Posted On November 9, 2015 by Print This Post

Writing with Emotion by Laura Drake

Good morning, RU crew. According to our stats, posts on writing emotion are very popular with readers. RITA® award winning author Laura Drake joins us with another post on the same topic. You’ll want to bookmark this one, too. 

Welcome, Laura! 

My goal is to learn something about craft with every new book I write. The Sweet Spot was my lesson in portraying emotion. All I can say is, thank the writing Gods for Margie Lawson. I knew what I wanted to say before her classes, but didn’t know how to get it on the page.

We’ve all read the usual heart-pounding, stomach churning, blah, blah, blah emotion. It invites skimming by the reader, because Laura Drakewe’ve seen it all before. In fact, we’ve seen it so often that it can be considered cliché. It’s also almost ‘telling.’

If we’re not feeling the emotion in a deep POV, then the author is ‘telling’ us, right? It’s lazy writing.

Hey, I’m guilty of it too.

When I find one of those in my writing, I make myself stop, close my eyes, and put myself in the character’s situation. I actually picture the scene happening to me. Then I note what I’m feeling. Here’s a few examples from my RITA winner, The Sweet Spot:

  • The homing beacon in the Valium bottle next to the sink tugged at her insides.
  • He hadn’t heard that delighted, tinkling sound in over a year. It slammed into his chest like a fist. Who made her laugh again?
  • She understood then, saw clearly the fork in the river, but in the, churning current, sinuous shapes slid past, baring teeth. Hungry, guilt-tipped teeth. Petrified to numb cowardice, she let him leave, and floated away on her life raft of Valium.
  • She felt around the edges of her mind. She’d forgotten something. Something important. It barreled from a tunnel and slammed her to reality. The hollowness in her chest made her gasp and she hugged herself, afraid she would implode.  Benje is gone


Have you ever read a character’s emotion that is so real — said in a way that you’ve never read before? One that makes you think — That’s just what it feels like!

One of my favorite authors, Jodi Picoult, does this many times a book. There’s a reason she’s NYT – with every single release. It’s a lofty goal, but one worth striving for.

More from The Sweet Spot:

  • Agitation amped until a fine hum of electricity ran right under his skin, making him want to jump out of it.
  • Her chest spasmed like a fibrillating heart; having forgotten the skill of breathing.
  • Did she dare trust that softened spot on her freezer-burned heart?
  • Oh, she’d been mad at Jimmy, plenty mad. In the beginning. But after the initial rush of words, the mad was gone, just like that. As if the anger were a heavy bucket of water she’d toted around; she’d gotten used to its weight. Apparently there’d been a hole in the bottom, and the anger had leaked out the past year, unnoticed. Now, without it, she felt kind of . . . naked.
  • Hands busy, he shot her his, “I-may-be-wrong-but-I’m-not-admitting-anything” look.


Sometimes the most powerful description does not mention the emotion itself. The author trusts that the reader will get it. It’s like a scary movie; your mind conjures scarier things than the cameraman could ever show you. Try this in a black moment, or a key turning-point scene.  It’s subtle, and can be powerful.

  • Myfaultmyfaultmyfaultmyfault. The taunting litany chided her as she groped her purse for her keys. Finding them, she dropped the purse, scattering former essentials of her life onto the cement floor. After a few fitful tries, her shaking hands managed the lock.
  • Hearing a rapid tapping, she looked down to see her foot bouncing on the bleacher. She made it stop.
  • She muttered, staring at the login screen for their accounting software. Password? She tapped in the first number that occurred to her, the date of their anniversary. The program popped open to the business checking account. A single, sparkly bubble rose from the depth of her mind. “Nobody changes those things once they set them.” The bubble popped.


You can give flavor of genre or your story world with short succinct descriptions. They showcase your voice. Done well, they can ‘show’ the reader the mood in just a few words. Capture it, and your reader will be in the scene.

  • A strange calm radiated from her chest to fill her body, a liquid balm that cooled her hot skin and stilled the roar in her head. Sounds came to her; the drone of a lone cicada and the soft burble of water as it tumbled over rocks in the river’s bend.
  • Stetsoned cowboys strutted around glittery ladies in a barroom mating dance. The females flitted and flirted, choosing their mates for the evening.
  • Bella wore the black faux leather like chain mail.

So, what do you think? Have you ever tried any of these to get the emotion on the page? I’d love to see some of yours posted in the comments!


The Sweet SpotTHE SWEET SPOT  [Forever – Grand Central]

Charla Rae Denny was the perfect wife with a perfect life, content to keep the home fires burning while her husband, JB, competed as a champion bull rider. Then their son died in a tragic accident-and everything fell apart. Divorced and saddled with a hill of bills and a failing ranch, Charla must now cowboy up to put her life back together.

James “JB” Denny doesn’t stay where he isn’t welcome. So when Charla shut him out of her grieving heart-and their home-a year ago, he took comfort where he could find it. Now after seeing beautiful Charla again, he wants it all back. She can’t work the ranch alone, and deep in his heart he knows he can be the man she needs. But after so much history and heartbreak, can JB convince Charla to take a risk and give their love a second chance?


Laura Drake is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She writes both Women’s Fiction and Romance. She sold her Sweet on a Cowboy series, romances set in the world of professional bull riding, to Grand Central. The Sweet Spot won the 2014 Romance Writers of America® RITA® award in the Best First Book category.

Her ‘biker-chick’ novel, Her Road Home, sold to Harlequin’s Superromance line (August, 2013) and has expanded to three more stories set in the same small town. Twice in a Blue Moon, released July.

In 2014, Laura realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She’s a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.

Connect with Laura via Twitter and Facebook or visit her website and her group blog Writers in the Storm.


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19 Responses to “Writing with Emotion by Laura Drake”

  1. Thank you SO much for having me today, RU!

    I love writing emotion, and sharing what works for me. Hope it helps someone!

    Posted by Laura Drake | November 9, 2015, 6:18 am
  2. Awesome post, Laura! Thank you so much. I admit The Sweet Spot makes me cry every time. I’ve read it several times and cry each time.

    Posted by Carol Opalinski | November 9, 2015, 8:19 am
  3. Laura: Thank you for the inspiration. As soon as I saw today’s Romance University post was from you, I had to comment. I’m such a rabid, drooling fan of “The Sweet Spot.” I found it such a refreshing departure from the romance formula – a real treasure that other writers like myself can study and be inspired by. Perhaps some Amazon reviewers felt it was more women’s fiction, but I felt it was clearly a romance. So heartfelt and the characters felt real. I never felt your prose became purple or cringe-making or clichéd.

    I learned about rodeoing and bull semen! And I’m a city-suburban girl. (LOL) For anyone who’s experienced a devastating loss (and I have), this book feels like legitimate grief, and how one plucky woman works through it. And oh, Jimmy. When he grabbed his Purina Cow Chow mug from the cupboard – I actually “saw” him.

    And yes, every day is a do-over. (These are lines from “The Sweet Spot”)

    Anyway, I too have taken several courses with Margie Lawson – terrific courses, and from Laura Baker as well as Laurie Schnebly Campbell from WriterUniv – shoot, if I listed all the classes and instructors I’ve had, this dang comment would be a mile along. I’m always learning and being humbled again.

    Anyway, I do think “The Sweet Spot” came from a part of your soul, Laura, and I’m so glad you won the RITA for it.

    Posted by Cheryl | November 9, 2015, 8:52 am
  4. Thanks for this, Laura, and congrats on your well-deserved Rita win. The Sweet Spot is in my TBR pile.

    For me, the best emotion is laced with humor, subtle or otherwise. Loved these examples of your unique voice.

    Posted by Heatherly Bell | November 9, 2015, 12:22 pm
  5. Wow, Cheryl, thank you so much! My books and characters hang with me, but it’s so gratifying to know that they hang with readers, too!

    It’s funny, Cheryl, how places come to life in your brain. I drove through Fredricksburg about a year ago, and I thought if I made just the right turn, I could go visit Char and Jimmy!

    I know, I’m a bit crazy, but I think all authors are!

    If the book has a Women’s Fiction feel to it – it’s because that’s how it started out! Half the editors who read it thought it was WF, half romance. Since it sold as a romance, I had to change some things – but not as many as I thought.

    For example, in the first version, Jimmy was still with the ‘cupcake’. They broke up in the first 30 pages or so, but my romance editor said the readers would never forgive him if he was still with her at the start of the book. So the girl in the cab of the truck had to become someone else’s girlfriend!

    Thanks so much for loving the book I love so . . .

    Posted by Laura Drake | November 9, 2015, 12:25 pm
  6. I’ve read other posts about deep POV, but I haven’t read examples like yours, Laura. It made a difference for me.

    Posted by Glynis Jolly | November 9, 2015, 3:33 pm
  7. Laura –

    Thank you!

    All your examples carry such emotional power. You learned how to write fresh visceral responses that are smooth and empowered and sound so natural.

    You dig deep and it shows. You earned your RITA!

    Your writing is like chocolate mousse on the tip of the tongue. You make readers want more, more, more!

    Posted by Margie Lawson | November 9, 2015, 6:30 pm
  8. Hi Laura,

    Great examples! I think we all fall into the trap of telling not showing. Your post is evidence that stomach clenching and a racing pulse aren’t the only way to show emotion.

    Wonderful to have you with us today.

    (My eight seconds are up.)

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | November 9, 2015, 8:35 pm
  9. Ooh, I love it when authors share examples from their books! Thanks so much for this – writing emotion is easy, but writing BELIEVABLE, realistic emotion is hard, hard, HARD. Definitely going to bookmark this AND check out your RITA winner. Congratulations, BTW!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | November 9, 2015, 11:34 pm
    • Thank you, Becke. Margie Lawson taught me the benefit of examples. It’s one thing to read a writing lesson – I take away an idea or two. But with examples, you actually see how to put it to use, and the lesson sticks we me more.

      Write on!

      Posted by Laura Drake | November 11, 2015, 8:35 am
  10. Thanks for reminding me not to leave out the emotion in the frenzy of NANO. Great post!

    Posted by Jackie Layton | November 10, 2015, 6:21 am
  11. Awesome post, Laura. You do know how to turn a phrase. Do they just come to you or do your massage the sentences? I’ll be sharing this. 🙂

    Posted by Marsha R. West | November 10, 2015, 5:09 pm
    • Thanks so much for the share, Marsha!

      Sometimes they just come to me, but more often, the first sentence I write has the bones, but edits flesh it out.

      Try it – in a turning point scene, or an epiphany moment for your protagonist. A fresh sentence can make ALL the difference!

      Posted by Laura Drake | November 11, 2015, 8:38 am

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