Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Emotional Balance

by Tawny Weber

I spent this last Saturday in an all-day workshop given by the fabulous Margie Lawson on Empowering Character Emotions. Not only is Margie an amazing lady (the woman is such an inspiration) but the workshop really pushed me to dig deeper in my writing.

Now, here's the thing. Any one of my critique partners will happily tell you (ignore the whining in their tone if they do) that I'm the Queen of Emotions. My favorite critique questions are; What are they feeling here? Can you show me how this affected them? Can you go deeper here? Hehehe, they love me, my CP's do. But this workshop - wow... I had to hand over my crown. I have nothing on the level of writing emotions that I learned here. I loved it! I'm excited to bring this into my writing, to see if I can pull it off.

Then yesterday I was chatting with a friend who writes sci-fi/fantasy/romance and she mentioned that she's a thinker vs a feeler, so she shows this incredible action and detailed plot structure, but her characters can be on fire and barely show an actual reaction. Since I'm a total feeler (sounds weird, huh?) my characters can emote over anything, including the wrong kind of toilet paper. It was fun comparing how we balance our natural tendencies to bring in all of the story elements we need. I love hearing how other writers bring their strengths into their work. And even more, I love getting ideas on how to shore up the writing areas I'm not so strong in (cough-action-cough).

This workshop also had me thinking about the emotions of romance. This genre offers such a huge gamut of emotional payoffs. Especially given the wide variety of sub-genres. Everything from lighter stories who give the reader a laugh and a fun read to super hot sexy stories that offer a guaranteed turn on, all the way to deep, intensely emotional stories that dig deep into a readers psyche to push emotional buttons.

So as writers, and as readers, do you have a preference for the level of emotion in your stories? Are you drawn to the fun humor, or to the dark intensity or something totally different than both? When you're reading, what level of emotion is overkill for you and are there any books you've read (don't name names... especially if they are ours LOL) that left you feeling like you were cheated of seeing the emotional journey? Whats the perfect balance for YOU?

Just for fun, I'll draw a name from the comments and send the winner a copy of Double Dare, and an excerpt of my upcoming January Blaze, Does She Dare? as well.


Christine Wells said...

The GR is MINE!!!

Christine Wells said...

Ahem! ::smooths back ruffled hair a la Miss Piggy:: Sorry about that excessive display of exuberance. Really, the Golden Rooster means nothing to me, nothing at all! Great post, Tawny! Sounds like Margie Lawson's workshop was fabulous.

Ah, emotion. A real bugbear for me. Foanna has just critiqued my latest ms, for which I have promised her BOTH my kidneys and a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream as well, and the message is, as usual, I WANT MORE!!!

Sigh. I'm good (I hope) at writing dialogue, especially dialogue that attempts to conceal strong emotion and doesn't quite succeed. My hero in The Dangerous Duke/Diary/Damned-if-I-know says he'd rather stick needles in his eyes than wade through emotional soup... He was expressing the thoughts of his creator to a T. However, I'm writing romance so I gotta do it. On the other hand, I love reading intensely emotional stories, as long as they show me the emotion, rather than telling me. There's a difference.

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, CW, if the GR is of no interest to you, HAND HIM OVER!!!!

Tawny, what a great post. It's something I think about a lot - how your personality type impacts on your writing. I'm very strong on introversion (yes, I know I'm noisy here but I'm among friends!) and intuition. Because of that, I assume people will read between the lines. Sometimes, read between whole pages! So something that to me is really powerful just leaves other people cold, sadly. I'm pretty equal when it comes to thinking and feeling which works well writing romance if I can get that in balance - you get structure and feeling. But only after I've rewritten and rewritten. I'm an aural person - always hear my characters before anything else. So dialogue comes like a breeze. I'm hopeless with the physical world (that's the shadow of intuition) so I really have to go back and consciously put in physical reactions. It also means I'm hopeless at action scenes too, Tawny. Although I think that's because my personality type at heart is klutz!

And CW, I loved critiquing your manuscript and would do it for only one kidney instead of two! And the fact I want more is a great compliment to your writing skills - there's never enough CW to keep me happy!

Christine Wells said...

Merci du compliment, Faux-Anna.

And you're not getting the Golden Rooster.

Anna Campbell said...


Anna Campbell said...

Tawny, aside from all the banter about the GR (clearly, he's a bantam!), can you tell us more about what you found out in the workshop? Digging deep for emotion is something I've had to teach myself to do so I'd really appreciate some extra skills in this area. So wish I could have been there. It sounds great!

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

I am an emotional person myself and sometimes I want to smack a hero up the side of his head so he will show the heroine just a little more. I personally need to know what is happening and I never did learn to read minds, I think sometimes a hero should know that and give the heroine just a little bit of a clue as to what is going on in his head.

Caren Crane said...

Tawny, great post! I'm with Anna C and want to know more about what Margie said! Christine, congrats on the Golden Rooster!

Dianna, I totally get why you want to know more about what the hero thinks and feels. Here's the dilemma for us, though: how many men do you know who go around talking about their feelings? Some do, but they are not usually the most alpha men we know. I suppose it's possible to create an alpha male who talks about his thoughts and feelings, but it's a fine line to walk.

I struggle with this, because I grew up in the Mid-South and Southeastern US and when men emote, it's usually anger you see. Lots of bluster and railing at the heavens. *g* When they try to tell you what they think, it's usually only a very surface-level thought, no probing into why they think or feel as they do.

Too little and we readers aren't satisfied. Too much and the hero becomes unbelievable.

I tend to enjoy books across the spectrum, from dark to light. I like light and fun books best most of the time, but occasionally need some angst. In all books, I want real emotion.

Wendy said...

I'm drawn to both the fun humor and dark intensity. It definitely depends on the story. And some story have way too much emotion in it. DRA-MA! lol. Sometimes, all I want to read is some fun not-so-emotional humorous story and another times, I like the intensity.

Buffie said...

As anyone who really knows me would tell you, I am an emotional person. It's in the blood. I'm the one who cries at the littlest things. I'm the one who jumps for joy (literally) when my boys get good grades. And I'm the one who will really set you in your place if you have forgotten where that is :) That's just me! So, as a reader, I like all kinds of emotions to show through a book. Some days I want to see all kinds of humor in the story. Other days I want the strong hero to fall flat on his face and realize his is nothing without the heroine. And still other days I just want a sexy romp full of "payoffs". That is what is great about romance, every book delivers something different.

Kirsten said...

Great topic, Tawny, and it inspires a HUGE confession--I'm a skim reader. Yes, it's true, I often read only a sentence or two per page, when the writing doesn't completely capture my interest. I love dialogue (esp. witty dialogue per the fantastically talented Christine Wells) but I tend to lose interest when the hero/heroine is naval gazing. I like the emotion when it flow naturally through the story, but those pages of "sequel" usually get skipped.

I'm not sure what I do well as a writer. :-) No, seriously, not trying to be modest or anything--I feel like I struggle with it all! I think my strength may simply be in the writing itself, keeping everything active and punchy. I tend to write short (did you notice my blogs are usually 1/2 the length of everyone else's?) and I think, hopefully, I do a good job of packing a lot into a small space.

doglady said...

Congrats CW on the totally inconsequential Rooster acquisition! Yes, Tawny, please spill more about the workshop. I love dark brooding heroes, but I also love the comedic aspects of a man having to deal with emotions he never considered before. I tend to write really snappy dialogue to move the story along. I am wrestling with my hero right now. He was a very emotional exuberant person, but the down-side was his quick, rapier like temper. He leashed it on two people he loved and lost them before he could apologize. His solution (typical male) is to never lose control again. Translation - he just won't get emotional involved again so he can keep the people around him safe. BIG DUMMY! My heroine is so completely without guile he has no clue how to deal with her.

Lisa said...

Now I know why my ears were burning... :)

I'm going to see if I can make my characters emote over TP. That should be a good exercise for me.

Seriously, my family thinks I'm a drama queen and I keep telling them that in comparison to THEM, I suppose I am, but compared to the rest of the world not so much.

I would love to know more about the workshop you took. Maybe it will help me develop in this area.

Anna mentioned being an aural person -- well, I'm so very visual. I'm a graphic designer, so that makes sense. I probably should have tried writing scripts, but I lurrve reading a good emotionally angsty story. I just have to work very hard at writing one.

Leslie Dicken said...

What happens if you don't write action or emotion? LOL! I tend to write pages and pages of dialogue! Seriously, I have to make a conscious effort to go back through and add the emotion in. But, wow, does it make a difference in a romance and how much I enjoy it while reading.

Great topic!! :-)

Lisa said...

Like Anna mentioned, you're an aural writer. One of the best things about being that kind of writer is, like Christine mentioned, "dialogue that attempts to conceal strong emotion and doesn't quite succeed."

BTW, I just posted on this topic too.

ChristyJan said...

Depending on my mood, I'm drawn to both the fun humor and the dark intensity. I'd rather have more story and not so much drama (like Wendy already mentioned)

MsHellion said...

I want both. I want action--or fun actually. I love light bantery humor and frolic, but I love the "emoting about toilet paper" too.

Anna Campbell said...

Leslie, you and I are writing sisters! That's just so true about the dialogue, isn't it? But I feel that first draft that's full of 'talk' is the skeleton and when I add the emotion, I'm putting flesh on dem bones!

Pam, I love books where the heroes decide they're going to FIX the problem and just make things worse. Oh, that's right - you know that, don't you? ;-)

p226 said...

including the wrong kind of toilet paper.

^^ that is no trivial matter. It's worthy of strong emotion! Meetings! International sanctions! Tribunals! Heads should roll, I say!

Caren Crane said...

Ha! P226, we should have known talk of toilet paper would bring you out of hiding. Now, I'm not going to get into gory details, but I will say that there is such a thing as toilet paper being too cottony. Perhaps not for men, but women have other considerations for toilet paper.

That was already TMI, but let's just leave it at, "My husband and I disagree about the optimum TP to purchase."

Caren Crane said...

Hey, guys. I figured you all know by now that Tawny is a West Coast USA girl and has stolen Aunty Cindy's Bronze Sloth as of late last night. So...she probably won't surface until later this afternoon, East Coast USA time. We must carry on without her and wait (impatiently) for more about Margie's workshop!

Stacia said...

I don't mind if the emotion is masked by humor or straightforward. As long as it stays true to the character & feels realistic to me.

Jennifer said...

I love reading books with varying levels of emotions...I like books that make me feel something...whether it is joy, anger, happiness, fear, sadness, etc. I love storylines and characters that make me feel or move me in some way as long as it is realistic and true to the story. I read a variety of things (makes life and reading interesting) so I like both the fun humorous reads and the dark emotional reads. Extreme violence or intense anger are the only ones that don't really appeal to me as much unless it is done well.

Did that make sense? I am not sure I am explaining this to sum it up I will say, I'll read it all...LOL. I like trying new things as well as reading familiar genres. I told someone that pretty soon the only requirement for me to try a book will be that it have words of some kind in it...LOL.

Keira Soleore said...

Keira curstying as she handa the GR to Christine. Manners and all that...highly over-rated, what? What?

(Gergoe the III had this habit of asking, "What? What?")

I loved Margie Lawson's brief workshop here at the Banditas on self-defeating behaviors. That was amazing. So a real-life workshop must've been fantastic.

I'm sure FoAnna appreciated the kidney, Christine, but the Bailey's was something else entirely -- yum, tasty!!

BTW, Foanna prefers to call the GR the Golden Roaster.

Caren, you're absolutely right. In general, alpha heroes in romance novels are too chatty by half. And it's because writers are catering to a primarily female readership.

As a reader, I read across the range of sweet, comedic, to noirs. However, the emotions have to organic to the character. You cannot slap them on later and expect to have them feel authentic to the reader.

As a writer, I can't do noir. Nor do I have a light, comedic touch. Nor can I do epics with huge stakes and big-big emotional payoff. I'm a run-of-the-mill garden-variety emotions kind of writer.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Ciao, Banditas! What a lovely place you have here! Tawny, I love emotion and it's totally why I read romance. (Conversely, I think processing emotion is why many folks shy away from reading the novels). If an author doesn't emote in her style, I kind of study it until I understand what she's going for. Then I feel I can enjoy her books.

But I'm also in the visual camp, especially when visual description is combined with high emotion. Very tough when we're told to "show, not tell," right? But it's difficult to get love scenes right, for instance, w/ only emotion and no visual. The opposite doesn't work either.

Em, congratulations on this Golden Rooster, which seems to go regularly from hand-to-hand. Is it true that great fortune comes to she who holds in her hand the GR?


Maureen said...

There are some authors who are emotional read for me and I do enjoy them but have to be in the mood to read that type of book. Then when I don't want a lot of emotion I'll read an author who is more about the action.

Maureen said...

There are some authors who are emotional read for me and I do enjoy them but have to be in the mood to read that type of book. Then when I don't want a lot of emotion I'll read an author who is more about the action.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Oh, and thank you everyone for visiting Anna at RBTB today! It's great having you stop by. :)


Susan Seyfarth said...

Christine & Anna, you guys had me rolling this morning with your golden rooster antics. :-)

As for me, I'm an omnivorous reader. I like it all, from light comedy to dark, angsty drama. As a writer, I tend to blend the two extremes.

My fabulous CP Kirsten is always trying to get me to lighten up my backstory so my characters have some plausible shot at redemption over the course of 400 pages (not enough time for the YEARS of therapy they usually require). And yet, they always speak in this snappy dialogue that once made my husband say, "You know, you could be a really funny writer." Like this has funny-potential, if you tried harder. And weren't so awfully, awfully DARK.

So I guess I'm a little bi-polar. :-)

Helen said...

I love all types of emotion in the books I read I feel it through the writers words and tend to have a picture in my head and my imagination goes with the flow of the story. I love it when I can laugh with the characters in the story and very much love it when I cry with them and there are times when the frustration comes through and you could smack one of the characters as well just goes to show that a good story can have all these emotions in it and this is what draws me to the book.
Great post Tawny
Have Fun

Tawny said...

Grrr... blogger is driving me batty - it will NOT let me play.

trying again -

Christine, I totally agree with that there is so much more strength in showing emotion than telling it! I think once a writer 'gets' that show don't tell thing, for some its still easier to show things like action (not me, unless its naked action - and even then its all about the emotion)... again, coming down to that authors particular way of seeing life. Myers Briggs anyone? LOL

Christine Wells said...

Hi Michelle! Thanks so much for joining us. Yes, indeed, the Golden Rooster is the highly prized reward for being the first to comment on any given day. Although, I'm tempted to make bad jokes about she who holds the rooster, but I'm too well bred!

Keira, your curtsy is a work of artistry commensurate with the elegance of your bonnet. Thank you for handing over the GR with such grace. Poor old King George!

Kirsten, thanks so much for your lovely words about my dialogue. You're a honey! And I skim, too, I'm ashamed to say.

tetewa said...

I read all the different genres. Some days I read for comedy and then I like to switch it up to maybe a suspensful thriller. It doesn't matter the emotion level in a story as long as it peaks my interest. Sometimes I also enjoy a book that can give me a good cry.

Anna Sugden said...

I'm back! Briefly, but back *grin*

Great post, Tawny. I must remember to order Margie Lawson's packs!

As an emotional person, I like to think my work flows with emotion. Unfortunately, I'm like Foanna ... I kind of expect people to read between the lines. I always have to go back and fill in the 'gaps'.

Tawny knows all too well that we Brits are so understated *grin* ... so she often makes me go back and ramp up the reactions!

Michael Hague - in his awesome workshop - makes a great point about emotions. That the reader or viewer needs to experience them, not be told about them! And our job as writers is to make that experience fulfilling.

*waving at Michelle* great to see you here - it seems ages since we lusted over football players (soccer) in Atlanta with Janice!

And Keira - you are not run-of-the-mill!

Tawny said...

Anna, I think our personalities on the page is really what makes our stories great. Our strengths and focus are what power our voice. Like you, I'm strongly intuitive/feeling- it comes across in the writing. Surprisingly, I'm extroverted in the tests - but I always argue that those are wrong LOL

Tawny said...

Anna, the workshop rocked. I highly recommend it in person, online or even purchasing her workshop packets and doing it yourself.

One of the things that stood out the most was her analogy of a large laundry bag of emotional descriptions. She said when you write you reach in and grab one off the top - but its usually a cliche or common reaction - and suggested digging deeper, then deeper still. To really make the writing fresh and go as deep as you can to share/show what your character is feeling.

I loved hearing that LOL.

Tawny said...

Dianna - I hear you! of course, if the author needs to keep the heroine in the dark about the heroes emotions... well, hey, I want insider information!!

Tawny said...

Caren, I agree. A hero whose sitting around talking with his buddy about his feelings over beer is NOT one I'm going to read. But -here's the thing. Guys might not show much emotion and talk about it even less... but they feel it. The advantage of a heroes pov is that can be shared with the reader... but it has to be done in a masculine, dude-ish way LOL. Not all touchy feely, of course.

Tawny said...

Wendy, like you, I enjoy a variety. But DRAMA tends to drive me batty LOL.

Buffie! I'm the same way. I'm all about the emotions, which may be why thats much easier for me in writing (and I'm much pickier about it in reading) than say action/dialogue.

Kirsten, I'm going to pretend I didn't read that. hands over my eyes, lalalalallala

Tawny said...

P226... I hear ya! The depths of emotion and discourse that topic can engender are endless. Seriously.

Lisa - your action rocks, but I'm so excited to see what you get out of the workshop!

Leslie... Your writing is so lyrical and I'm jealous that you can get pages of dialogue. I actually have to go back to add that in.

Laura J. said...

I like for my books to have some humor in them. I think there needs to be some emotional depth to the characters but too much and I tend to put the book down and never finish it.

Nathalie said...

I really like strong emotions in books... and sometimes a bit of light reading is appreciated, when I just want to laugh!

Tawny said...

Michelle, thanks so much for visiting the Lair! As a highly visual person (and so NON Aural) I agree about how important showing is. Honestly, thats one of the things that comes easier for me, that emotional showing. Its all that other stuff (plot, dialogue, you know... story LOL) that comes harder.

Lily said...

I don't think much about it... I concentrate more on a great story. Though I have never really read a Blaze book!

jo robertson said...

I'll try commenting again, Tawny. Great post BTW and Christine, congrats on grabbing the GR!

I really like understated emotion where subtext brims beneath the surface of sparse dialogue, where a look, a sigh, a single word convey so much more than language.

Anna, I'm with you on the dialogue. I hear what the characters are saying and thinking long before I imagine what they're doing. That language IS the scaffolding on which I hang the entire scene and as long as I have the skeleton in place, I know the flesh will come fairly easily.

Less is more. I'm just saying (in the words of DeHo!

Damn, I'm gonna win that GR one day! Christine is heartless!! The promise of a kidney and no GH????

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Howdy gang! Checking in late (by east coast standards) Anna, sorry I missed getting over to RBTB today. (Waving madly at Michelle from WRW-land) Great to see you in the Lair, Michelle!
Tawny, isn't Margie great in person? Ya'll thought she was fun on the blog, wait till you laugh through a workshop with her. Some laughs and a LOT of thinkin' about where you can improve. And her suggestions are dead-on. I have her workshop books and they're great. A lot to digest, but every section is helpful.
Christine, congrats on the GR. There he goes...back down under. SNORK!
As to emotion in a story, my taste ranges from dark and stormy to...well, dark and stormy. Snork. (CTC rules!) Then again, I love humor in a book - sly, witty, bawdy, straight-man-fall-guy, broad pratfalls - you name it, I like it as long as it works with the book. As a suspense writer, I really love an intense book with humor or wit for comic relief. I'll read a lighter book, for contrast and fun, but mostly, I'm in it for the action and emotion first, and the pratfalls second.
Then again, I don't like angst. I want a character who may be moody, dark, or disturbing in his or her intensity, but not that "oh how could you?" angst. Ugh. I like my characters proactive. Ha!
(Waving at Leslie D before I sign off)
Now, about that toilet paper...

Donna MacMeans said...

Crossing fingers...trying to post again...

As a reader and a writer, I have to have strong emotion. However, apparently when I write an emotional scene, my face contorts to reflect whatever emotion I'm pushing. This causes great concern for my family who think I'm in the midst of a stroke *g*.

I can't list any books that didn't have sufficient emotion because they are just so forgettable. It the work is to make my keeper shelf, it's got to have the goods.

Donna MacMeans said...


That was my fifth try today to post. It could a complete computer scan and diagnostics run to do it, but it went through.

Tawny said...

Argh. I'm sorry everyone, I've had alot of trouble with the 'net today -

Tawny said...

Keira, the in person workshop was FAB!

A lot of people have commented on loving lighter, humorous stories - ME Too. The thing that makes comedy and rom com a hard sell is that what makes me laugh might not make you laugh (this is a working theory, not set in stone LOL). But the more archetypal emotions, the ones that touch us all - birth, death, fear, love... those have a more universally recognized emotional button in a wider range of people. So those are easier to tap into, for readers to empathize with?

In theory *g*

VraiAnna - babe... you do the understated thing SO well LOL.

Tawny said...

Oooh, Helen - you just added a new layer to my working theory. You love it when you can laugh WITH the characters, which means to truly bring in humor, the writer has to show you why the characters are laughing, why it's funny to THEM.

hmmm... I'm liking this.

Tawny said...

Donna, I'm laughing so hard at the the face contortions. OMG wouldn't it be horrible if we had webcams to record us while we write? EWWWW. bad. all bad. and thanks for not giving up on posting. I've been kicked off and lost so many replies today I'm half-crazy.

Jeanne, YESYESYYES - Margie rocks in person. I think thats the key, as you said= she really makes you think. The workshop material is similar in person, online or in the packet, but what really makes in person the best is how she make you think of new ways to intensify it, where there are holes and how to fill them.

Aunty Cindy said...

The Brass Sloth has arrived! (and yes, Keira, the BS was intentional. Was there ever any doubt?)

Thanx for an intriguing post, Tawny! And big WAVE to our Packer Pal Leslie -- Long time, no see! -- and Ciao Bella to Michelle! Happy to see you and everyone else hanging out in the lair today in spite of our technical difficulties.

I gotta chime in and agree with Keira about the emotions being "organic to the character." My hero in Death in the Fens is the kind of guy who hates to FEEL emotions much less talk about them. I had a lot of fun torturing him into admitting his feeling for the heroine. *Aunty grins evilly*

As for dialogue, I'd say the same thing applies. Nothing worse than characters who all sound the same. :-P I've read too many contest entries, and some published books that suffered from this syndrome. Characters need their own speech patterns and word choices. Again, I paid special attention to this in DITF because quite a few of the characters are Irish. I worked really hard to get the correct syntax and "lilt" to their dialogue. My wonderful CP, Jo-Mama assures me that I succeeded. Hope readers agree!

who has very definitely preferences for TP

Anna Campbell said...

Michelle, thanks so much for coming across to say hi. Aren't the Banditas great? And as you say, if you get one of us, you get most of us!

Tawny, sorry you've had such a rotten day with the computer. Fantastic comments from everyone!

Tawny said...

AC - YES on dialogue being orgainic. One of the things I love best about reading good dialogue is that when doen right, you don't need tags ( Joe said, Mary replied, etc). Its obvious, clear and perfect for that character. My characters, for some reason, all sound like smart asses. But they sound like unique smart asses, each one!

Anna - blogger was mean today LOL. I wrote, I hit post, it ate. I wrote, I hit post, it ate. But... its all better now - yay.

Anna Campbell said...

Thank you for trying, T. You're the best! And I got a post in the end, anyway.

flchen1 said...

Coming in very late to the party (from the Cigars site), fun topic!

I'd have to say that it depends--I love both the light humor and the emotional intensity (and a few authors seem to be able to bring them both, although maybe not in the same scenes...). I like the emotions in the stories to feel real (and sometimes more intense than I might like/routinely experience in reality), and like to be able to laugh, too.

Not sure if that answers the question... ;)

Anna Campbell said...

Slightly off topic, but I wanted to thank all the Banditas and honorary Banditas who came over to Lifetime TV today to support me. You guys are the best! Mwah!!!

Tawny said...

Hey -thanks for coming over from the Cigars! Welcome to the party :-) I'm gigging at your answer, mostly becaues its so similar to what I'd say. I like this, I like that, really... I just love romance - as long as it lets me feel along with the characters.