Adding Emotional Punch with Kate Walker

This week we have author Kate Walker talking about adding Emotional Punch to your stories. And her revised edition of 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance: An Emerald Guide is available now. 


As Kate Walker is doing a series of posts on writing craft and this Guide, do check her other posts:

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  If you've submitted any novel to Harlequin - or any romance novel publisher,  and if it's not been successful,  then you've probably  had a letter  that said something like this:

   Your story lacks the emotional punch we're looking for

   I know all about that, because that was just the response I got to my second submission (the first one didn't even merit an editorial response. I just got it returned to me in the envelope with a printed rejection slip. That's how long ago this was, in the days when you sent in a full, hard copy, paper manuscript and an envelope with the return postage!)  

Anyway, this  book - the one that I thought was, great, so full of emotion, didn't  work.  It lacked emotional punch - though  back then they called it 'emotional velocity'  and it failed to reach an emotional climax.

So what did I do to try and put things right? I read - I read as many romances as I could get my hands on. And I studied how the published authors did things - and I focused on that 'emotional punch'.  

You can learn a lot from reading - and thinking about what you're reading.
  
What I learned was this :

Your reader picks a romance  because she wants an emotional read. So from the start your reader is looking to enjoy and experience the emotions of your heroine - and your hero too - along with them. She wants to identify with the heroine and fall in love with the hero – and she wants to live through all the feelings they have along the way towards the happy ending that she knows is coming up.

We’re talking about reader expectation again here. The reader knows when she picks up a romance that the happy ending is guaranteed, so she’s not reading the book to find out what happens. There will be a meeting, an irresistible attraction, but a conflict will drive the hero and heroine apart. She knows that that conflict will be resolved – that’s not the question. What she wants to know, and enjoy is how that happens – how it happens emotionally -  and to do this she has to live through the experience along with the characters.

The whole experience of reading the book should send her on the same emotional roller-coaster ride that the characters go through. At the point that is known as the ‘Black Moment’, when everything seems to be lost, she wants to feel their fear, to actually doubt, just for the moment, that the happy ending is actually possible. It’s this emotional experience that a reader is looking for,  and if you short-change her she won't be best pleased.

 The reading of a romance should come across  as building up from interest to arousal to passion to that 'emotional climax'. To achieve this, you need to get your reader INVOLVED with your characters and their situation and problems. Over the course of a story, the problems (the emotional problems) they face should grow worse, larger, harder to handle, apparently insoluble. 

The movement of the books should be like a series of zigzags, or Ws - with emotion going up and down – two steps forward – and one step back. It should go through tension to a painful pitch, then ease off a little - maybe even seeming to have everything going right - only to introduce some new complication that destroys the fragile peace.

WHAT IS IT NOT?
•             It’s not just conflict/arguing/shouting
•             It’s not endless crying, bewailing, self pity
•             It’s not just the heroine being cruelly treated and enduring for love
•             It is not MANIPULATIVE.  Giving your heroine (or hero) every trauma under the sun is not the way to get sympathy for her and add to the emotional impact of her story
•             It’s not just using words like angrily, sarcastically, fearfully, miserably.
•             It is not just sentiment
•             It is not cliché  - not just manipulating events into things that ‘always happen in a romance’.

HOW TO ACHIEVE EMOTIONAL PUNCH

•             Create Characters you care about
•             Action and reaction – character before plot
•             Time for reflection  - without this your plot can become like a runaway train, or hammer blows to the head that just won’t stop       
·         A real love between your hero and heroine – with depth and value
·         ‘Getting to know you’ time for your characters
·         Dialogue – for drama and to show not tell
·         Difficult choices and a conflict worth fighting over.
·         Passion/Sex – this will have its own section later
·         Honesty

Finally, what you need to remember is that the most important factor in creating emotional intensity is the author’s willingness to delve into her own strong emotions. People don’t show their deepest emotions easily – it’s that struggle that makes it emotional. You have to feel that struggle, go through it with them and then write the emotion as honestly as you can.  

That's what I learned from the rejection of my second submission - and I determined to put it right in the  third attempt. And it worked. The Chalk Line was the very first book I ever had accepted and published - and that second book? The one that 'lacked emotional velocity'? Well,  I went back to it later, rewrote it, added the emotional punch it needed  - and got that one published too - as Broken Silence.

These books were some of my earliest novels published - but the emotional punch/velocity lesson is one that once learned, I've never forgotten -  66 books later, I still look at every story I write and ask myself how can I make it more emotional, how can I add that 'punch'.  Because that's what the reader is looking for.

Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance: An Emerald Guide


In this comprehensive guide, Kate Walker, an established author within the Romantic Fiction genre, covers all aspects of writing Romantic Fiction, offering budding authors invaluable tips on producing saleable works of fiction, following her 12 point guide.

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16 comments:

  1. That's my major problem at the moment--getting emotions on the page. Thanks for this.

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    1. Hi Liz - believe me there are so many writers who have problems with emotions. In the courses I teach, so many people think events make the story emotional - but it's the characters' reactions to those events that are emotional.

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  2. You can't beat that kind of research. Read successful authors and learn how they do it. Congratulations on getting it right.

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    1. I so agree - when I was starting out I read everything I could get my hands on to see how those emotions worked and how they were shown. Thank you for your congratulations

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  3. The "how" is very important for a romance, and for any book.

    Excellent advice!

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    1. Thank you Chrys - How is always important . And the most important thing, I think, is WHY!

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  4. Great advice. I've never written a romance, but enjoy reading them. They definitely need emotions. Congratulations on all your publications. That is a lot.

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    1. Thank you Beverly - I think that romance readers read for those emotions, that's why it's important to get them right - and put them into the book.

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  5. I haven't written any romance- but this post was still very interesting. I love how Kate used the rejection to figure out what she needed to do in her writing. I totally agree that reading lots of books really helps when it comes to writing. Having read a lot of romance books in my life- I thought the emotional punch makes complete sense.

    Thanks for sharing. Wishing Kate the best of luck. :)
    ~Jess

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  6. Hi Jess - I think the lessons I learned from my editorial rejection can work for so many forms of fiction - not just romance - I think people pick them up for that emotional 'punch' whatever genre they read. Thak you for posting

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  7. Characters you care about. That is such a big one to me as a reader.

    I'm always concerned when an author says they don't read. Saw one that said she hadn't read a book in 10 years. And, honestly, it showed in her writing that she didn't have a connection to the genre anymore.

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    1. Hi Anna - your life style description sounds like mine! I'm so pleased you agree that characters you care about are what matter- they certainly do for me. And I'm always stunned when people say they want to read a certain type of fiction and then say - But I never read that sort of thing - so what are the editors looking for? I read everything I could get my hands on when I was first trying for publication.

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  8. Thanks for your well-considered thoughts!

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    1. Thanks for visiting 'Squid'! (That has put a great image in my thoughts!)

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  9. Hi Kate,

    Congratulations on the new and revised edition of the 12 Point Guide. I have the old one - well-thumbed, mind you. I always come back to it sometimes in the middle of a new ms or even before beginning a new story.

    I've found that reading it through refreshes my mind and make my goal toward creating scenes easier.

    And thanks for this series of craft posts. They are so very welcome! I'm bookmarking all these posts for future references.

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  10. Hi Janet - I just spotted your post on another site so I thanked you for letting me know how useful the 12 Point Guide Has been to you. That's what I wrote it for! Good luck with your own writing.

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