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Make ‘Em Laugh, Make ‘Em Cry – Stretching Emotions in Category Romance by Louisa George

Good morning. Part of what I love about reading is connecting with the characters. I love it when I can laugh (and cry) with them. Author Louisa George is here to offer some tips on how to add emotion to our work.

Take it away, Louisa!

The first comment I usually get when someone reads my book, One Month to Become a Mum, is ‘I love the humor.’ Truthfully, I didn’t start out to write a book that made people smile, but it seems my voice has a lightness to it. Life is no fun without laughs, it’s just too darned hard to be serious all the time. And a funny feisty heroine, laughing at herself against the odds is endearing to the reader. Humor can add power and poignancy to a scene, and can give the reader welcome relief from a dark moment.

I’m not talking slapstick, forced jokes or fake jollity that drags the reader out of the story.  I’m talking upbeat banter, rhythm and context. As Jenny Crusie, queen of romantic comedy, says in her Comedy Workshop ( in How to Write Funny edited by John B Kachuba) humor has to come from voice and character; ‘Humor tells more about character than anything else except action…the comedy or tragedy of any premise depends on the characters stuck in it.’

Ms Crusie is not only extremely talented and writes amazingly funny stories, but she’s also very clever- she writes long books, she has complex plots and time to set everything out. I, however, write category romance, and am limited to fifty thousand words to give my reader an emotional rollercoaster. I have to be short and snappy and set out my characters quickly. Humor is a great way to do this – one quick laugh and we’re all digging for a hapless heroine.

My editor, however, doesn’t just want light, she wants intensely emotional and sizzlingly sensual too. Stretching the reader from laughing along with the heroine to rooting for her to overcome deep internal conflict is hard. I try to counterbalance the two- although sometimes my editor has to rein me in!  There’s a fine line between feisty and brutal withering sarcasm (apparently). But to make things easier I use themes or motifs, something light, that starts out as a little joke or a quirk that I can build an emotional arc into. Light turning into dark – the joke becoming serious and more meaningful. Immediately the reader can latch on to an idea/thought/theme and recognize it as important later. That way she is hooked into the character’s expectations or experiences on a kind of subconscious level- it’s like leaving little clues she can pick up. As a reader I enjoy finding these clues, it makes me feel clever!

I’ll give an example from my debut, One Month to Become a Mum:

Chapter Two: (Set up: Jessie is a doctor dealing with a pregnant patient. Jessie has lost a baby and is now infertile but remembering her own pregnancy):  It was the small details that had surprised her the most; how, in the pregnancy books, fetal development was measured in terms of fruit. The size of a strawberry, then a lime, then a grapefruit. She used to joke about how she was going to give birth to a fruit salad.

[Okay, so it’s not exactly a belly laugh, but there’s humor there in a sad memory. The fruit theme runs through the book and gets progressively more serious and poignant. NB: it works better if it’s sprinkled lightly, the reader wants a connection, not a hammer blow.]

Chapter Eight:  Stacey put down her plate and ran a hand over her stomach. It was the first time Jessie had seen her do anything maternal towards her unborn child.

With a start she found herself mirroring the action. And then realized it was something she’d been doing a lot recently. Sheesh, why were all these deeply submerged emotions brimming to the surface again? She needed to control herself.

I’ll manage.’ Stacey patted her belly. ‘I read through those leaflets you gave me. Termination isn’t an option, this thing…is the size of a lime, can you imagine? It’s real. I can’t get rid of it.’

A lime. Of course. The citrus came first. Jessie smiled. ‘I totally understand.’ More than you can ever know.

And then the doozy:  It was so hard to explain, how much she wanted him, but how much it would be better for them both if she left.

‘I just watched the joy and pride in Colin’s face as he stroked Stacey’s stomach. And I want you to have that. You didn’t see Chloe’s belly swell, feel the flutter of kicks against your palm, experience your baby growing from a strawberry, to a lime, to a grapefruit and you deserve to have that. And as many siblings for Lucy as you want.’

‘I don’t care about any of that. I want you.’

‘And I want you, Luke, but I can’t ask you to give that all up. And one day, when you think you’ve dealt with not having it, you’ll want it so badly you’ll resent me.’ Her voice had cracked but she was holding it together. No tears. Yet. Good. ‘And I can’t risk loving you then losing you. I’ve lost too much already. I don’t think I could recover from that.’

So the fruit salad started as a quip, but became a metaphor for what she’d lost.

Writing funny or with a light touch doesn’t come naturally to everyone, it doesn’t always come naturally to me, but when I write/edit a scene I always examine how I can heighten emotion – and often that means humor as well as heart wrenching. We are entertaining after all – emotional rollercoaster means ups as well as downs. Is there a motif I can bring in to create a connection with the reader? Is there an ‘in’ joke  I can create between the characters that I can explore and exploit further? Is there another layer I can add?

By the end I hope I’ve tapped into every part of my reader’s psyche, given them an emotionally satisfying read- and tickled their funny bone!


RU Crew, what about you? Do you enjoy reading stories with humor? Do you enjoy writing them?

Thank you to Louisa for being with us today.

RU Crew, join us on Friday when Theresa Stevens returns for another installment of our line editing series.

BIO: A lifelong reader of most genres, Louisa discovered romance novels later than most, but immediately fell in love with the intensity of emotion, the high drama and the family focus of Medical Romance.

With a Bachelors Degree in Communication and a nursing qualification under her belt, writing Medical Romance seemed a natural progression, and the perfect combination of her two interests. And making things up is a great way to spend the day!

An English ex-pat, Louisa now lives north of Auckland, New Zealand, with her husband, two teenage sons and two male cats. Writing romance is her opportunity to covertly inject a hefty dose of pink into her heavily testosterone-dominated household. When she’s not writing or researching Louisa loves to spend time with her family and friends, enjoys traveling, and adores great food. She’s also hopelessly addicted to zumba.