Posted On October 18, 2017 by Print This Post

Writing Emotionally Charged Books and Scenes – by Heatherly Bell

Heatherly Bell has two releases this month and still found the time to write a post for us. Welcome back, Heatherly!

Thank you for having me here again today. It’s a pleasure to return to Romance U.

As authors, we seek above all else to connect with a reader. Either to make them laugh, make them think, or make them cry. In a nutshell: we want a reader to feel something. When they do, a lasting bond is established. Isn’t that’s what we all secretly want?

I mean, besides wishing that sugar weren’t the devil? 

I’m here today to talk about creating emotion in our stories. I have a few examples from my book and also some of my favorite authors whom I feel nailed emotion in a powerful way.

First, how to create emotion?

One way is to start with a universal theme. Whenever we write about children, loss, injustice and grief, we have such a wide net that we’re bound to dunk a few balls.

A perfect example is This Heart of Mine (MIRA) by Brenda Novak, one of my favorite books. It’s about a woman who went to jail for a crime she didn’t commit. Now that she’s released from prison and her son is a teenager, she wants nothing more than to re-connect with him. There are several universal themes in this wonderful book. A mother’s love for her child, loss, and injustice. From then on, it’s up to the author to deliver and Brenda does over and over again until your heart breaks for the heroine.

In my book Breaking Emily’s Rules (Harlequin Superromance,) I have a subplot involving the heroine’s younger sister, who abandoned her baby but has now returned and wants to see her. And while most people would hate a character like Molly, readers find her scenes the most emotional in the book. I think it’s because they involve a mother’s loss, regret, and love for a child. For a while, Molly simply watches her baby at the park from a distance. But eventually that’s not enough and she needs to hold her again.

If she could hold her baby, the world would right itself again and stop shifting off its axis. She’d smell Sierra’s soft baby powder smell, and Molly’s heart would resume its natural rhythm.

I’m hoping you can feel, without my coming right out and telling you, that Molly is in pain. She deeply regrets her choice and misses her daughter.

Another favorite of mine is Brokedown Cowboy (HQN) by Maisey Yates, a RITA winner. Again, a universal theme here is grief. The hero has lost his spouse. The word grief isn’t even mentioned in this passage from the opening. Not sadness. Not regret. But I definitely feel all those emotions as I read:

Connor Garrett was a grown-ass man. He knew there was nothing to fear in sleep. He knew the darkness of his room didn’t hide anything more sinister than a pair of carelessly discarded cowboy boots, waiting for him to stub his toe on them in the dead of night during a sleep trip to the bathroom. 

He knew these things, just like he knew the sun would rise over the mountains just before six this time of year, whether he wanted it to or not. He knew these things as surely as he knew than an early-morning breeze tinged with salt meant a storm would blow in from the coast later. That unintentional run-ins with barbed wire fences burned like a son of a bitch. That wooden barns burned down and people you loved left. 

Powerful, right?

For author Kristina Knight, describing emotion is about sight, sound, touch, and smell.

“When I’m writing a really emotional scene, I go back to those core emotions. The sight of a lost loved one, the smell of his soap, the sound of a laugh or a sigh.”

In this passage from Break-up in a Small Town (Harlequin Superromance), she uses the five senses to make you feel the emotion through the heroine’s perspective:

Jenny wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her face in his chest. He was still Adam. His body felt the same. That smile looked the same. She inhaled. He still used the same soap that made her nose tickle. 

“You’re still here,” she said, meaning the words to be a whisper.

Definitely feeling the love and tenderness here.

The following passage is again from Breaking Emily’s Rules, after hero and heroine have parted ways. I also use the five senses to draw you into heroine’s emotions from her point of view:

She closed her eyes and breathed in that wonderful smell that was all his. Pushed her face into his neck and tried to memorize everything about him. He always smelled so amazing. If this was the last time she’d hold him, she wanted to remember every smell, every touch, and every sound.

I hope you can feel Emily’s pain as she says goodbye to someone she loves.

Emotion is never as powerful as when it’s coming through the character’s internal dialogue. The emotion itself doesn’t have to be named. By being in the character’s mind, you’ll feel their fear, anxiety, love, pain, joy.

Another one of my favorite books is Waiting for You (HQN) by Kristan Higgins. This is a painful break-up scene in which the hero has just informed the heroine that he’s marrying someone else. I died a little bit inside reading this scene.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you.” 

“Lucas…” Colleen took a shaking breath. Another one. 

Hold on. Hang on, it’s coming, the thing that will explain this. Yep, here it is. 

He doesn’t love you. 

No, no, of course he does. 

You’re the one who wanted to get married. He wanted to wait. Wait for something better, apparently. You were too easy. Obvious.

Can you feel all the emotions here? Not just the heroine’s shock (shaky breaths) but pain (he doesn’t love you), confusion (no, of course he does) and finally shame (you were too obvious.)

Holy wow, this packs a wallop of emotions in a few sentences and none of them are ever mentioned by name.

And we haven’t even touched on using humor and comedy for emotion. Not every emotion has to be painful. I personally love a little humor during scenes of romantic tension. There can be so different emotions in a scene filled with romantic tension. Joyful anticipation. Nerves. Confusion. And of course, intense chemistry and attraction.

In my book Airman to the Rescue (Harlequin Superromance), heroine is hopeful that hero is attracted to her as much as he is to him. I should explain that our heroine is a forensic artist as a career and she falls back on what she knows.

His pupils were definitely dilated, not always easy to appreciate in a dark-eyed gaze, but Sarah reminded herself that dilated pupils were not always an indication of sexual desire. Pupils would also dilate in a somewhat dark room. She reached behind her and flipped the light switch on. 

His office had only one window and she couldn’t have his big pupils lying to her.

He reached behind her and shut the light off again. Then he leaned in close. Much better indicator of sexual desire. Mystery solved. 

Her throat was so dry she couldn’t swallow.

I try to use a little bit of humor here to show that Sarah is nervous, a little confused, and a lot hopeful.

Help me out. What are some other ways to bring emotion to a scene?


This Baby Business  [Harlequin Superromance – October 2017]

Strictly business…or is it? 

Air force pilot Levi Lambert has seen plenty of danger—but his infant daughter might be the death of him. Fortunately, Levi’s found the answer to his sleep-deprived prayers: his next-door neighbor! Carly Gilmore is willing to be his nanny…until a small white lie turns their arrangement from business to very personal. The fake engagement was intended to keep Levi from losing custody of his baby girl, but is causing all sorts of new problems. Not only does Carly attract trouble like bees to honey, but there’s the little matter of Levi’s smokin’-hot attraction to her. The last thing he needs is to fall in love…



Falling for You – October 17, 2017

When the weather cools down, hearts heat up… 

Bonfires aren’t the only things warming up the night. Across the land, hearts are falling along with the leaves. Curl up with a pumpkin spice latte and warm your heart with ten tales of autumn love.


Heatherly’s bio: Heatherly drinks copious amounts of coffee, craves cupcakes, and occasionally wears real pants. She’s the author of Breaking Emily’s Rules, book one in the new contemporary romance Heroes of Fortune Valley series for Harlequin. She lives in a small northern California vineyard town with her family, including two entitled beagles.

Find Heatherly at, on every social media platform in the world, and her Facebook reading group, Heatherly’s True Blue Belles. To learn more about Heatherly, visit her website and sign up for her newsletter, or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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9 Responses to “Writing Emotionally Charged Books and Scenes – by Heatherly Bell”

  1. Thanks for having me here today!

    Posted by Heatherly Bell | October 18, 2017, 11:16 am
  2. emotion can be so hard to convey on a page — but the payoff is always work the hard work involved. That scene from Maisey Yates’ book *still* slays me and I read it…a year ago!

    Posted by Kristina Knight | October 18, 2017, 11:26 am
  3. Very useful, and you mention some of my favorite books. Tweeting it in just a second. Thank you!!

    Posted by Faith Freewoman | October 18, 2017, 12:11 pm
  4. That Maisey Yates passage gives me chills every time I read it. It’s so fabulous. And she does something that you do too, Heatherly, in your passage about the dilated pupils. Your conveying emotion and also using the character’s background to make the description of emotion very unique. If someone else besides a forensic artist was going on about dilated pupils, it might seem odd. But because we know she thinks that way, it makes perfect sense! Same with Maisey’s cowboy. Thanks for a great post!!!

    Posted by Claire McEwen | October 18, 2017, 2:18 pm
  5. Heatherly, your post is spot on, not to mention the books you picked by Brenda, Maisey and Kristin are my favorites, too! Now, I need to go check out yours and Kristina’s! I love HSRs!!

    Writing emotion does take talent, and I love when I can be dragged into the scene so easily that I cry! It’s fiction, for goodness sake! lol

    Posted by M. Lee Scott | October 18, 2017, 5:03 pm

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