Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Today I'm sharing the first chapter of the second book in the Extreme Hauntings series. This follows directly the end of DFF: Dead Friends Forever.

Let me know what you think or if you have any questions about the series! :)


School's Out 4Ever
by J.R. Turner

Chapter One

The car slowed, waking Kaylee from her doze. Heavy traffic clogged the highway as they drew closer to Duluth. Her dad played a CD of some old guy who sang about a shark with pearly teeth, making the big fish sound as dangerous as Spongebob Squarepants. A dense fog drifted across the St. Louis River like huge rolling cotton lit by the early evening city lights. Damp, misty air made those lights prism on her wet window. The wipers beat a slow, steady rhythm to clear the condensation. No wonder she’d fallen asleep.

She yawned and stretched, then laid her forehead against the cool glass. How good it felt to sleep without nightmares. Real life was the nightmare now. Just a few weeks ago nothing truly bad had ever happened to her. Pretty good for a girl going on fifteen. Never saw a pet run over by a car, never got beaten up by anyone, had an okay time in school, and her parents were mostly supportive.

Well, until she told them she was seeing ghosts, demons and angels. Funny how that worked. One minute they’re cheering for her on the soccer field and at swim meets the next they’re packing her off to a boarding school for wayward girls. So what if her dad worked it out so she wouldn’t go to Lincoln Hills juvenile detention facility for grave robbing? That didn’t give him to give up on her like some game system stuck on the red ring of death.

Get over it and stop moping, Reason, the little voice in the back of her head said.

Kaylee thought, Yeah, right, hold on a sec while I get happy.

Maybe leaving everything you’ve ever known and going to a place a zillion miles from your best friend was fun for some people, but given the choice, she would have preferred ingrown toenails. And that meant something coming from her because if she couldn’t skate, couldn’t run on the field, couldn’t snowboard, then she might as well become a nun or something.

But only if I wouldn’t have to wear a dress all the time.

She wasn’t a tomboy, though, not like most people thought. No way would she ever flat out say she loved pink, even if it was her favorite color. Yet she was interested in make-up, admired girls in her class with cool streaks in their hair and who knew how to dress. And that was the whole problem. She could lead her team in goals, ollie high on her board or kick total butt at a swim meet, but put on mascara or get the stupid nail polish not to drip down the side of her toe? That might as well have been rocket science.

Her father put the blinker on and merged left as they neared a bridge shrouded in thickening fog. A horn sounded behind them and he shouted at the rearview mirror, “Up yours!”

“Max!” her mother, Diane, said in surprise. She lowered her voice. “You’re setting a bad example.”

“No, dear,” he said, voice. “If some guy hogs the road, ignores our daughter’s blinker, and then honks at her, I want her to express her anger in a healthy way. Shouting where no one can hear you is healthy.”

“But we can hear you. Do you want her to yell like that in front of her children?”
He didn’t answer and the silence was almost worse than his anger.

Kaylee wanted to roll her eyes, but didn’t. With her luck, her father would see it in the rearview mirror. Max Hensler was a shrink (though she couldn’t call him that to his face or he’d go ballistic.) He never missed an opportunity to evaluate every second of every day—not just at work, but with his family too. How many days had she sat down to dinner only to be psychoanalyzed on the spot? Or how often did she get called into his office and grilled about the most embarrassing stuff? She’d rather face down the Waukesha Blasters on the soccer field than answer another question.

Life is not a spectator sport.

Mrs. Mead, her homeroom teacher had that hung on her wall back in Marsden. Every day she read it, not because she wanted to, but because she sat directly across from the Jackie Robinson poster it was written on. She stared at it when she was bored, which was most of the time. That wasn’t the full quote, and you’d think she’d remember all of it but no matter how she wracked her brain, she couldn’t recall the rest.

I’m just lucky to still be sane, not complaining about a little loss of memory here, Fate or God or whoever listens to this sort of thing.

The sound of the tires changed as they hit the new pavement of the bridge, transmitting the empty space beneath. The fog steadily thickened, oozing between the steel beams. She had the eerie sense something ahead wanted to hide, to keep her from knowing its presence. In her parka, she shivered and forced the thoughts out of her head. That stuff had gotten her in too much trouble already.

Her parents already believed she was having hallucinations and injuring herself on purpose. Which was really dumb. She bet they already talked about how they could keep her from passing on her crazy gene to their future grandchildren. Maybe it would be better if it was a crazy gene. Better than being a witch.

She couldn’t really be a witch, could she? Those were all just made up stories, right?
That’s what I used to think about ghosts.

Her father cursed at a slow driver and merged into the right lane. Her stomach flipped all on its own. He slowed as did the cars all around them as the fog made it impossible to see more than a few feet ahead. She clutched the handle on the door, clenched her jaw, held her breath.

“Mom?” Her voice cracked.

A distant rumbling came from the opposite side of the St. Louis River. Brakes squealed loudly beside her. Kaylee jumped. Tears pricked her eyes and she asked again, “Mom?”

Her mother glanced back, then around, her forehead wrinkled with worry and a nervous hand on her throat. “Max, maybe we should pull over? Wait it out?”

The wall of fog shifted and the whole world went white. The car died, the old guy stopped singing and the heating vents went quiet. Her father turned the key. A faint click, then nothing.

“What happened?” her mother asked.

“I don’t know.” He tried again, nothing. “Great. Just great. Now we’ll never get there in time. Since traffic isn’t moving, maybe someone out here can give me a jump.”

The rumbling grew louder.

“Hurry,” her mother begged. “I don’t like this.”

“Shh,” he said, unmoving, his head tilted down. “Do you hear that?”

Kaylee ran a dry tongue over dry lips and closed her eyes.

It’s coming.

It’s coming.

Oh God no, not again, she thought. Not again.

Something smacked the window by her face and a high-pitched squeak escaped her. She dodged back reflexively, hands coming up to protect her face as she searched for the threat. The glass was clean. Nothing and no one stood on the side.

“Honey?” Her mother asked. “Kaylee, you okay? Max, we can’t just sit here.”

“Be quiet. Do you hear that?”

The rumble turned into an oncoming roar. Kaylee covered her ears. Her mother cocked her head as if the sound was too faint for her to hear.

Please don’t let this happen again. Her heart knocked heavy in her chest. Half expecting the bridge to collapse with everyone on it, she dared a glance ahead.

A little boy stood in the middle of the road. She bit her lip, hard. If her parents heard the scream bubbling in her throat they’d send her to the mental hospital in Chester for sure. She closed her eyes tight.

Go away.

Go away.

She opened her eyes. The roar filled her head, vibrated in her molars. He stared at her through the windshield. His dark hair was cut short and he wore a plain button-up shirt and brown pants. His eyes…

Oh Jesus…

They glinted with a red animal shine of evil. Pasty skin pulled tight across his skull made angular points of his cheekbones. A manic glee danced in eyes staring from sunken sockets.

“What is that? Is there an accident up there?” Her mother’s voice trembled.

“I think so. I can’t see through the fog.” He spoke quietly, still listening.

They just sat there, as if the fog would clear and everything would go back to normal. They couldn’t see the ghost and couldn’t hear that unbelievable roar that made Kaylee want to press herself so far into the seat she ended up in the trunk.

The ghost boy smiled at her, exposing baby white teeth in a pitch black mouth. His lips spread, extending the grin to impossible proportions, then in a flash, he disappeared.

In the same instant, a station wagon in southbound traffic flew across the concrete median. Kaylee heard her mother scream and felt pain in her throat from her own. The wagon T-boned the blue Honda in front of them—a moving grenade of roaring engine and explosive steel. The impact shoved the Honda into their Saturn. Her head snapped back and forth hard, teeth coming down on her tongue.

She screamed again and braced herself on the seat. Twisted metal screeched, the chaos of shattering glass erupted all around her. The back tires of the Saturn hit the wall of the bridge and stopped with a shudder. Something popped and hissed. Steam mingled with the fog, blended, hid the carnage the wagon had left in its wake.

“Diane? Are you okay?” Her father reached for his wife who nodded, eyes wide and wet. Before she could speak, someone screamed near the Honda. The sound morphed into the noise of skidding tires unable to stop. It grew in volume and Kaylee struggled with her seatbelt, ready to run, to get out of the way of whatever was coming next.

Her father looked in the mirror. “Oh, Jesus.”

Kaylee looked back. A jackknifed semi shoved cars ahead of it, forcing them into one another. The Saturn shivered with the bang of every collision.

“Max…” her mother said hoarsely.

Then the car behind them, the driver shouting in pain, rammed into the back of their car and Kaylee shrieked and grasped for anything and everything. The nose of their already damaged car went up the side of the retaining wall that kept cars from falling into the river far below. The windshield shattered as the frame twisted and the bottom scraped along the concrete.

“Max!” Her mother shouted, leaning toward him as the car tilted.

The semi finally stopped. A horn blared constantly somewhere. All around, people cried out and shouted for help. The Saturn creaked and groaned, half on and half off the retaining wall. Kaylee whimpered, afraid a scream would unbalance them and send them over.

Her father grabbed her mom’s hands and pulled her across to him. The car pitched toward the road, throwing Kaylee against her own door. “Hold on,” her father yelled. “Just hold on. Don’t move.”

“Max, we have to get out of the car.” Her mother breathed hard, her voice trembling with panic.
“Shh. Just sit tight. We’ll get out of here. Give me a second to figure this out. You okay back there, Kaylee?”

She nodded, then realized he couldn’t see her and cleared her throat. “I’m okay.”

But she wasn’t, not really. A big part of her had hoped that when she left Marsden the craziness of ghosts and demons would be left behind as well. Somehow, this was all her fault. If she hadn’t been on the bridge…

Through the dissipating fog, the semi-driver’s door shrieked as he opened it and hopped down. He wobbled on unsteady legs, then found his balance and hurried toward them.

Her father must have seen him too because he said, “Okay. Help’s coming. It’s going to be all right.”

He didn’t sound convinced though as a high gust of wind shook the Saturn. Kaylee hissed a frightened gasp between her teeth, pressing herself harder against the far door to keep the Saturn heavy on the bridge side.

“Everyone okay in there?” The trucker, his bald head pink and ears turning red from the cold yelled into her father’s window.

“We’re shook up, but okay.”

“I’ll get you out of there. Just hold on.” He grasped the door handle and yanked, but even Kaylee could feel it wouldn’t budge. Her father’s door had been shoved in and bent closed.

The trucker gave up and moved to the front. “Can you climb out the window?”

Her father shifted to support her mother so she could make a try, but the Saturn leaned precariously toward the river.

Her mother screamed.

“No, we can’t move or we’ll…” he paused. “We can’t move.”

“Okay,” the trucker said, disappeared and then appeared by her door next. “Sit tight kid, we’ll get you out.”

Her door didn’t want to open either, though she couldn’t see where it had been damaged. Please, get me out of here! She didn’t speak, couldn’t find her voice. Trembling, she worried that something more than damage kept her door closed. Were they trying to kill her? The boy and whatever that roaring noise had been?

“I’ll be right back.” He dodged around the end of another car. Sirens rang in the distance.
In the eerie quiet, her father whispered, “He’ll come back. Help’s coming. It’s going to be okay.”

No one moved. The wind gusted again, coming in through the busted windshield. The tears on Kaylee’s face turned icy, her hands went numb. The wait seemed to last forever, but the man reappeared at her window, a tire-iron in his hand.

He yelled at her through the glass. “Turn away, cover your face.”

She started to do as he asked, but the car shifted and she stifled a scream, freezing in place. When it settled, she carefully moved her coat up to cover her head. The window broke with a loud pop. A hand fell on her shoulder.

“It’s okay. Come on out now.” He spoke softly.

She put a hand on the back of her father’s seat to boost herself out, but halted as metal ground on the retaining wall. “I can’t.”

“Yes, you can. Here,” he pushed on the roof of the car, forcing it down a mere half inch. “I won’t let go. Come on out.”

Kaylee nodded and when she moved again, the car stayed fairly steady. Careful not to cut herself on the safety glass, she was surprised to find a circle of people watching. One lady ran forward and helped steady her. “Just lean on me.”

Kaylee did, gratefully. As soon as her feet touched down though, she turned back. “My parents…”

Already her mother had slid back, working carefully into Kaylee’s seat.

The woman tried to hold Kaylee back, but she shrugged her off and rushed forward to help her mom.

“Kaylee,” her mother asked even before she was all the way out. “You’re all right?”
She could only nod as fire trucks, police cruisers and ambulances arrived. With their arms around each other, she and her mother watched the trucker work harder to hold the car steady now that Kaylee and her mother’s weight weren’t helping.

Her father started to move, and the entire weight shifted, lifting the trucker off his feet. He cried out even as her dad shouted for help.

“Dad!” Kaylee cried, her voice raw.

“Oh my, God,” her mother said, sobbing against the back of her hand.

A group of four men, all wearing Green Bay Packer coats, gloves and hats, ran to assist. They added their weight to the back, holding the car down. “We got you, man! Come on!”

Pale, shaking, his glasses slipping down the slope of his nose, he scrambled backward and out the window in seconds. His weight on the door frame wedged the Saturn firmly onto the bridge.

Her mother broke away and ran to him, throwing her arms around his neck. Kaylee embraced them both and bawled into her mothers coat sleeve. “I’m so sorry…”

It’s all my fault…

All my fault.

They weren’t even all the way to school yet. If they were all nearly killed when they were still miles away, what would she find when she arrived? “I want to go home, Mom. I want to go home.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Interview with Regan Black!

I'm excited to have one of my favorite authors here today! Regan Black is an awesome writer. I loved her Justice Incarnate series tremendously. She has a wonderful new series: The Pixie Chicks and I'm so thrilled she'll be here with us today! :)

1. How did you first become interested in writing?

Reading. I read all the time, even with a flashlight under the covers when I was supposed to be sleeping. (Still do.) I read all kinds of things from Anne McCaffrey's fantasy world of Pern to sweet teen romances. Being well read, having a true love of reading, made English and literature classes easier and I must have shown an aptitude for writing because all my teachers thought I should go into journalism.

2. Do you use an outline or write by the seat of your pants?

I'm a pantser. I've tried outlining and pre-writing and actual plotting, whatever you'd like to call it, but at the heart of it, I just sit down and let the story lead me. I've learned to use a rough guideline and notes to keep me on track, but I love the rush of a new discovery. Sadly, this makes for more time in revisions, but I'm happier and more productive when I'm not fighting my natural process. According to Deb Dixon (author of Goal, Motivation, and Conflict) I'm also a quilter, which means I'll often write parts of the story out of order and piece them together in the rewrites. In July, one of my critique partners (a die-hard plotter) and I will be giving an online class for the LowcountryRWA chapter on the topic of Pantsing vs. Plotting - I guarantee that will be one riot of a classroom.

3. What inspired your latest plot?

The Pixie Chicks, my young adult series of short stories was inspired by my own high school years with the marching band and the social whirl that went with it. When I was a kid it was still pretty safe to walk around town with friends at night (though the pterodactyl patrol could be pesky) so that's often what we did. I cringe to think my own kids would do that now (my parental prerogative.) One of the places we found was this huge old garden full of statuary, hedge mazes, etc. and we'd dare each other into games of hide and seek. None of the statues were actual portals, but our vivid imaginations gave us thrills aplenty.

4. How many books do you think will be in the series?

As many as Quake wants to put out there. These shorts are fast and fun to write and I love the characters more with every misadventure. Writing Pixies is a great outlet, especially when I'm working on longer books, because it's an affirmation that I can make it from a beginning, through the middle, to a great The End.

5. Where can readers purchase your book? Links to share?

YA Pixies are available at Quake ( and fictionwise

My full length adult thrillers Justice Incarnate and Invasion of Justice are available from Echelon Press (http// as well as fictionwise, and Justice Incarnate is available at Kindle. (Invasion is coming soon to Kindle, as are the Pixies)

Readers can meet me on my blog at:
Or learn all sorts of Regan trivia at
I'm a regular contributor to the Quake Teen-seen blog too: http://teen-seen.blogspot.comThey can follow me on twitter:
and Myspace is more for the adult stuff but I'm there
I also write articles on greyhounds too for look for the Regan Black byline.

Thanks Jenny!

Thanks so much to you too, Regan! :) It's truly a great blessing that you'll be here to respond to comments and questions during the day! Thank you tons for that as well!!


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Confessions of a Chocoholic

When I do interviews, speak at conferences and schools, or am asked questions at a book signing, a lot of the time what folks ask about is "how" I write. Sometimes it's about what time and day and for how long, other times it's whether or not I outline or wing it. Most, however, don't ask me how I gain the stamina to write three books, edit two books, edit shorter works, market and promote, blog and interact on social networking sites or participate in other online communities--all in one day.

(Not to mention meeting the demands of motherhood and being the head of the household while hubby is driving cross country as a truck driver.)

Now I know a lot of folks joke about how much they love chocolate. I know I've talked about this recently before, but it truly is how I make it through my days. Dark chocolate, Ferrera Rocher, Hershey's Pot of Gold truffle collection, Dove dark chocolate, Mounds bars, Resees Peanut Butter cups, Kit Kat bars--all of these are my coworkers :)

Coffee compliments the chocolate perfectly, btw ;)

I'm not saying that I eat it all day, every day, but it's a great motivator. "When I finish that chapter." "When I finish the outline." "When I find the answer to this research question." "When I send back the completed critique." "When the book is edited." These are all moments to celebrate with chocolate and bring a little sweetness to my life.

So there you have it, my true confession about my love affair with chocolate. How do you make it through your days? Do you have little tricks to make sure you have the energy to meet all your obligations? To reward yourself for a job well done? (Or at least just done! :) )

Let me know how you make it through ;)


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Best Gift Ever

Hey everyone :) Sometimes, when looking through things I've written in the past, I find a little nugget that I wish had been shared--so today, I'm sharing this little true story I wrote:

The Best Gift Ever
By J.R. Turner

When I was a girl, I rode the bus to school and enjoyed the many sights, sounds and scents of the seasons from my perch on that high seat. For an hour every morning and afternoon, I would daydream about the places and people I saw. One such place was a second hand shop called “Amalia’s.” I thought the name beautiful and later, my grandmother told me her grandmother was named Amalia.

As a child of divorced parents and an increasingly divided family, I grew to love that name as I imagined my life, my future. Someday, I would find a good man and marry him. We would have a daughter and name her Amalia.

I met that wonderful man the year I graduated high school and married him three years later. Soon after, our first child came into this world. He was an adorable baby boy—but of course I couldn’t name him Amalia! I began dreaming of a little sister for him.

We tried for six years to have another child while we traveled cross country. My husband, a truck driver, took our little family everywhere. One of our favorite places was a small truck stop in southern Wisconsin that sold the best chocolate éclairs on the planet. We sometimes drove out of our way just to have one.
Every time I took that first bite, felt that unique chocolate on my tongue, tasted the heady mix of cream and sweet, I would sigh with pleasure and say, “Eating one of these makes it seem like everything is all right in the world.”

Those happy days faded into my son’s first school years. Unable to travel during the school year and with my husband gone from us more and more, getting pregnant seemed a far off dream. Still, we continued to try and when we finally did conceive, we were ecstatic. I was certain the baby would be a girl. My Amalia was finally on her way.

I started buying pink dresses, blankets, and anything with ruffles and bows. Smiling, I went about my daily chores, and it seemed that life couldn’t be better. Until my worst fear came true.

Carrying a load of laundry, I casually pushed a chair back into position and felt something give in my abdomen. I called my husband and he immediately came home to take me to the hospital. After hours of excruciating, heartbreaking pain, I lost the baby.

For weeks, the only time I smiled or felt joy, was in the presence of my growing boy. My love for him sustained me, but alone now, there were all too many hours to grieve for the daughter I didn’t have. Little by little I packed away the pink sleepers, blankets, and ruffled dresses I couldn’t bear to part with.

One evening, my husband returned from the road with a take-out box for me. I was surprised, as it seemed a strange gift—his leftovers from a truck stop? I opened it and discovered my favorite éclair. The sweet scent of that special chocolate tantalized me with the promise of making everything all right again. I laughed through my tears and kissed him. He had remembered my words, gone three hours out of his way, and brought me the second best gift ever.

The following year, we got the best gift ever. Our daughter Amalia was born on Mother’s Day. Today she is nine years old and loves our family's favorite eclairs as much as we do!

I hope you enjoyed seeing a little bit into my family life and learning a little bit about me, the love I have for my children--and of course the reason why all my author bio's mention chocolate ;)


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I've Been Honored!!

I was going to write, "I've been Quoted" in the subject line, but this is far more than that. It truly is an honor!

I got this forwarded to me (Chris Roerden didn't have my email address) in my email today:

"I quote a passage from her first book, STARK KNIGHT, in my 11th book, DON'T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION. Her passage includes a terrific example of one of the dozens of writing techniques this book editor analyzes: allusion."

This is such an honor! I am so thrilled. I met Chris at two different confrences and she is just fabulous. I had no idea she was going to do this. Wow! Very cool!!! Check out the book at this link:

Thanks so much, Chris!!!! :)


Monday, February 09, 2009

Page 99 Test: My Biker Bodyguard

The Page 99 Test: My Biker Bodyguard

Hey everyone :)

If you’re familiar with “The Page 99 Test” you already know what this blog about today. A famous quote launched the whole test: “"Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you." Ford Madox Ford

There is a wonderful blog devoted to just this test:

With Valentines Day heavy on my mind, I thought I’d post my page 99 from My Biker Bodyguard, my favorite romantic suspense novel:

Finally the announcement that boarding could begin eased them apart.

“I love you, darlin’.”

His wet cheeks undid her. She hitched a breath and her vision blurred. She hated crying, though she’d cornered the market on it the last few days. “I love you too, Daddy.”

He kissed her cheek and without wiping his face, he looked at Mitch down the length of his nose. “Anything happens to her…” He left the threat unfinished.

“Nothing will. I give you my word,” Mitch said solemnly. The weight of his vow hung in the air for a heartbeat, then he urged Jess forward.

Among the chorus of gruff farewells, Jess followed Mitch into the gate, Mordstrom and Davis converging behind her. When she turned back for a last glimpse of her father, her line of sight was blocked by the agents.

It was official. She was on her own. Away from home for the first time since she’d left foster care. Away from her father for the first time since he’d been released from prison. Away from everything she knew, loved and held dear. She was going to see a mother she didn’t know, someone so cold and distant to her, Jess couldn’t tell imagined memory from real memory.

In California she’d be alone. Her family would be strangers, the house wouldn’t be hers, the lifestyle utterly foreign. With her mother in a coma, it would be far from the joyous reunion she’d imagined in her secret heart. She wasn’t a fish out of water, but an alien on the wrong planet. She had no one.

Mitch placed a hand on the small of her back, guiding her past the ticket takers and onto the plane. Down the aisle, his hand warm and safe and secure, behind her was a comfort. In all the craziness of the weekend, in the turmoil of the morning, she would never have expected to let herself want him. As they settled into their seats, she realized something unexpected.

She wasn’t alone, she had Mitch.
Now, only the reader can judge whether or not a page 99 excerpt passes the test or not. Personally, I think this fulfills the purpose of the quote as it shows the core of the story: the transition Jess makes from her comfortable normal world and into that of the unknown—a consequence of killing a hitman in broad daylight ;) I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! :)


Friday, February 06, 2009

Fifth Mistake, Recap and Exercise

We've covered the four initial mistakes:

1) Setting up the Emotional Punch
2) Over the Top Purplw Prose
3) Isolated Emotion
4) Writing Outside the Plot

Today we'll cover the fifth, and final mistake in our series on developing deep emotion in your writing:

Fifth Mistakes–Undermining the Finale

Be sure that you reserve the most emotionally difficult obstacle for the grand finale. Think back to the fireworks display–how much of the audience would stay for the whole show if the fireworks were lit in reverse order, beginning with the big bang and ending with a lone firework lighting up the sky?

Carefully crafted early emotional punches should end with a promise of the ultimate struggle yet to come. Delivering large, expansive emotionally explosive scenes early in the story leaves little room to develop suspense and tension and undermines the purpose of the plot, which usually means bringing the protagonist to a point of personal triumph as well as victory over the external plot elements.
Early scenes should never bring the character too close to the fulfillment of their personal quest or you run the risk of repeating and diluting emotion later on, or essentially end the character growth before the story is over.

Delivering Emotional Punch Essentials
We’ve discussed the many pitfalls of crafting emotional depth, but there are many exciting ways to convey the protagonists emotional journey.
Setting and Scenery:

One of the best ways is through setting and scenery. Have you ever traveled down a road that inspired homesickness? Have you ever been shopping and seen an item that reminded you of someone you loved? There are times in our lives that we’re unexpectedly overwhelmed with emotion. Analyzing what triggers this emotion in us is a terrific way to apply your own experiences to those of your characters.

The orchids in the earlier example are just one way to introduce an item which will emotionally impact the character. The options are limitless, but should always remain character specific.

Imagine our jaded inner-city police officer watching children cross the street on their way to school, and how he’s suddenly overwhelmed by the memory of the six-year-old child he mistakenly left with her abusive father, and who’s body was discovered two days later, beaten to death. This would be an excellent way to introduce a kidnapping plot.

Or perhaps it’s not a kidnapping plot, perhaps it’s a plot about police corruption and as he’s driving, he spots a cop from his division walking out of a strip club, brazenly counting pay-off money. The words the author chooses to use, words directly related to the character, will show the reader if the jaded officer is truly as jaded as he believes himself to be. In either case, the setting and scenery are instigators for the emotional punch–without them, the officer would feel isolated emotion demanding the need for a lengthy telling paragraph in order to explain these feelings.

Dreams and Memories:
A word of caution here–this is a very difficult technique to pull off. We all remember the waving images, accompanied by harp music that sent soap opera actors into a dream sequence or back in time. Avoid this type of dream and memory cliché at all costs or your work will be flagged as written by an amateur.
Often the dream or memory is haunting, either a nightmare or tragic recollection, or a blissful time before a single event that scarred the protagonist for life. By themselves, these memories and dream sequences appear as cheating, a quick way for the writer to entertain the reader by telling them what happened in the past.

Yes, I used the word telling here because so often, this technique is used instead of a fully developed plot thread. To show these dreams and memories correctly, the portion of the story they share should be shown throughout the previous sections of the work. Remember too, these should directly effect the goal of the scene and the purpose of the character’s journey.

Internal Thoughts and Monologue:
This is the most popular method of delivering emotional depth. Sharing with the reader directly what is happening inside the character is almost instinctual with a writer. Doing this correctly, however, takes some practice and some self-analyzing. Have you ever been in a situation where you were forced to lie, even if just to keep the peace or avoid hurting someone? Do your inner thoughts reflect an entire history of why you do this? Probably not. They likely reflect the truth you’re not willing to share.

Juxtaposing the inner needs, worries, and yes–frailties of a character with the outer actions, either courageous or seemingly cowardly, speaks volumes about the inner struggle of your protagonist and can often make them empathetic, despite how terrible their actions could appear. For instance, what makes Hannibal Lechter such an amazing character? He’s a psycho cannibal who feeds on human pain. But yet–he’s fascinating because he’s also very educated and puts Miss Manners to shame with his stringent abidance to etiquette. It’s this juxtaposition that makes him an emotionally compelling character.

Choose a highly charged emotion–rage, hilarity, grief, joy–and craft a few paragraphs that don’t once use any word that describes these emotions. Use inner thoughts, inner monologue, physical actions, and dialogue to convey compelling emotion a reader can empathize with.

Feel free to share your exercise in the comments. Also, if you like, you can pass these blogs on to anyone you think may find them helpful. I only ask that you include a link back to where you found them and my name as well ;)
Thanks so much everyone, for reading and supporting me! :)


Thursday, February 05, 2009

4th Mistake: Writing Outside the Plot

Fourth Mistakes–Writing Outside the Plot

Make every word, sentence, paragraph, scene, chapter count. Great storytellers never intrude with an emotional aside during the tale. Many new authors explode all over their first book with everything they’ve ever daydreamed, including the kitchen sink. Curbing that need to divulge all the very best of what they’ve fantasized writing is often a frustrating task. There is a simple way to choose what is and isn’t important to convey the story.

The work isn’t about the entire lives of these characters, it’s central to the one story you’re relating, the one moment that these characters are living. Imagine if Romeo and Juliet began when the two families fell out of favor with each other. There obviously would be ample room to include all of the story elements Shakespeare loved, but would it have been such a compelling tale? Romeo and Juliet is solely a story of tragic love. Decide what your story is solely about and set aside any elements that don’t directly connect to this theme for another work.

How is this connected to writing with emotional depth? Contrast is highly important to reaching emotional depth. If there are continuous tragedies, overwhelming grief and pain, without the joys of triumph, without the relief of humor, the story becomes so darkly focused the reader begins to wonder if the protagonists have any redeeming value, if they’re unable to feel happiness or even fight for their own success. Choose your obstacles wisely–they must directly reflect both plot and personal stakes in order to achieve empathy with the reader.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Writing with Deep Emotion: Third Mistake, Isolated Emotion

This week we've been discussing how to write with deep emotion. The first two were Setting up the Emotional Punch and Why Purple Prose Won't Work. Today we're going to take a look at Isolated Emotion.

Third Mistake–Isolated Emotion

Another difficulty with writing emotion comes from the internal desire of the author to detail the depth of emotion they themselves feel when crafting a high stakes scene. Many first drafts of those first novels are littered with emotional moments that seem not to have any real rhyme or reason. This is created by a lack of information, or wrong information, earlier in the story which leaves the reader feeling as if they’re missing something essential in order to empathize.

An example of isolated emotion might be a heroine who suddenly bursts into tears when the hero brings her a bouquet of beautiful white orchids. Through the rest of the scene the heroine explains white orchids were her mother’s favorite and since the funeral two years ago, she simply can’t look at the flower without becoming unglued. This is isolated emotion.

There are two ways to avoid isolated emotion–curb the reaction, keep it subdued, showing the reason through internal thoughts, or secondly, set up the reaction in an earlier scene.

Imagine the above scenario where the heroine smiles, accepts the flowers with a soft utterance of gratitude, but between the dialogue, her thoughts return to the day she buried her mother. She then becomes a heroic character, holding back her own pain in order to protect the hero from embarrassment over his inadvertent misstep.

I believe setting up the emotions has the most impact. We touched on this a bit earlier, but in the scenario above, it’s obvious the mother’s passing is something that deeply affects this character. Therefore, it would behoove the author to use this during the preceding pages as a means to showcase the vulnerability of this particular heroine.

Perhaps she wishes she could ask her mother for advice, or she remembers the funeral as she thinks of the last time she saw an estranged family member. However the memory is conveyed, sharing how she can’t see or smell orchids without thinking of that tragedy in her life should be layered in throughout.

So when the hero comes, obviously trying to get into her good graces or offer comfort—either because he owes her an apology or he feels badly for her and wants to cheer her up—and offers her the orchids, her bursting into tears has real and immediate value and impact. The reader supplies the impact without the writer having to divulge the obvious, making this an interactive read with an emotionally invested audience.

Be aware of the goal for the emotion. If there is no goal, then perhaps the emotion is not necessary. If the goal is to create an emotional aura where other things may happen–such as using the flower scenario to make the heroine more accepting of whatever the hero has come to say–be sure you choose the correct method to accurately reach the goal with the most impact.

Don’t throw in emotion for emotion’s sake. Give it real meaning.

Hope that helps! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer in the comments. Tomorrow we’ll cover the fourth mistake made when trying to reach emotiona depth: Writing Outside the Plot.

Did you see what’s new over at the Teen Seen today? I think this blog is starting to get pretty interesting!


Monday, February 02, 2009

Deep Emotion-Character Development

Deep Emotion–Character Development

As authors, we bring our own emotional burdens and joys to the page. Communication with an audience is often the key compelling motivator to share our tales of human and spiritual struggles. Whether we write comedy, romance, thrillers, or literary novels, the protagonists journey is always fraught with some emotional danger, at least they are in the very best works. Our endeavor here is to highlight the missteps new authors often make when first exercising this fundamental need to explore and share these intense, human emotions.

#1First Mistake–The Emotional Punch

We’re often taught to start by showing the protagonists in their every-day world then quickly introduce an instigating event that drastically changes their lives. This every-day world is difficult to craft and yet create a compelling hook that will kidnap the reader for the duration of the story. Many times, new authors attempt this hook by delivering emotional punches within the first few pages—which can come off as gratuitous violence or shock for the sake of shock.

The problem here is the reader is not yet invested and instead, they enter a story at a time where characters are going emotionally ballistic and are not yet sympathetic, having had not time to develop a relationship with the audience, or make them care about what happens to them.

For instance, imagine how Scarlett may have appeared if we were introduced to her at the moment she steals her sister’s fiancé as the men are heading off to war. Without the every-day world–her amusing and harmless defiance, stuffing her face, flaunting her milky skin in the sunlight, flirting with all the boys, we wouldn’t know she’s simply a bit spoiled, boy-crazy, and more importantly–feels inferior to her more respectable sisters and mother. This sense of inferiority is intimated through these charming bits of rebellion.

Her betrothal is reached out of a sense of embarrassment, the total devastation of Ashley Wilkes rejecting her, and then Rhett Butler’s ridicule. Without this information, the reader could never sympathize with Scarlett when she regretfully accepts Charles’s marriage proposal. Without that opening, the entire tone of the novel would have been much different. Margaret Mitchell knew what she was doing.

When we approach our stories, it’s not the emotional punch that needs to come first, but merely the promise of an emotional punch soon to come. Intimating the underlying frailties of the protagonist, suggesting these frailties are going to be put to the test, is the purpose of the opening in any well told story. These are the introductory promises, the foundation of emotional threads that will knit together a tight and emotionally compelling tale for the reader.

Start small, work with creating questions that will take the reader to the next paragraph, the next page, and on to the height of the climatic moment. Get concrete about the climax. What are those emotions? Joy, sadness, fear? Why does the protagonist feel those emotions? The answer to those questions will tell you what questions you need to create in your opening scene.

Let’s take a look at a famous novel, “Twilight” by Stephanie Meyer:

My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt—sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka.

Notice how her frailty is shown through her attachment to the shirt she’s wearing? How it’s implied this is a security blanket? Look at the questions created:

Why is she going to the airport?
Why is she feeling so vulnerable that she needs her favorite shirt for comfort?
Why is she saying farewell?
Is it going to be cold where she’s going?
Why is this important to the story?
What will happen when she gets where she’s going?
This book is about vampires, right—so will she meet a vampire when she gets there?

A simple paragraph, but chock full of questions that urge the reader to continue.

Can an opening begin with strong emotion? Yes, absolutely, but it should be directly related to the story and character as they appear in the time of the opening. Take Julie Garwood’s “Saving Grace” that begins with this:

The news was going to destroy her.
Kelmet, her faithful steward and senior in charge since Baron Raulf Williamson’s hasty departure from England on the king’s personal business, was given the responsibility of telling his mistress the god-awful news. The servant didn’t put off the dreaded task, for he guessed Lady Johanna would wish to question the two messengers before they returned to London, if his mistress could speak to anyone after she heard about her beloved husband.

The opening scene is abundant with unanswered questions and we can feel the dread of having to tell someone horrible news about a loved one. But take a look at how masterfully Garwood hooks the reader in by reading the way this ends:

“I must pray,” she whispered. “My husband is dead. I must pray.”
She closed her eyes, folded her hands together and finally began her prayer. It was a simple, direct litany that came from her heart.
“Thank you, God. Thank you, God. Thank you, God.”

By juxtaposing the opening dread and turning it instead to heartfelt relief, the reader has no choice but to read on and discover why this woman would find widowhood a blessing. Yet even in this opening, as taught and fraught with emotion as it is, the questions are what makes it successful. The question at the end makes it a page turner.

So instead of focusing on creating emotion, focus on creating questions that engage the reader’s curiosity and they won’t be able to put the book down.

Tomorrow we’ll look at #2: Why Purple Prose Won’t Work

I’ll also be blogging at the Teen Seen ( )tomorrow, so you should come on over and check it out. :)
Don’t forget either, that we’ve got a Query Critique Day coming up—so get those puppies polished!:)