave him to his transgression. It was precisely the advice her mother would have given her. Turn your head and look the other way. Pretend as if you don’t notice.
Deep POV – removing author intrusion to ground reader directly inside the character’s skin
Excerpt from Killing Fear Allison Brennan 2008
She smelled bleach, and while her mind started to send her a warning, her first thought was for the cat, that he was going to get sick if he knocked over the bleach and inhaled too many fumes.
She took two steps forward feeling for the lamp she couldn’t see but knew was on the end table right there on the left of the door, but she tripped. The cat jumped from her arms as she fell, her hands falling into something sticy and wet. The smell. Why hadn’t she noticed the smell? It was foul, sickly sweet. Metallic—and bleach. Her chest tightened and she couldn’t breathe. She reached back to push herself up and touched a person. A hand.
Her stomach heaved as she fumbled standing in the dark. Someone was here, on the floor. A person. Blood and bleach. Blood and bleach. No, no, no!
She found the lamp, shaking so hard that she knocked it over. She ran to the door, feeling the wall for the light switch. Turned it on.
Anna. Her blood pooled on the hardwood floor. Her eyes were wide open, staring at Robin. Duct tape over Anna’s mouth. She was naked, red cut marks all over her body. One deep bloody slash across her throat. She was dead.
Robin flung open the door and screamed. She ran down the stairs, hoping Will was still there. In the back of her mind, through the pounding in her head, she heard the shrill shriek of her alarm.
The street was empty. Will was gone.
Pacing – utilizing the speed of a scene to maximize emotional impact
Here’s the original scene:
Maddie turned to lead the way to her car when a reporter stuck a
microphone in her face and a camera crew lit up the area.
“Excuse me, Ms. Adams would you care to give us a few answers as to why you would kill murdered your husband and claim that he’d disappeared?”
Unable to move Maddie faced the reporter and opened her mouth.
No words came out, as she melted to the floor.
Her legs turned to oatmeal and she heard her mom calling as she fell.
Here’s the revised scene
Maddie had never liked airports to beginning with. The cacophony of the elevator music, droning chatter and repetitive PA announces set her nerves on edge under the best of circumstances. Today, it was like a knife slicing through the numbing daze of her shock. Even the comfort of her mother’s embrace did little to ease Maddie’s anxiety.
Maddie’s mother pulled back, frowning as she searched Maddie’s face. “You look terrible.”
“How am I supposed to look?” she snapped, then immediately felt a stab of guilt. Her mother wasn’t to blame.
“When was the last time you ate?” her mother pressed.
“I–” She didn’t know, so she lied. “I ate a bagel for breakfast.” Someone had shoved a bagel at her at some point, right? She hadn’t eat it, but that counted. She grabbed her mother’s arm. “Let’s get out of here.”
Her father had been stopped by the baggage attendant to have the tags checked. He could catch up when they were away from the noise and bustle of the concourse.
Maddie pulled her hat low on her head and turned to shoulder her way through the crowd to the doors. The reporter came out of nowhere. He was a small, weazly looking guy, with greedy eyes. A bored camera man stood just behind him the red light blinking about the camera lens.
The reporter yelled to get her attention. “Ms. Adams!”
She turned, trying to avoid him, the crowd seemed to close around her as heads turned in her direction. She looked back, but she’d been cut off from her mother. Her father, still detained by the security official met her gaze across the crowd but couldn’t reach her.
“Ms. Adams!” he repeated, close enough now to shove the microphone in her direction. “Why did you lie about your husband’s disappearance?”
Lie? What was he talking about? “I didn’t–”
“Why did you and your husband fight that night at the restaurant? Did he beat you?” he demanded.
Amy opened her mouth, but no words came out.
“If that why you murdered him? The public will hold you responsible for your crimes! The truth will come out when her body is found!”
An image flashed through Maddie’s mind of Will’s face the last time she’d seen him. The betrayal that had flashed in his eyes. Now it was too late. She’d never be able to tell him the truth. Her head swam as her legs turned to oatmeal. As she melted to the floor, she heard her mom calling her name.
Subtext – underlying meaning or what’s really going on when your characters are discussing
Excerpt from International Kissing Club Ivy Adams 2012
“By the way, Izzy, don’t think we haven’t noticed that you weaseled out of telling who you kissed while we were away. A super-hottie, huh?” She waggled her eyebrows in exaggerated interest. “Anyone we know?”
Izzy threw down her spoon and pushed back her chair. “Screw this. I need a burger.”
She snatched the still full yogurt cup off the table and dumped it in the trash on the way out. Even though there was a recycling bin just beside the trash can. Five inches away.
“What the hell?” she heard her three friends squeal from behind her.
Izzy stopped outside the yogurt shop. The nearest hunk of charred cow flesh could be had about a hundred yards down the road at the Dairy Queen. She set off at a brisk pace. She heard Mei, Piper and Cassidy spill out onto the street behind her.
She wasn’t entirely sure if all the exclamations of confusion were coming from them, or from the voice reason in her head. She didn’t care.
Naturally, Cassidy caught up with her first. She didn’t try to stop her, but fell into step beside her. “Is this going to be another diving-into-the-pool incident?”
“Nope. This is just going to be an eating-a-burger incident. A I’m-tired-of-making-sacrifices-when-everyone-else-gets-to-do-whatever-they-want incident.”
“Fair enough.” Cassidy stepped forward and opened the door to the Dairy Queen for Izzy.
Izzy marched up to the counter. Ryan—a sophomore from their school–was manning the register. She tried to smile at him, but it felt like a snarl instead. “I want a double bacon cheeseburger.”
In that instant the door swung open and Piper and Mei came stumbling in.
“OMG,” Piper screeched. “Is she really doing it? Is she really ordering a burger?”
“She will if this idiot ever places the order.” Cassidy glared. Ryan started typing.
“A real burger? With beef in it? From an actual methane-spewing cow? Not some hippy, vegan burger made of spelt but a real honest-to-God burger? That a real person, with actual taste buds would want to eat?”
Izzy gritted her teeth and slammed her cash down on the counter.
Then she spun to face Piper, Cassidy and Mei. She didn’t even bother looking for a booth at the back of the dinning room, but let her have it, right there in front of the whole restaurant. “One time, I made veggie burgers for you. One time, and you’re still bitching about it a year later.”
“What is wrong with you?” Piper asked, annoyance making her voice low and clipped.
“I just …” She blew out a breath. Trying—really trying—to find words to explain other than self-centered, self-absorbed, and ego-centric. It was really, really hard. But she didn’t want to throw around those kinds of insults. Not when she was pretty sure her own behavior was just as bad. “I just really,” she tried again. “Had a hard time being alone. And—” Okay. Here it was. The horrible truth about who she’d kissed.
Final tips for adding in emotion:
- Identify the point of view character (But don’t forget the other characters need emotion too!)
- Identify the core emotion of the scene
- Map out the emotional progression of the scene
- Use props to convey emotion
- When you end a scene in a character’s POV, make sure they experience the same emotion in the next scene in their head.
Combined, Emily McKay and Robyn DeHart have presented workshops all over the country to writing groups, librarians and readers and at several RWA National conferences. They have been critique partners for over a decade and enjoy teaching together.
Award-winning author, Robyn DeHart has been nominated for three RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice Awards and in 2010 she won her first, in addition to winning a RomCon Reader’s Crown award. She is known for her unique plotlines and authentic characters. Robyn is a favorite among readers and reviewers. Publishers’ Weekly claims her writing to be “comical and sexy” while the Chicago Tribune dubs her “wonderfully entertaining.” A self-proclaimed craft junkie, Robyn is a popular writing instructor, having presented workshops on-line, at several RWA chapters and many times at RWA’s National Conference. She lives in Central Texas with her brainy husband and two very spoiled cats. In March 2011, the final book in her popular Legend Hunters series, TREASURE ME hit stores. You can find her on-line at www.RobynDeHart.com or www.JauntyQuills.com.
Award-winning author, Emily McKay has been a Golden Heart finalist and a double RITA finalist. In 2010 she was nominated for an RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award. She is Walden’s Series Romance bestselling author. She has written several articles about the craft of writing. She’s presented workshops on-line, at numerous local RWA chapters, as well as for the Central Texas Library System and the Burnet Cultural Arts Festival. Her most recent Silhouette Desire releases were THE BILLIONAIRE’S BRIDAL BID (2010) and SEDUCED: THE UNEXPECTED VIRGIN (2011.) You can find her on-line at www.EmilyMcKay.com or www.JauntyQuills.com.
Emily & Robyn’s suggested reading list…
GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon
The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami Cowden, et. al
38 Most Common Mistakes of Fiction Writers by Jack Bickham
Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain
What Type Am I?: Discover Who You Really Are by Renee Baron
Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood
Books by Emily McKay
International Kissing Club (co-written as Ivy Adams 2012)
Seduced: The Unexpected Virgin (2011)
The Billionaire’s Bridal Bid
Affair With the Rebel Heiress
His Accidental Fiancée
In the Tycoon’s Debt
Tempted into the Tycoon’s Trap
Baby on the Billionaire’s Doorstep
Surrogate and Wife
Her Wildest Dreams
Baby Be Mine
Books by Robyn DeHart
Treasure Me (2011)
The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance, Her Gentleman Thief
Tempted At Every Turn
A Study in Scandal
Emily McKay has been a member of RWA since 1995. Her first book, Baby, Be Mine (Harlequin Temptation, Jan. 2003) was a double RITA nominee for Best First Book and Best Short Contemporary Romance. Her next book, Baby on the Billionaire’s Doorstep, will be available in April 2008. For more information about the author and additional articles on writing, visit EmilyMcKay.com.