Things they Don’t Tell You in Writer School: Handling Emotion

- by Elaine Isaak

Here’s the thing.  Some scenes are just harder to write than others.  I don’t care if you’re a plotter or a pantser, if you know just where the scene should go, or if you’re following your characters along on a thrilling adventure–at some point or another, you’re going to hit a scene that’s slow.

Not “slow” as in “glacially paced” Nobody wants that, least of all readers!  I mean “slow” as in, you have to really work at each sentence.  You have to feel your way through the nuances of characters’ mixed emotions and complex motivations.  Sometimes, the scene takes days–building it up, breaking it back down, fiddling with the bits, as if you have a lego set and a picture, but no actual instructions.

You have to work it out, block by block.  What goes where?  Should he kiss her now, or later?  Is she still angry, or is this the moment when the anger breaks?

For me, as you might have gathered from the above, these slow scenes tend to be the ones of great emotional importance, but not necessarily of significant action.  They are scenes when the characters will see or be seen differently, when the careful layering of backstory, prior events and present tension have reached a peak.

I’m holding my breath to see how the moment will be transformed.

I need to enter the mindset of each character more deeply than I would if I needed them to attack someone or to display a dazzling skill

At the same time, I’m not a romance writer–these are not books *about* character relationships, although the relationships are significant and meaningful.  So I need the emotional crux points to be as taut and engaging for my reader as the more action-oriented scenes, the ones they are likely reading for.

The last thing I want is that eye-rolling Fred Savage “Is this gonna be a kissing book?” reaction.  There’s nothing wrong with kissing books–for many readers, they hit the sweet spot.

In fact, a bit of time studying the best of  romance and women’s fiction might well give me some tools for better handling of these emotional cruxes.  Back to Writer School for me!  Any suggestions for authors you think are handling this well?  Let me know!

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