Advice From The Archives: Emotional Intensity Without the Bodycount – Part 2!

Last week, we had the fabulous Fiona Harper talking about how to keep a grip on the emotion in your story – read her pearls of wisdom here. This week, we’re asking how do you handle deeply emotional circumstances in your stories without going overboard? Donna Alward, author of feel-good, emotional stories for Harlequin Romance and American Romance has some important pointers:

I’m one of those writers who tends to be on the body count side of things, and as such there are times I walk a really fine line between deeply emotional and, well, depressing. Let me say right now, if you have these tendencies, EMBRACE THEM. It’s not a bad thing. There are lots of times I think my editor will have kittens when I send her a proposal. I’ve dealt with the death of a baby, miscarriage, physical disfigurement, post-traumatic stress disorder, physical abuse…I do emotional trauma. My first editor once told me to go for it and they can always pull me back. It was good advice. The good news is there are ways to make sure that your character’s tragedy isn’t a downer.

I’m going to use my book Her Lone Cowboy as an example—Noah is home from Afghanistan where he lost his right arm in combat. I knew it would be easy for him to feel sorry for himself and that doesn’t make a sympathetic character. From the start I knew that he could be down but not out. He needed to be fighting to get his life back and reaching for a goal which may or may not be happiness.

It’s about going deep. The conflict is not the “issue” but it’s easy to confuse the two. It is not that he has lost his arm and needs to adjust. It’s the ripple effect: his loss of identity as a combat leader, finding a new place in the world, reconciling himself to being home and the death of his father, falling in love but being unsure that he is man enough for Lily. He was not self-pitying but proactive, always moving forward. How do you avoid tragedy?

By remembering that it is not the tragedy that makes the character sympathetic but their striving to rise above it.  A reader cannot cheer for your characters if your characters don’t cheer for themselves.

If you love a deeply emotional read, then check out Donna’s incredible books here