I’m thrilled to have one of my favorite authors, 2012 RITA® finalist, Christina Brooke with us! The third book of her Ministry of Marriage series, A Duchess to Remember, released on June 24th.
Christina discusses her method on how to write gut-wrenching emotion, the kind of emotion that makes your character resonate with a reader.
WRITING THE EMOTIONAL BODY BLOW
For many romance writers who receive rejections of their work, the comment ‘not enough emotional punch’ can be a common theme. When we write romance, we invite the reader to take an emotional journey with our characters.
The path to happily ever after ought never to run smooth (well, not in Romancelandia, anyway!) For readers to appreciate fully the triumph of the happy ending, we need to take our characters (and our readers) to the depths of despair along the way.
But why stop at a mere emotional punch? Today, I’m going to talk about the mother of all techniques for evoking emotion–the emotional body blow.
This is a crucial moment in your story where an event floors your hero or heroine emotionally. There are many ways to set up an emotional body blow. WARNING some of the examples below might be SPOILERS:
The character longs desperately for something she can’t have. Taken even further, she has to stand by and watch someone else get her heart’s desire.
In SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, Elinor falls in love with Edward, then not only does Lucy Steele tell her she is engaged to him but she treats Eleanor as a confidante.
In the movie 27 Dresses, Katherine Heigl’s character longs for a wedding of her own in which she wears her mother’s wedding dress and her boss is the groom,. Not only does her sister steal the man of her dreams, she has their mother’s wedding dress cut up and reconstructed in a more modern design for her to wear, effectively ruining it and stopping Heigl’s character from ever wearing it herself.
In Georgette Heyer’s DEVIL’S CUB, Mary, who believes she is not good enough by birth and breeding for the Marquis of Vidal, hears Vidal’s mother say exactly that.
In Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s LADY BE GOOD, Kenny Traveler lets everyone think he is lazy and irresponsible, but when Emma jumps to the wrong conclusion about him abandoning his own child, it cuts him to the core.
Something the character fears and anticipates actually comes to pass.
This often precipitates the ‘black moment’, where it seems that all is lost.
In PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, while Lizzie defends her family against Mr. Darcy, she is secretly afraid he’s right about their vulgarity. Her fear is realized when Lydia runs away with Wickham. Not only is her family likely to be disgraced, Darcy will never be hers now.
In the second book in my Ministry of Marriage series, MAD ABOUT THE EARL, my beastly hero is finally forced to confront how inept he is in society and how wrong he is for his beautiful wife when he is ridiculed at a society ball.
Someone they love sees them as they truly are.
When a love interest zeroes in on the truth of a hero’s character–what Michael Hauge calls their “essence” as opposed to the false “identity” they’ve built for themselves, this can come as a severe blow. You would think it would be a source of elation, but for a character who has repressed his or her essence for so long out of a need to protect themselves, it can be equally terrifying.
Dain in Loretta Chase’s LORD OF SCOUNDRELS. When Jessica tells him she loves him despite every effort he makes to push her away, Dain cracks open inside. It’s a very powerful scene because it leaves this big, hard man totally vulnerable.
In Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s THIS HEART OF MINE, Molly has been the model citizen most of her life because she was so anxious to win approval from her family. Only Kevin Tucker can see the bad girl that lurks inside her and set her free.
The hero or heroine throws up a façade when the going gets tough, dealing their love interest a body blow.
In VENETIA, Damerel has told Venetia that he’s a rake and not to be trusted but she has seen beneath that exterior and falls in love with him. When her uncle reminds him it would disgrace Venetia to marry him, he pushes her away, resuming the persona of the heartless rake. The devastation Venetia feels is underscored by a sense of unreality. She knows the real Damerel. Why is he behaving like this?
A great technique to use when delivering the body blow to your character is to do it when it seems the character is making progress toward their internal or external goal. In the PRIDE AND PREJUDICE example, the blow comes at the point where Darcy and Lizzie begin to understand one another during her visit to Pemberley. It’s like that technique actors use when they answer a phone on television. If the news on the phone is bad, they are smiling when they answer it, so the viewer can experience that powerful change in emotion when suddenly, the smile slips from the actor’s face.
This isn’t an easy technique to do well, but it is enormously satisfying when you do!
Can you think of more examples of an emotional body blow that you’ve read?
One lucky commenter will receive a signed copy of Christina’s latest book, A DUCHESS TO REMEMBER (St. Martin’s Press).
A PRACTICAL ENGAGEMENT – Lady Cecily Westruther is nothing if not practical. By agreeing to marry an older duke who already has an heir and a mistress, she can assume a wifely role—without the wifely duties. Only one thing stands in her way—a letter that could destroy her betrothal. Desperate to retrieve that letter, Cecily must match wits with the most dangerously seductive man she’s ever known…
A PASSIONATE MARRIAGE – Disguised as a footman, Cecily gains entry to her adversary’s house—only to be unmaskedby London’s most powerful man. Rand, Duke of Ashburn, is accustomed to getting any woman he wants—and he wants Cecily. He will stop at nothing, including seduction, to make her his. But Rand holds a secret more shocking and destructive than that letter could ever be…
Our July 4th post: Books that Influenced a Nation.
Bio: Christina Brooke is a two-time RITA ® nominee and winner of the Golden Heart ® award for her historical romances. A former corporate lawyer, she lives in Australia with her husband, two sons and a Great Dane cross called Monty. http://www.christina-brooke.com Connect with Christina on Twitter @chrstnabrooke and on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/ChristinaBrookeAuthor?v=wall.
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for July 2 – July 6, 2012
- Janice Hardy presents: Five Ways to Describe Emotions Without Making Your Character Feel Too Self Aware
- Building Sexual Tension with Vonda Sinclair
- Make ‘Em Laugh, Make ‘Em Cry- Stretching emotions in category romance by Louisa George
- Author Liz Talley – Pass Me a Tissue: How to Add Emotion to Your Writing