Posted On December 10, 2010 by Print This Post

Author Liz Talley – Pass Me a Tissue: How to Add Emotion to Your Writing

Since moving to California, I’m often asked where I’m from because they know it sure as heck ain’t from around here! I love being a southern gal, and have a soft spot for other women with the same kind of drawl and mindset. I was fortunate enough to meet and chat with (and understand!) author Liz Talley at National in Orlando last summer. Liz lives in Louisiana, but writes fabulous stories set in the area close to my Texas hometown. Today, Liz is going to share some tips on how to infuse your writing with more emotion, which is always a good thing for engaging your readers! Liz has generously offered to give away Vegas Two Step and a $10.00 gift card for Barnes and Noble or BAM.

Howdy, Liz!

I’m going to be absolutely up front and honest with you, I’m not great at teaching craft. I know. You’re wondering what I’m doing here and why you are even bothering to read any further. I don’t have a good answer for that, but I’m going to do my absolute best to give you some tools for layering emotion into your manuscript, mainly tone, mood, theme and dialogue.

First, let’s talk TONE. Before you can create the exact emotion you want to evoke in a scene, you need to think about what tone you’re trying to establish. Tone is the writer’s attitude toward his or her audience and subject. Is your tone playful? Formal? Sarcastic? Melancholy? What do you bring to the scene? Part of tone is the author’s voice. It’s how you say what you intend to say. Discovering the tone you wish to take is important to the dynamics of the scene. For example, if you are writing a scene where the heroine is talking to her best friend about being betrayed by her first love, your tone may be sympathetic. But it could be bitter. Can you write the same scene but take different tones? Of course you can. Establishing your tone is the first step in creating emotion.

Now let’s look at MOOD. How is mood different you say? Well, it’s different in that mood is the emotion you wish to create in your reader. It’s the transfer of your tone to the reader. The mood is often suggested by the details you insert into your scene. Take the very first scene of your current work in progress. What feeling are you trying to create in the reader – regret, fear, outrage? What elements do you use other than your dialogue to portray this feeling? Examine your characters’ movements, expressions, even setting. How do these elements contribute to the mood you are trying to create in your reader? Can you stretch yourself to make those elements more effective in creating the feeling you want your reader to take with him/her?

Next, comes a slightly more complex tool for creating emotion, but it’s probably my favorite – it’s the weaving of THEME throughout the book. The definition of theme is “what the work is trying to say about the nature of people or life[1]”. When starting a book, I always stop to ponder my theme for the book, and then make sure I subtlety weave this underlying thought throughout my story. One of my favorite methods is the use of a symbol. In my upcoming January book A Little Texas, my heroine Kate must come face to face with a past she’d rather forget. Hurt long ago by her father, she’s spent much of her life protecting herself and not letting anyone get close enough to hurt or humiliate her. My symbol in this story is a plant. Kate starts the story as a hard, bitter seed. Throughout the book (which starts in winter) I weave imagery associated with plants. It’s very subtle, but also very intentional. By the end of the story, Kate has been watered, tenderly-loved and allowed to grow through forgiveness. The symbols at the end of the book are lush and spring-like, reflecting a rebirth. It’s similar to creating flow in your house. Many designers use one particular color that flows from room to room to unite the house. Do you automatically notice? Probably not. But the theme is there if one looks hard enough.

The final way you can enrich the emotion in your story is through realistic, heartfelt DIALOGUE. And there is only one way to do this – climb into the story. Don’t write the scene. Live the scene. I’m a visual learner so this is a must for me. I have to be there in the scene. I have to hear the words the characters speak and their words must be authentic… which means I don’t think about rules. When you’re in a scene, don’t stop to ponder the “correctness” of the words or whether it will fit the line. When writing highly-charged emotional scenes, let your characters live the scene. What comes out of their mouths may shock you. That’s good. Roll with it. Allow them to come to life and speak their minds. Let them feel the anger, pain, betrayal, frustration, desire, need, joy, etc. Ride the roller coaster you put them on, taking time to pull from your own life the times when you felt the way your character feels. Put your emotions from that time in your manuscript. Raw and uncensored is some of the best writing you can do.

So there you have it – four things to examine more closely when layering emotion into your story. As I wrote this, it occurred to me that the story I’m currently working on might be lacking some of these elements, so the topic is very timely for me. We all struggle with revising and polishing our work, but I think layering emotion is one of the most important techniques you can use in your writer’s tool box. Think about the writers atop the NYT Bestseller’s lists. What do they all have in common? Yes, emotion. Their stories and characters pull at you, make you identify with them, and keep you coming back for more. Learn to do this, and you just might join them on that list.

[1]Literature Gold, Prentice Hall, 1994.


RU Crew, we’ve all read those books that put us through the wringer, right? Take this opportunity to pick Liz’s brain about how you can write one of those emotion-filled stories of your own. And share those books that really did it for you. (Mine’s an SEP book that I’ll reveal in the comments :)) Don’t forget Liz will give away a book and a $10 gift card!

Don’t miss Monday’s lecture when author Lori Brighton will be here to talk about the art of self-publishing.

Liz Talley writes sassy Southern stories for Harlequin Superromance. Her book Vegas Two Step debuted in June 2010 and her next book The Way to Texas hits shelves on December 7th with A Little Texas to follow on January 11th. Currently, she’s hard at work on book number five while juggling a move across town, buying presents to go under a non-existent Christmas tree and trying to remember to pack her children lunch every morning. You can visit her at to learn more about her and her upcoming books.

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20 Responses to “Author Liz Talley – Pass Me a Tissue: How to Add Emotion to Your Writing”

  1. Not sure why but the subtle differences in emotions reminds me of some of the subtle differences in taste (actual sense of taste not artistic or anything like that), and to help people distinguish or define what they are tasting there are many ‘wheels’ to help with that (wine, scotch, etc.)

    Do you ever use an emotion wheel to help define the specific nuance that you are trying to convey?

    Posted by Tarvaloth | December 10, 2010, 12:54 am
  2. Hi Liz,

    Thanks for joining us today! I love your example for weaving theme throughout the book — makes a lot more sense now.

    I loved watching Derek Craven in DREAMING OF YOU (Lisa Kleypas). The heroine (aka Mouse) puzzled him, then eventually transformed him (sort of) from a hardened gutter rat to a loving husband. Brilliantly crafted.

    BTW, you did a wonderful job teaching the four areas of craft above!


    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | December 10, 2010, 5:40 am
  3. Hi Liz!
    Congrats on your upcoming release! I already have Vegas Two Step. (Bought it and you autographed it at national – great meeting you!)

    This post came at a great time for me…as I struggle with book 2 of my contract. Adding emotion was the hardest part for me in book 1. I find I don’t really like my first drafts. It’s not until the third or fourth run through of a chapter, after I’ve layered in emotion, that I think its any good.

    For me, having a critique partner who is strong (in emotion) where I am weak is a definite plus. A typical comment: Oh, no. Way too easy. How does she feel when…….

    Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | December 10, 2010, 7:11 am
  4. Great post, Liz. I too needed to read this today. You did very well teaching.

    p.s. I’m from the New Orleans area, and had no idea you were a Louisiana gal too. You’ll have to come and visit our local Sola-RWA chapter.

    Happy Holidays,
    Dawn Chartier

    Posted by Dawn Chartier | December 10, 2010, 8:27 am
  5. Morning Liz!!

    What a great post, definitely going in my keeper file! I too have Vegas Two Step – what a fun read! I’m like Wendy, it takes me a few drafts to layer in the emotions, otherwise my main characters tend to stand in a bubble and just talk!


    Thanks for posting with us today!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | December 10, 2010, 9:12 am
  6. Good morning, Liz –

    I agree; I think you’ve done a brilliant job of teaching craft! Do you have any writers who are your role models for creating a more emotional read?

    And I have both Vegas Two Step and your newest book. Loved VTS and can’t wait to the rest the next!

    Happy Friday,

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | December 10, 2010, 9:46 am
  7. Hi Liz! It’s great to have you here. Wonderful post. I love it when I’m reading a book and the author has completely nailed the emotion. I think the book that immediately comes to mind is Lisa Gardner’s Alone. What an emotional shredder. It got to the point where I was asking “What more can she do to this guy?” Talk about painful! I became totally invested in Bobby Dodge in that book so kudos to Lisa Gardner. Love that Bobby Dodge!

    One thing I do that helps with my own writing is to flag pages in my favorite author’s books where they totally sucked me in. Then when I’m writing and stuck in a scene, I go back and study some of the flagged pages to see if there is a particular technique the author used. It’s a great learning experience because some author’s use very subtle techniques, while some are right in your face.

    Thanks for a great post.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | December 10, 2010, 10:13 am
  8. Hey Liz! Great teaching post! You’re a natural teacher 🙂 I’m very visual and being in the scene…kind of like a fly on the wall…is what I do as well.

    I’ve read Vegas Two Step and The Way To Texas already. Loved them both! I’d say you have the emotion thing down pat 😉 Can’t wait to read the next one.

    Happy Writing!

    Posted by Rula Sinara | December 10, 2010, 10:22 am
  9. Thanks, everyone, for the welcome. An thanks for the support with my books. I so loved writing them and it’s so gratifying knowing the emotion was there.

    As to role models, I’d have to say Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a favorite for emotion. I also love Francine Rivers. I write a bit lighter than they do but I still strive to stir up the feelings in my readers that they do.

    Sorry I’ve been late to the party. We moved last weekend and I’m still catching up on things namely Christmas shopping. My poor children.

    Posted by Liz Talley | December 10, 2010, 11:05 am
  10. Hi Liz!

    I’m a big SEP fan too… as far as emotional kick, Dream A Little Dream was one of hers that really stuck with me.

    Good luck with the move!


    Posted by jennifer tanner | December 10, 2010, 4:20 pm
  11. Liz –

    Thanks so much for being at Romance University today. You can be sure I’ll think more about emotion when I’m writing!


    Posted by KelseyBrowning | December 10, 2010, 10:20 pm
  12. Thanks! I loved being here! Great information and good friends:)

    Posted by Liz Talley | December 11, 2010, 3:23 pm


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