emotional writing

17 04, 2017

A Writer’s Dilemma – Drama and Suffering

By |2017-04-16T18:25:03-05:00April 17th, 2017|Make Me Think Monday|1 Comment

We all dislike negative, unhappy things aka drama.

Who wants to suffer and be unhappy? I sure don’t.

But – reality is drama, though unwelcomed most of the time, is what life is all about.

Our puppy’s reaction to hearing thunder for the first time.

Happy drama is a very different thing.

I love the drama our new Old English Sheepdog added to our world. If you’ve ever had a puppy, you can relate. He changed our lives dramatically while adding so much laughter and love.

As a writer, I have such a difficult time being hard on my characters. I don’t want them to suffer or be unhappy. Unfortunately, that makes for a dull, uninteresting story. Drama is an integral part of real life so fictional characters must suffer.

After attending the BONI Intensive Seminars where Donald Maass stresses Tension (drama) on every page to engage readers fully, I finally understood the need to create more suffering for my fictional characters.

Readers expect drama and want to become emotionally involved with our characters. When drama and suffering are absent, readers fail to connect with our characters. They won’t read our books.

If you need a nudge to add drama to your writing (as I did), let me suggest:

1. Read The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass
2. Attend a Breakout Novel Intensive Seminar
3. Visit One Stop for Writers website where you’ll find loads of resources like The Emotion Thesaurus

And, just for fun here’s some video inspiration on how to add  drama to a dull scene:

9 09, 2013

Dates Trigger Emotions So Should Your Writing: 5 Ways to Write for Emotional Impact

By |2013-09-09T06:07:50-05:00September 9th, 2013|Make Me Think Monday|2 Comments


Years after something happens, whether we were part of the event or not, we recall and react.

I sent out a questionnaire to friends and family asking them to recall dates that spark memories. The responses were surprising and predictable at the same time. Dates and events in the list below appeared multiple times.

These two only appeared on one responder’s list and reading the dates jogged my memory.

Another responder labeled their list: “Things not ingrained by exact date, but by what they were.”

The list included:  Branch Davidian Complex Raid; Last Episode of MASH; Sandy Hook; Gabby Gifford’s’ shooting; the non-concession speech of Al Gore in 2000; the election of Obama (#1); the eventual concession of Gore in 2000; The Lewinski stuff with Clinton; The OJ Trial; The Ellen Show where her character ‘came out

A thought provoking list that brought back memories and some strong feelings for me.

Another responder offered strong memories triggered by thinking about certain dates.

“Nov 22 1963. Kennedy assassination. I was working in the music dept on UT campus. Someone had a radio on and we heard the news. I ran to student union to watch it on TV. Later I went home and worked on a theme (book report) that was due on the “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. Mournful weekend.”  

“9-11-01. Home drinking coffee in our sun room with news on TV. Watched second plane hit towers. Didn’t turn off TV for days.” 

“August 22 1966. Charles Whitman shooting from tower. I was in Dallas on job interview, but hadn’t moved from Austin yet. Heard on radio. Not sure if it was Aug. 22 or 26. I didn’t know my husband then but he was on campus and took shelter in the student union. I recalled that at that time of day I would have been walking right across the mall for lunch, but I had taken that day off to go to Dallas.”

I’ve coined a phrase to define times that linger in our memories and by simple recall produce an emotional reaction.


As fiction writers, we must use trigger dates in our writing a way that our readers experience our characters’ fear and feel joy and become angry or excited and know grief. Readers should laugh and cry, shiver and rage. All from reading our story.

Why do we need to write for emotional impact?

Two BIG reasons: So readers will remember our characters and come back again and again. So readers recommend our stories or  write positive reviews for our novels.

How does a writer write for emotional impact? I offer five ways:

  1. Through Character action and response

No reporting a character is afraid or giddy or grieving. Show through the character’s actions.

  1. Create a sympathetic character

As a story evolves, the reader must know and relate to the characters. If you put the reader in the character’s place, the reader will experience a physical response—laughter or tears or shivers—as if whatever happened to your character has actually happened to them.

  1. Write conflict into every scene

Don’t be afraid of killing off someone close to your main characters or taking away something else dear to them. This is fiction; you’re not really hurting someone if you do mean things to your characters. When characters are agitated, readers will be too.

  1. Choose words to evoke emotion.

Words are our trigger dates. Use harsh or sharp words for the harsher emotions, soft-sounding and soft-meaning words for gentle emotions.

  1. Use sensory details to immerse readers in the reality of the scene.

What can your character hear and smell? What does a change in sight or sound mean? Using all the senses puts your reader there in the story.

YOUR TURN: Did reading the Trigger Date list stir emotions for you? If you’re a writer, how do you trigger your reader’s emotions?

10 09, 2012

3 Necessities to be a successful writer

By |2012-09-10T09:37:46-05:00September 10th, 2012|writer, writing|2 Comments

What does it take to be a writer?

Is all you need to be a writer pen and paper or a typewriter or an iPad or laptop/computer with a word processor? Maybe all it takes is the latest writing tool like this:

Or is there more involved besides having the proper writing tool?

Simple answer, YES.

A writer’s journey is a solo trip. A lonely trip and no two writers achieve success in the same way.

I think, to be successful, an aspiring writer must possess, at a minimum, these things:



The most important trait a writer needs is the deep desire to write and a steadfast commitment to his passion.

“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.” Hebbel quotes

Writers must write because, if we don’t, we are miserable. The desire flows with our blood.


If you watched the Summer Olympics last month, you saw performances by athletes who had practiced and trained YEARS for the opportunity to compete in their chosen event.

A certain number of hours practice is frequently necessary to be considered proficient at so many things.

Think about airline pilots who must have a specific number of flying hours before they are qualified to solo. Teenage drivers get learner permits and must practice before taking a test to prove their proficiency and earn a driver’s license.

Writing is no different. Writing requires practice.

The exact amount of practice depends on your natural talent, how quick you learn the techniques of your craft and how much passion you have for what you’re doing.

Which brings up another question, how often should you write?

My simple answer: EVERY DAY.

But how much should you write? Does it matter?

According to James Thayer’s Author Magazine article “How Many Words a Day?” Jack London wrote between 1,000 and 1,500 words each day.

Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day.

Ray Bradbury, who authored over five hundred science fiction novels and short stories which someone calculated to be three and a half million words worth of stories, advises writers to “Write a thousand words a day and in three years you will be a writer.”

To succeed as writers, we must practice by writing something, anything every day.

On LEARNING  or STUDYING writing craft

Most people wouldn’t dream of trying to build an automobile without learning about auto mechanics. Unfortunately, too many people try to become writers without learning about the craft of writing.

An idea for a story strikes, and they start writing. They never consider story structure, POV, or any of the other skills embedded in every novel we read.

This, imo, is why so many aspiring writers fail so often.

Without learning basic skills, you won’t go far as an auto mechanic, no matter how many hours you put into practicing. Think about artists. They learn to mix paint, how to prepare a canvas and color theory at an art school. Aspiring auto mechanics go to technical schools.

Learning about basic craft skills requires time and study. To me, it’s the most important aspect of being a writer.

Sure, some writers succeed without study. With study, I believe success comes faster.

Even those born with great talent rarely go anywhere without equal measures of passion and practice. Mozart was a virtuoso of musical technique and artistry, but even he needed to learn his craft. He was full of passion for music, he practiced all the time, and he studied.

There are hundreds of great books on writing. I’m sure you have your favorites. On my website you’ll find a complete list of writer resources and some inspiring quotes. Below is a short list I recommend for every writer’s craft resource shelf:

  1.  Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell
  2. Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass
  3. Break Into Fiction, by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love 
  4.  Story, by Robert McKee 
  5.  Scene and Structure, by Jack M. Bickham
  6. Getting Into Character, by Brandilyn Collins
  7. Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias
  8. The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley

Writing classes – on-line and at colleges and universities – also offer wonderful ways to develop writing skills. Too many classes, in fact, to list them in this post. I’ll do another blog with my recommendations soon.

Writing conferences offer yet another means to study writing craft with the added benefit of networking with like-minded people.

If you happen to live in or near Houston, Texas, there’s going to be a great writer’s conference next month—Northwest Houston RWA’s Lone Star Writer’s Conference featuring James Scott Bell.Yep—same one whose book is #1 on my recommended list.

The conference also offers a tremendous line-up of editors and agents. All for only $130.00. Check it out here.

Now you know what 3 things I believe are necessary to be a success writer so get out your iTyperwriter and GO, GO, GO.

YOUR TURN: What do you think it takes to be a successful writer?