I pulled an all-nighter when I read Cindy Nord’s first book, a romance set during the Civil War. (And when I asked her if she’d consider guest blogging with us, she was nice enough to accept, even though I addressed her by the wrong name.)
Today, Cindy talks about why your characters’ emotions are an integral part of the reader’s experience.
Great to have you here, Cindy!
As writers, we are overjoyed when readers share reviews that state they’d laughed, they’d cried, they didn’t want the story to end. But, what exactly within the pages of our book causes them to share such glowing praise? Well, I’ll tell you…’tis well-written prose which evokes EMOTIONS. A simple word that wields such mighty power! The way we craft our words sets the tone and theme of each scene, and helps to make our readers fall in love with our story.
Each of us have experienced heart rending moments: From the birth of a child, a last-second game-winning touchdown, whispered endearments within a lover’s embrace, or even a puppy’s rollicking antics. All these, and so many more, are reaction-driven episodes that swirl around inside our minds. Because we are individuals, however, we each respond with different levels of sentiment to these circumstances. But, it is FEELINGS which drive us to react. And as humans, reactions are how we move through our daily lives.
With this in mind, we can see why FEELINGS must be the brick and mortar foundation on which we build our stories. Feelings inspire the reader to turn the pages. Feelings make our readers sympathize with our characters. Emotionally-charged feelings submerge our readers deep into our story. Without emotions in your writing, your reader can’t connect with the character and care. And when the reader struggles to find an emotional connection, dissatisfied, they put the book down and walk away. There are many reasons why people read, but a common thread is a chance to escape from everyday life routines by steeping themselves into a stimulating, bigger than life story world. As writers, it is our job to ensure they get the reactions they are expecting. An emotion-driven romance novel provides this in spades. From Civil War plantations to castles on the Scottish Moors to the bustling contemporary excitement of New York City and a zillion other settings in-between, it is the emotion-driven stories that allow us to immerse our readers into our story world and breathe our characters into life.
So, how do we take these feelings and twist them into an ‘I couldn’t put this book down’ read? The impassioned highs and lows, the hunger of the emotional pull, is delivered via TENSION through your main characters. The emotive conflict must be solid and strong and span the entire story to achieve a sigh-worthy ending. Whether happy, sad, passionate, or angst-filled…these moments are all engineered by virtue of empathy-driven WORDS. So dig deeper, don’t stop at the first word you type. Trust me, there is always a stronger one to underscore the exact feeling you’re trying to achieve.
Overall, emotional conflict woven within a storyline is the optimum way to deliver reader satisfaction. Whether the tug-of-war in a particular scene is between the hero and heroine, or simply the hero or heroine and their own dang thoughts…getting to that perfect happily-ever-after finish must not be a slap-dash task. As the master writing instructor, Dwight V. Swain [author of Techniques of the Selling Writer and whom I affectionately call Lord Swain] said, “A story is like a car that runs on emotion. The author’s feeling is the gasoline in its engine. Take away its fuel, and even the shiniest, chrome-plated literary power plant is reduced to so much scrap iron. Feeling first takes form within the writer. If they haven’t embraced a strong emotional feeling about their characters and their journey, they can’t write about it, let alone arouse emotions in someone else.”
Case in point, in my second novel, WITH OPEN ARMS [set in a post-war Arizona Territory of 1866], I wanted to drive home the ever-building tension between my ranch-owning hellion Callie Cutteridge, and Jackson Neale, the unwanted ‘partner’ who bought half-ownership of their ranch from her brother:
A lantern suspended from the ceiling by a rope illuminated the pantry. The smells of ground coffee and cinnamon infused the air. Callie braced her hand against the wall for support, attempting to stop the swirling sensation caused by too much wine and too little understanding of her anger. Hot on her heels, Jackson stepped in behind her and slammed the door.
“What in the Sam hell do you think you’re doing?” His voice boomed over her and she whirled to face him, dwarfed by his formidable size.
“Me? What about you?” She blew out her breath. Like a bitter pill, she tasted her unbalanced fury. Her hand slid down the wall and ended in a tight fist at her side.
“I was dancing,” he snapped.
“Dancing? That’s not what I’d call it, mister.”
He loomed closer. “What are you talking about?”
She pointed toward the closed door, her finger furiously wagging. “Out there…on the dance floor is what I’m talking about. You and Miss…” Callie struggled to remember the woman’s name and failed. So she settled for, “…Prim and Proper!” She swayed again and rammed her back straighter.
An agonizing moment ticked past as his gaze seared hers. Finally, his voice boomed with scorn, “Good God, woman, is that what this madness is about?” A lock of dark hair fell over his forehead and he reared back, his eyes crushing into slits. “You’ve been drinking.”
“A few glasses of wine. And don’t even bother changing the subject.”
Jackson braced his hand upon the wall behind her, then leaned forward, closing the distance between them to mere inches. His breath brushed warm across her face. “Why do you care what I do?”
“Because you can’t do that here. You…polecat, people talk.”
Three more beats of her heart passed before he whispered, “It’s not acceptable for me to dance with a beautiful woman?”
“I’m not talking about dancing, and you damn well know it.” Her chin rose in a blatant challenge. “I didn’t realize you were planning on seducing women tonight. Had I known, I wouldn’t have bothered riding over.” Her cheeks burned in frustration and something more, something she refused to identify. “I clearly remember you saying you were coming to this party to talk about studding Salvaje with Eschevon’s horse.”
“I already spoke to Señor Eschevon,” he ground out behind clenched teeth, his features tightening into a mask of stone. “Had you been here earlier you would’ve known.”
Callie grasped for the closest thought. “Well?”
“Are you going to breed her or not?”
Jackson leaned closer, pushing his lips into a sideways grin. “Who, darlin’? The horse or Miss Talmadge?” His damnable chuckle pommelled Callie like a scorching wind. The sultry smell of him, all citrusy and spicy and so unbearably male, embedded deep inside her brain. “At least she appreciates being a woman, which is far more than I can say for lonely little you.”
Callie shoved him away and lurched sideways, bumping into a shelf. Glass jars of pickles and preserves and ruby-red tomatoes rattled together, silent onlookers watching her squirm under his stinging words.
“I am not lonely, you onerous toad. And a corseted waistline will do nothing to make the tart you crave be strong enough to survive in my country. If creamy skin and décolletage are the only things you’re after, then you won’t last long at my ranch either.”
A dangerous glint flashed in Jackson’s eyes and his features grew rigid. He pushed closer, wrapping her inside his shadow. “Men like softness and kindness in a woman. Qualities I know even you possess, but are too afraid to show.”
“I’m not afraid of one damn thing.” The lie forced her scalp to tingle as her breathing tripped in and out. She lost track of time and place as the absolute truth of her weaknesses now twisted everything into knots inside her.
“Bullshit. You’re terrified of responding to anything, let alone a man. And God only knows what or who it’ll be to break through that armored wall you’ve erected around yourself.”
“Well I can say with absolute certainty it won’t be you.”
“You’re damned right.” Soaked in sarcasm now, his voice deepened as the glint in his eyes darkened. “I’ll want softness and sensuality, both things you’re not.”
A wild tremble rolled through Callie with the force of some unknown demon. Her right hand curled into a tight ball and a second later, she drove her fist full-force into Jackson’s midsection. A resounding oomph resonated as he nearly doubled over from the unexpected blow.
She went rigid with shock as he straightened. Her gaze locked on his flushed face. On a slow push of air, he released his breath. A muscle twitched in his cheek. His eyes burned with something Callie could not comprehend. She tried to push sideways, but Jackson’s hand jammed into the hair at the base of her braid. He cupped her head, his face looming so close now she could see the flecks of gold embedded in the depths of his dark eyes. He pushed her up against the wall, knocking over a bucket and a broom in the process.
Her heart banged against her chest and a peculiar sound sputtered out. Had it come from her? Or him? Heat drained from her face as her eyes widened.
He dipped his head.
Surely to God he wouldn’t dare. The empty cavern of her lungs flooded with air as she tried to scream. The sound never materialized. Jackson slammed his mouth down upon hers, capturing her lips in a fierce, hot possession. A mind-spinning burn that yearned for release swept aside her icy wrath of moments before. A frisson of panic coalesced through Callie’s veins, then disappeared under an all-consuming rush of heat.
In this example, I wrote with the intent of building, building, building the tension leading up to Callie and Jackson’s all-important first kiss. Emotional writing does not mean melodramatic or wordy ‘purple prose’. Rather, it means immersing our readers into each scene without swamping the boat.
Here’s where SHOWING rather than TELLING emphasizes that tension. The balled fist. The tingling scalp. That mind-spinning burn. Yes, even the chin rising in a blatant challenge. Crafting to reflect the anger and angst and frustration allows the reader to experience tenfold all that Callie ‘feels’, too. Instead of typing, Callie was angry – which is telling and distancing, I laid out her ramping anger step-by-step to leave little doubt for my reader. See? I brought them ‘along for the wild ride’ and heightened the impact of this scene based directly upon Callie’s escalating feelings. Writing this way builds our reader’s emotional-involvement and allows them complete access into our character’s thoughts and reactions.
Indeed, the experience of feeling something is one of the most compelling reasons why our readers read. So it makes sense to thread our story descriptions, dialogue and narratives around this epic fact. As my literary agent says, “…this is what propels a book from a quickly forgotten one-nighter into a full-blown and thrilling summer-long vacation remembered years after the reader reaches The End.” As a writer, writing brilliant EMOTION should be first and foremost in our arsenal of weapons. ‘Tis FEELINGS that put our books on those keeper shelves.
And after all is said and done, THAT is exactly where we want to be.
Can you pick one book from YOUR keeper shelf and share with us WHY you put it there?
On Saturday, September 6th, librarian Amy Alessio returns with her Reader Round Up book recommendations. Editor Heather Webb joins us on Monday, September 8th.
WITH OPEN ARMS A war-weary ex-soldier. An untamable hellion. Love doesn’t stand a chance in hell…
Hardened in childhood by the death of her parents, then left to run the family’s southwestern territory ranch when her brother rode off to fight for the Union years before, Callie Cutteridge hides her heartbreak behind a mask of self-sufficiency. Breaking horses for the army proves she’s neither delicate nor helpless. When a former cavalry officer shows up claiming to own her brother’s half of the Arizona ranch, she steels herself to resist the handsome stranger’s intention to govern even one single aspect of her life. After all, loving means losing…to her it always has.
For months, Jackson Neale has looked forward to putting the bloodstained battlefields back east behind him. Callie isn’t the agreeable angel her brother led him to believe, but he’s damned well not the useless rake this foul-mouthed hellion thinks he is, either. His quest for calm stability contradicts sharply with her need for control, yet still their heartstrings tangle. But how can these mistrusting partners transform their fiery passion into a happily- ever-after when all Callie knows how to do is fight…and all Jackson wants is peace?
Bio: Say hello to Bestselling Historical Romance writer, CINDY NORD…author of NO GREATER GLORY, a #1 Civil War Romance at Amazon for nearly a full year, and book one in her four-book ‘The Cutteridge Series’. WITH OPEN ARMS, book two which debuted August 5th, has already zoomed up the charts to a #1 Bestselling Historical Western Romance at Samhain Publishing.
Cindy is pleased to be a contributor alongside many NYTimes writers in the delightful non-fiction anthology SCRIBBLING WOMEN & THE REAL-LIFE ROMANCE HEROES WHO LOVE THEM [all proceeds from the sale of this book go to the ‘Women In Need’ shelter in NYC]. Cindy is a member of numerous writers groups, and her work has finaled or won countless times in competitions — including the prestigious Romance Writers of America National Golden Heart Contest. A luscious blend of history and romance, her stories meld both genres around fast-paced action and emotionally driven characters.
- Janice Hardy presents: Five Ways to Describe Emotions Without Making Your Character Feel Too Self Aware
- Weekly Lecture Schedule September 1-5
- Building Sexual Tension with Vonda Sinclair
- Humanity, Cheating and the Writer’s Gift with Harper Fox
- Writing the Emotional Body Blow with Christina Brooke