Writing Emotional Scenes

by Rose Allen McCauley

Randy Ingermanson aka “The Snowflake Guy” is the first teacher who started me thinking about the perfect emotional scene—one that makes the reader so identify with the characters that they can’t stop reading!

I’ve been a lifelong reader since the age of five. When I first started writing as an adult, I knew a little about plot and characters, but Randy’s premise is that if your readers can’t relate to your plot and characters it doesn’t matter. Why would they spend time reading about something or someone they can’t identify with? That set me off on a path to find and read as many emotive writers as possible.

This leads us to the first lesson in writing emotional scenes.

Read and study the writers who touch your own heart.

My favorite writer of emotional scenes and characters (along with many other readers!) is Karen Kingsbury. I met her at one of the early ACFW conferences and bought A Time to Embrace (about a marriage about to disintegrate) and the first book of the Redemption series (containing adultery and murder.) Although I didn’t have any personal experience with any of those topics, Karen wrote such believable, flawed characters, often with kind hearts, that I wanted to keep reading about them and rooting for them!

Another author whose characters I can easily relate to is Deb Raney.  Her first book was A Vow to Cherish about a woman with Alzheimer’s whose husband has many decisions to make. Again, I had never faced anything like that, but the love and caring between the husband and wife made me want to keep reading to see how they handled it.

I hate to even try to name other authors out there who write great emotional scenes because there so many of them, and we each have our favorites as well as favorite genres. If you are not sure whom you want to try, I suggest you ask a friend with similar tastes in books or look through a CBD catalog or read the back cover blurb in bookstores or the library or online.

A second lesson in writing emotional scenes is Show instead of Telling. Parts of all books have some telling for smoothness or brevity, so some narration or description is okay.

But, instead of: Mark was angry when he got off the phone with Sharon.

Try this: Mark punched the button to disconnect the call, pulled his arm back and let the phone fly in a pitch that would’ve made Hank Aaron jealous. The phone ricocheted off the couch and clattered to the floor.

“That woman!” he spat out.

A third way to keep the readability factor going is to use foreshadowing to show that something you mention in an earlier chapter is going to factor into a later chapter—just make sure you follow through with that promise!

A great example of this is what literary greats refer to as Chekhov’s Gun: “If in Act One you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act.”

Use objects, people, phrases, and even situations to set up your reader for what will eventually become a pay-off if they keep reading.

Great writers are also known for using evocative words to describe the scenery to suggest mystery or danger, so make sure you use all of the senses and keep editing until you find the perfect words to describe each scene or character.

Another way to keep your readers reading is to make characters have to decide between two, or more hard choices. We’ve all had to do that in real life, and so can sympathize with the character who has to make a hard decision—often one that is going to affect someone they care about.

Most of us like characters we can sympathize with, and some people even like characters they can love to hate! We all have different personalities, so keep experimenting until you find characters and writers who keep you coming back for more. To me, the main thing that makes me want to read the same author again is if I keep thinking about the characters after I finish the book, because they have become so real to me! Like the Velveteen Rabbit! I think that is the reason many of us love series.

I once read that Elmore Leonard wrote,  “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” I hope my thoughts will help you do that by using some of these tips to write emotionally charged scenes.  And if you are like me, you will find it is a lifelong pursuit!

Here’s a writing prompt in case you want to try to add some of these tools to your writing box:

Pretend you are writing the follow-up book to Where the Red Fern Grows, or Charlotte’s Web. Write the opening paragraph in a way that grabs your reader by the emotions. Feel free to share your work in the comments below. 

Click to Tweet: Most of us like characters we can sympathize with, and some people even like characters they can love to hate. Writing Emotional Scenes via @InspiredPrompt #amwriting #writingtips

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