Monday, February 10, 2014

Emotional Intensity

Another question in January's class dealt with the rejection of a manuscript because of lack of emotional intensity. The class attendee asked exactly what that meant.
Here's my answer...
Emotional intensity comes in many forms...It manifests (usually) in those reaction phrases we discussed.

Remember when we talked about the difference between a character reluctantly agreeing and straightening her shoulders, looking the villain in the eye and getting into his personal space?

Don't you feel the emotion? The reluctantly agreeing 'hits' the reader one way. The shoulder straightening, looking the villain in the eye, getting into his personal space 'hits' the reader another way.  A more intense way. It tells us about character, even as it puts the reader into the story...feeling that emotion.

That's what you want.

So emotional intensity can be words. Your editor's comments can stem from the fact that you don't have any reaction phrases in your ms...but remember...use reactions sparingly. You don't want your characters overreacting either! (Making the story melodramatic instead of dramatic.)

Second, emotional intensity comes from stakes. If we know the hero's goal is to find the man who murdered his son, and he comes across the guy in the coffee shop...readers are going to gasp. Is he going to shoot him? Is he going to stalk him? What's he going to do?


If the heroine needs to marry a duke to get her inheritance, and she learns the duke she secretly loves ran away and got her getting that news and her reaction. Especially when she then realizes her only choice now is to marry the bad duke who is always drunk and gambling. And then she has to go to the gambling hell (? I think that's what they called it) and propose to him in front of the entire town -- when no one knows she's only marrying him to get her inheritance which adds to her humiliation ... That's a totally fictitious scenario that might not be possible in a regency romance LOL...but just a way to show you how you use actual events playing out, raising the stakes, to demonstrate emotional intensity.

Third, when we talk about stakes, those stakes have their 'roots' in the past (so to speak). If our regency heroine who must marry a duke is afraid of men because one of her father's friends raped her when she was twelve, then having to marry at all will terrify her...because she equates sex to fear and it brings up all kinds of bad memories...upping the stakes and raising emotional intensity.

So...Your characters have to want things, like a marriage, but have conflicts to getting those things, like loss of the man she wanted and a rape in her past that makes her fear men and sex, but the character must NEED THOSE THINGS SO MUCH that she (or he) is willing to face their greatest fears to get them.

THAT'S emotional intensity.
I thought that was a good enough question and response to share!
Happy Monday...and Happy Reading!
susan meier

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