Show a Little Emotion

Emotion: it’s a key ingredient to any good book.

Without emotion, we don’t care about what the characters are doing or why. Stories that play out interesting plots without the element of emotional experience lose our interest because we are human and emotion is at the core of who we are.

Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman get that. They have written a book called The Emotion Thesaurus and it’s filled with tips for writers on how to convey the right emotion at the right time, without the telling that separates a reader from the character.

The book devotes a few pages to each emotion, giving suggestions on how that particular emotion can be written. Seventy-five root emotions, including anger, love and confusion, are broken down into their physical signals, internal sensations and mental responses. So if you’ve exhausted ways of showing your reader how a character is angry, look it up and pick something from the list like cracking knuckles or a pulsing vein.

While I think this resource could help writers, especially novice writers, it does feel a bit like cheating. It’s like writing a test with notes in your desk and when you get to the tough question, just take a peek and find the answer.  But who knows, the next time I’m faced with a tricky emotional description, I may find myself skimming through the list for ideas.

Despite my hesitation, what I really liked about the book are the writing tips that appear after each emotion’s summary. Here is a list of my four favourite tips:

  1. “To increase tension in a scene, think about what is motivating your character, and which emotions could get in the way. Introduce an event that creates the very emotions the character wishes to avoid.”
  2. “Emotion should always lead to decision making, either good or bad, that will propel the story forward.”
  3. “One way to create emotional intensity is to have the character remember the stakes on the cusp of taking action. Worry over the outcome can add a slice of desperation to any scene and create a compelling emotional pull for the reader.”
  4. “If your scene includes a small dip into the past to retrieve information that has direct bearing on the current action, make sure there is an emotional component. Emotions are triggers to memory and help tie the present to the past.”

Cover Art

A good book cover will draw you in. A great cover might tempt you to pick up the book and read the back, sometimes even open to the first page. Lots has been written and discussed on the topic of cover art to know it’s a key marketing feature.

I know for myself that the visual of the cover remains in my mind as I read a book. Months or years later, the book cover will bring back the story and characters. Long after the book has made it to my shelves, one look at the cover and I can remember the book from where it sat on my bedside table, or how it peeked above the edge of my purse when I pulled it out to read.

But now that I mostly use my e-reader, how important is the cover to me anymore? I pick up my kindle and it delivers me to the page I was last reading. The visual that goes along with the story isn’t as prominent as it used to be. Regardless, I still think every book, paper or electronic, benefits from good cover art.

From early on in the process of writing Shadow Dreams, I had this image in my head of the main character Adele. Her face, the daisies in her hair and her ring all feature prominently in the opening chapter, as well as a key scene later in the book. I knew this image of her would make a stunning cover. And truthfully, I am drawn to covers that feature the character’s image. After acquiring a photographer and choosing a model (Julia frances), I had this photo taken and the cover produced. While I’ve posted the photo in a previous post, the background work, done by the amazing Alexandria N. Thompson (Graphic Designer), adds a whole new dimension.

Whether I take the route of self-publishing this novel or not, this artwork has special meaning for me. It is very fulfilling to see a visual image of my character and I am thrilled with the end product.

Thanks to Ed Huang, photographer for his vision and talent.