Posted On July 2, 2012 by Print This Post

Writing the Emotional Body Blow with Christina Brooke

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.     

Welcome, Christina!

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. 

Examples: 

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.

The character has a secret fear about themselves confirmed by someone else. 

Examples: 

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.

Examples: 

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.

Examples:

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.

Example: 

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! 

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Can you think of more examples of an emotional body blow that you’ve read?

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One lucky commenter will receive a signed copy of Christina’s latest book, A DUCHESS TO REMEMBER (St. Martin’s Press).   

For a lady of breeding and wealth, the Ministry of Marriage can always ensure a suitable match. But sometimes, the heart wants what it wants—in spite of the risks…

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…

 

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Our July 4th post: Books that Influenced a Nation.

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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.

 

 

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24 Responses to “Writing the Emotional Body Blow with Christina Brooke”

  1. Morning Christina!

    What an awesome post! Emotional body blow – I will definitely remember that. =)

    As for ones I can think of in books – lol…this is an odd example but in one of the Stephanie Plum novels, she and Lula are BBQ’ing (and trying to win a competition) and everything is going wrong. The yard is on fire, the tree is on fire, just anything that can go wrong will. Lula keeps her hopes up though until suddenly from nowhere a pack of dogs runs into the yard, grabs the ribs and runs off. I just sat there with my mouth open – before I burst into laughter. It was the absolute worst that could happen, on top of all the other horrible things that had already happened, but totally unexpected.

    Thanks for a super thought provoking post!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | July 2, 2012, 5:26 am
  2. Hi Christina,

    Tragedy works well. In the Harry Potter books, he is already an orphan. In each book, the emotional hits keep coming. Thanks for your examples.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | July 2, 2012, 7:15 am
    • Hi Mary Jo! Yes, JK Rowling doesn’t pull her punches with Harry, does she? And towards the end of the first book, he’s offered what he yearns for the most. Takes immense courage and strength to turn away from the lure of having his parents back but he does it. I think a character’s response, what he or she chooses to do in the face of one of these body blows, is always a defining moment in their character arc.

      Posted by Christina Brooke | July 2, 2012, 11:53 am
  3. Good morning, Christina! HUGE congratulations on your RITA nominations (and, of course, on your GH win). I’m thrilled for you – wish I could be at RWA National this year. Awards night is so exciting!

    Thanks so much for this post. I’m a sucker for emotional body blows in stories of all genres, but it’s not so easy to write with that kind of impact. This is going to help me a LOT!

    Hope to see you again before too long! ((hugs))

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | July 2, 2012, 8:08 am
  4. What a great post…one I am bookmarking for future reminders! I absolutely love when a hero is made vulnerable by the woman who loves him. I think Lynn Kurland did an excellent job of this in her book, This Is All I Ask. The hero in that book still haunts me.

    Congratulations on the RITA nominations! (And I love the cover of your book!)

    Posted by Sherrinda | July 2, 2012, 8:58 am
  5. Christina – Great examples! I recently read ‘A Rare Event” by P.D. Singer and oen of the characters took an emotional body blow when his lover of a year (who had previously tolerated his insistance on an open relationship) finally says “no more”. His devastation when he realizes that he really has lost him is so moving. And when the lover sticks by his guns and continues to say “no” – it is blow on top of blow . . . excellent!

    Robin

    Posted by Robin Covington | July 2, 2012, 9:44 am
  6. Hi, Christina! Welcome to RU. I love the Michael Hauge example. I’m a big fan of his and always think about how the character moves in and out of their essence.

    Thanks for a great post!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | July 2, 2012, 11:12 am
  7. Hi Christine(a)!

    Love the body blow examples you’ve provided.

    In SEP’s “Dream A Little Dream” Rachel faces the hatred of the townspeople and a past she can’t escape as she struggles to support herself and her young son. Her salvation is Gabe, a man who’s emotionally damaged after losing his wife and son. Rachel conquers what she thinks is her biggest obstacle, finding work and a place to live, but how can she love a man who seems indifferent to her son?

    So happy you could be with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | July 2, 2012, 11:50 am
  8. Hi Jen! Thank you so much for inviting me to RU today. It makes a slight change from our principal topic of conversation–great purses!! Loved Dream a Little Dream. SEP is mistress of the meaty conflict, isn’t she? The struggle to give up her chance of happiness with Gabe for the sake of her son is very moving. Thanks for giving that example.

    Posted by Christina Brooke | July 2, 2012, 12:01 pm
  9. Hi Christina

    great Blog. I am going to forward the link to my writing group.

    My example of a body blow comes from the Trouble Shooters series by Suzanne Brockman. Finally Alyssa and Sam look like they are going to be together when Sam finds out that his ex-girlfriend is having his baby. He has to tell Alyssa they can’t be together and the heartbreak of both characters is palpable.

    Posted by Cassie P | July 2, 2012, 7:05 pm
  10. Christina,

    We enjoyed having you and hope you’ll join us again.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | July 3, 2012, 11:17 am
  11. Great post, Christina! Those emotional blows are sometimes tough to even read–like when the hero intentionally rejects the heroine “for her own good” to protect her from himself. You know their hearts are breaking!

    Posted by Fedora | July 3, 2012, 5:45 pm
  12. Hey wow you write in a really creative way… thanks!

    Posted by bonzoi | July 16, 2012, 2:06 am
  13. I admit, I love stories with the heavy emotional blows- like My Sister’s Keeper (especially the end- wow), or the Harry Potter books, and about a 1000 others I love!

    I have a question though- I write myself (nothing that important, just fanfiction) but I often put my own emotional blows in there.

    People review, and I admit my only reaction is to laugh. Which I feel a little bad about, but it’s my first reaction- it just feels so weird to me that they’re responding like that (often with horror and/or tears) to something I wrote.

    Is that normal? Because I really feel bad, but I can’t help myself!

    Posted by Carlie | July 16, 2012, 10:05 pm

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