Emotional Barriers in Fiction: Intro to Emotional Channels (Part Three)

Tiffany Lawson Inman

Tiffany Lawson Inman

Happy Turkey Day Eve!

No time to talk turkey today – I know most of you need to get back to the last lap of NaNoWriMo. I am just going to jump right in with one of my favorite quotes about fiction writing from On Writing Horror, a book put together by The Horror Writers Association. Don’t click away if Horror isn’t your genre!  I’ve found many gems within the pages of this book that could be used with ALL genres.

Horror fiction deals in aberrations—aberrations of nature and circumstance, of fate and destiny, of the cosmic and the exquisitely human. Of these facets, the most memorable and compelling are the humans who populate the writer’s fictional world. Through their eyes, the reader is able to behold existence from a unique and unexpected perspective. The reader is able to live another human’s endeavor in order to understand, avoid, or defeat an un-imaginable reality, a loathsome monster, or a mind-bending situation. “    More Simply Human, Tracy Knight.

In my opinion this approach could be and should be said about most all fiction. Loathsome monsters come in the form of murder, divorce, time travel, or even a crush on a hard-to-get girl.  Every. Genre. Is. Fair. Game.

Building truly human characters is one of my thangs because as most of you know, I am an actor first.  When I flip on my editor brain, teacher brain, or writer brain – my actor brain is already on. I am forever and always analyzing: character arc, character depth, character emotion, relationship threads, and dramatic impact of small to large action, dramatic movement of dialogue, and the dramatic experience of plot events.

What will help you bring true human characters to the surface?

None other than the fruits of your journey across, yup – you guessed it, the Emotional Barrier.  We want your readers to snack on that fruit the whole way through. Not the usual beginning, middle, and end emotional meals. Novels aren’t built off of the monotonous Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, an apple-for-every-meal plan.  Where is the adventure in that?  A few pages of that and your readers will disconnect.

Yes, our readers expect a connection when they read.  Of course, being entertained and informed are factors. But the main reason readers open books is to…. Well gosh, I just realized I was about to repeat exactly what I said a few months ago in the first two parts of my Emotional Barrier blog.

Good grief!  My apologies, but if you want to click over to read those first, be my guest.

To further tempt you to read Part One of this post. Emotional Barrier in Fiction: Why is it so important for you to learn how to cross it? (Part One).

Here is a rundown:

A description of what exactly the Emotional Barrier is.

Hammering in that the Emotional Barrier is VERY IMPORTANT.

An insightful revelation made by comedian Louis C.K. that will stay with you for the rest of your writing days.

And an emotional to do list.

I’m sure after Part One, you don’t need a tempter to move on to Part Two, Emotional Barrier in Fiction: After You Cross It, What’s Next? (Part Two) but just in case…  *wink*

Part Two rundown

Description of Emotional Landscape and why it is so garsh darn important.

Why I won’t let you jump into the big-amazing-badass emotional scenes first thing.

Explanation of a strong emotional base.

Magical power of emotive words, imagery, and metaphor.

In depth examples and analysis of three different styles of strong emotional base. Examples taken from Best Selling novels by Jay Asher, Lisa Unger, and Marcus Sakey.

Reading both parts will assist you in understanding what I am talking about today. I’m sure you will have lots of time to read them while your relatives are watching football. Don’t be surprised if after reading all three parts of this blog, you are motivated to then skip the pumpkin and pecan pie and dive into the first chapter of your WIP. *don’t worry, you can have some the next morning for breakfast!

Ok, back to the meat fruit of Emotional Barrier (Part Three)

Oooh does this mean you are going to show us how to write the super-big-awesome-glimmering-heart beating-bedazzling-gritty emotional scenes??!!

I wish! This is a blog, not a class.

The pure volume of information, not to mention mental and physical exercises, and practice practice practice it takes to write those high emotion scenes, that takes good teacher/editor and hard work in an emotion scene writing course.

*cough cough*… December – Method to Madness: Using Acting Techniques to Invigorate Your Writing and Make Each Moment Oscar Worthy … *cough*

But keep reading and you will learn enough to tide you over, I promise.

As you read in Part Two, I talked about Emotional Landscapes and how essential it is to have an Emotional Base to jump off of, today, we are going to explore what to do after you have laid the foundation for your Emotional Landscape.  The middle scenes need emotion too.  You can’t start off with a good base and then let the reader freefall till you want to show us the big emotional scene.  And you can’t turn the reader to one Emotional Channel and leave them stranded.  Creating human qualities in your characters means using a multitude of Emotional Channels.

What is an Emotional Channel? Like a tone?

Yes, but I think it is so much more than that!  Tone is just a piece of it.  It has to do with how each character is behaving in a moment, either with another person, or just with themselves while reacting to stimuli. The character’s personality and motivations are directly linked to how or why they are reacting the way they are reacting.  There are a load more layers to this concept, but I’ll only be revealing them to my students in next year’s scene writing class, TBA. Sorry! I can’t give it all away!

And just like we show show show when we write fiction, that is what I am going to do here. Show and tell time! Let’s look at an example of how Jay Asher masters two Emotional Channels in one moment.  Yup, two with one stone.

If you don’t know already, Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why is told by duel POVs, overlapping one and other. Here is the book description as stated on Amazon.com so you have a clearer understanding of why the example below looks and works the way it does.

Amazon.com description: “Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and crush – who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why. Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and learns the truth about himself-a truth he never wanted to face. Thirteen Reasons Why is the gripping, addictive international bestseller that has changed lives the world over. It’s an unrelenting modern classic.”

Seriously, don’t you just wish YOU had written it?!

Um, yeah!

What an amazing concept. Okay, I will stop gushing now. Moving on.

I’ll show you the original excerpt first, then jump in to analyze.  Hannah’s voice on the tapes he is listening to is in italics. Clay is plain text.

*****************

If you’re listening to this, one of two things has just happened. A: You’re Justin, and after hearing your little tale you want to hear who’s next. Or B: You’re someone else and you’re waiting to see if it’s you. Well . . .

A line of hot sweat rises along my hairline. Alex Standall, it’s your turn. A single bead of sweat slides down my temple and I wipe it away.

I’m sure you have no idea why you’re on here, Alex. You probably think you did a good thing, right? You voted me Best Ass in the Freshman Class. How could anyone be angry at that? Listen. I sit on the curb with my shoes in the gutter. Near my heel, a few blades of grass poke up through the cement. Though the sun has barely started dipping beneath the rooftops and trees, streetlamps are lit on both sides of the road.

First, Alex, if you think I’m being silly—if you think I’m some stupid little girl who gets her panties in a bunch over the tiniest things, taking everything way too seriously, no one’s making you listen. Sure, I am pressuring you with that second set of tapes, but who cares if people around town know what you think of my ass, right? In the houses on this block, and in my house several blocks away, families are finishing up their dinners. Or they’re loading dishwashers. Or starting their homework. For those families, tonight, everything is normal. I can name a whole list of people who would care. I can name a list of people who would care very much if these tapes got out. So let’s begin, shall we? Curling forward, I hug my legs and lay my forehead on my knees.

Maybe some people think you were right in choosing me. I don’t think so. But let me put it this way, I don’t think my ass—as you call it—was the deciding factor. I think the deciding factor . . . was revenge. I tear the blades of grass out of the gutter and stand up to leave. As I start walking, I rub the blades between my fingers till they fall away.

************

One might say books like Thirteen Reasons Why wouldn’t exist without constant emotion throughout every scene and character moments. Inner conflict is very present within both protagonists’ views and this ever present conflict is why the pages turn and turn and turn and turn until the reader reaches the end in one sitting. This is something we should all strive to achieve!

In this excerpt we are looking at a careful interweaving of Hannah’s stabbing painful tone and accusations mixed with Clay’s understated reactions.  You can tell it’s almost too much for him to handle as he listens to her words because, as he is listening, his eyes and brain expands focus on the normalcy of the world around him.

What if the author had both Hannah’s voice and Clay’s reactions shared the same painful stabbing characteristics? It would be too much, wouldn’t it? Yes. So, instead, author Jay Asher showed us a different type of emotion in Clay.  He is still visibly upset at what he is listening to, but instead of matching her tone, his defense mechanisms are masking his direct reactions and projecting them to stuff like pulling at grass, noticing street lamps, and thinking about the exact opposite of what horror he has blasting in his ears.

Asher gives us a hint that more of her words are breaking in than he’d like when he writes about the sweat dripping down and Clay’s curl forward to hug his legs.  But notice Clay isn’t rocking back and forth, or furiously wiping at the sweat.  They are simple actions. Steady. Almost a numbness to combat the energy we are feeling from Hannah’s story.

It even works if you read each section separately.  Hannah’s first, and then Clay’s.

Kudos to you, Jay! Once again, I am able to use more of your beautiful writing as pristine examples.

And to you blog readers, remember, this isn’t a turning point, it isn’t a climax, and it isn’t a black moment.  This is just something that happens in the middle. The author is always working to show us a deeper character and a more human character. Here he bounces between channels to show something more than just some in-your-face straightforward emotion.  He succeeds at steering us away from spoon-fed-emotion, and I love it!

Let’s see what would happen if it was written without Asher’s delicate duel Emotional Channels.

Here I worked to move Clay into a Channel similar to Hannah’s. I will BOLD what I changed:

*************

If you’re listening to this, one of two things has just happened. A: You’re Justin, and after hearing your little tale you want to hear who’s next. Or B: You’re someone else and you’re waiting to see if it’s you. Well . . . Immediately I start sweating. Hot sweat. Guilty sweat. Alex Standall, it’s your turn. Furiously I start wiping at the never ending moisture. I’m sure you have no idea why you’re on here, Alex. You probably think you did a good thing, right? You voted me Best Ass in the Freshman Class. How could anyone be angry at that? Listen. I can barely breathe, it’s all too much.  My knees buckle and I end up on the curb, feet in the mud. The suns’ decent behind the rooftops drops the temp a million degrees. Shivers start. Not sure I can listen much longer.

First, Alex, if you think I’m being silly—if you think I’m some stupid little girl who gets her panties in a bunch over the tiniest things, taking everything way too seriously, no one’s making you listen. Sure, I am pressuring you with that second set of tapes, but who cares if people around town know what you think of my ass, right? In every house around me families are fleeing the dinner table. I can almost hear the arguments over who didn’t eat their broccoli, who was supposed to do the dishes, how much homework they didn’t want to do. The anger and annoyance almost shaking the sidewalk and breaking its way into my skin. Maybe this much pain was normal.

I can name a whole list of people who would care. I can name a list of people who would care very much if these tapes got out. So let’s begin, shall we? Lunging forward I clung to my legs, grasping at my muddy jeans. My forehead grinding into my knees.

Maybe some people think you were right in choosing me. I don’t think so. But let me put it this way, I don’t think my ass—as you call it—was the deciding factor. I think the deciding factor . . . was revenge. Bile rose and clumped in my throat. I couldn’t start moving fast enough. Not sure where, but I knew I couldn’t sit still any longer. I tripped into the street, my muscles were already burning. I walked away. Fast.

***********

How do you feel now? The same? Is your heart beating a little faster? Was it emotionally more taxing to read from similar Emotional Channels?

I think so too. And that is probably why Asher wrote it the way he did. Smart author.

Are there any other smart authors out there using Emotional Channels to further deepen the human qualities in their characters? Please share with us in the comments!  I hunger for fresh and smart emotive writing!!

I want to thank all the writers at WITS for letting me jump on every month (sometimes twice a month.) And a special thank you to Orly for dealing with my brain, sans caffeine, this week.  

WITS readers, showing you new approaches to writing in a mini-blog-lesson is always gratifying.  Thank you for reading. Toss me a Hiya in the comments.

Hmmm it’s a Holiday weekend, so I’m not sure if any of you will have time for a mini-challenge assignment this time around. But I will give you one anyway! 

Wanna see if you’ve got the hang of it? Do you already have or want to write a 10 sentence excerpt showing opposing or similar Emotional Channels?  I know the example I showed wasn’t typical, so think about the two character emotional scenes you have, or the one character moments where they are reacting to outside stimuli.  And as per usual, I’ll get on and be your teacher for the day!

I’ll also be drawing a name from the comments. **You don’t have to participate in the mini-challenge assignment to be included in the drawing, but the ones who do participate will get their name in twice!  The winner gets a free slot in one of my upcoming courses:  January- Action and Fighting in Fiction: Writing Authentic Choreography With Precision and Bite or in just a few days — December – Method to Madness: Using Acting Techniques to Invigorate Your Writing and Make Each Moment Oscar Worthy

About Tiffany

Tiffany Lawson Inman – follow @NakedEditor claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. There, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development.

She teaches Action, Choreography, Emotional Impact, Violence, and Dialogue for Lawson Writer’s Academy, presents hands-on-action workshops, and will be offering webinars in 2014. As a freelance editor, she provides deep story analysis, content editing, line by line, and dramatic fiction editing services. Stay tuned to WITS to see Tiffany’s upcoming guest blogs, classes, contests, and lecture packets.

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44 Responses to Emotional Barriers in Fiction: Intro to Emotional Channels (Part Three)

  1. Reblogged this on Ella Quinn ~ Author and commented:
    I’m on Karen’s Killer Books with an excerpt of The Secret Life of Miss Anna Marsh and a give away today. Look where I am today!! http://bit.ly/1fITmYB. But I thought you’d enjoy this as well.

  2. Fabulous post. I tweeted and reblogged.

    • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

      Awesome, Thankyou Ella Quinn! Lovely to see you on here today.

      I was kind of hoping you would pop on here and blow us away with your mini-challenge assignment. The day is not over yet.🙂

  3. Another fantastic post, Tiffany! Thank you!!!!
    (I’m doubly impressed that it came to be without the the aid of caffeine)😉

    • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

      Thank you Orly! I am on green tea caffeine today. Couldn’t pass up a hot cupa when my hubby offered it. Happy Turkey Eve!

  4. Tiffany, awesome post. Emotional arousal is what you’re getting at. We REMEMBER novels and movies that aroused our emotions. I tell writers in my eBook to “bring yourself to tears with past memories if that is what it takes to get your strong material down on paper.” You said it all when you quoted: “When I flip on my editor brain, teacher brain, or writer brain – my actor brain is already on. I am forever and always analyzing: character arc, character depth, character emotion, relationship threads, and dramatic impact of small to large action, dramatic movement of dialogue, and the dramatic experience of plot events.” Thank you again.

  5. Always the best Tiffany … thanks🙂

    • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

      Ramblings, you aren’t going to be the first brave writer either, eh?

      Glad you got over her to read today. Thank you thank you thank you!

      I promise to have many more examples next time round. Then maybe be more will be up to the challenge.

  6. I so need one of your classes. I almost posted for the mini-challenge but feel a bit intimidated.🙂 Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

    • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

      Awww come on, Debbie! Look back at Part One and Part Two – there were PLENTY of brave souls that rose to the challenge. And someone always has to be first🙂

      I know,I know, it’s the day before TWO holidays and people have stuff to do! I, for one, am sitting down for the first time today!!

      Thank you for at least commenting, Debbie. Your name is in the hat!

      • OK, I’ll take a shot at it. As I understand, you’re seeking a snippet where one character is emotional and the other character is under-reacting which makes the scene more powerful.

        The set-up: Tillman is speaking with his mostly non-verbal autistic brother, Eddie. Tillman has just discovered his girlfriend has kept a huge secret from him — she’s a mermaid. He didn’t handle the revelation at all well. Eddie has always been his mostly-silent sounding board so Tillman explains what happened:

        “So you see . . . Shelly’s different. Shocked me silent when she came out of the water and onto the boat.” Tillman dug in his pocket and drew out the piece of fish scale he’d salvaged. “What do you think?”

        Eddie took it and twirled the scale close to his eyes. “Pretty.”

        “Let me see.” Tillman examined it. Iridescent shades of silver, purple and green shimmered on its surface. “I didn’t notice that before. But you’ve got to admit this whole thing is weird. I mean — it’s not normal.”

        “Not normal,” Eddie drawled out the words, as if tasting them in his mouth. He cocked his head to one side and tapped his chest. “Like me?”

        Tillman almost ran the car off the road. Damn, just how much did Eddie really understand? He hesitated, thinking through his answer. “You’re special,” he said at last.

        But Eddie’s head lay against the car seat, eyes closed. At last, he’d surrendered to sleep.

        Not normal. So what if Shelly wasn’t normal? Who the hell was? He set the sliver of mermaid tailfin on the dashboard, where moonlight reflected the twinkling pastels. He again envisioned Shelly emerging from the sea. But this time he recalled the graceful curve of her hip where it joined her tailfin, the glitter of her body rippling in the moon-drenched water.

        I’m such an ass. Tillman banged his fist against the dashboard. He had get her back somehow and make her forgive him.

        Not saying the above is great, but it’s a scene that came to mind. Sorry, there were a couple of sentences in deep POV that should be italicized but I can’t do it from my laptop.

        Debbie

        • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

          Thank you Debbie, for being the first one out of the gate on this one. I know it’s not easy! And thank you for the set-up. I completely forgot to ask for one.
          Ok, are you ready? I’m diving in. This is a scene that could work for different Emotional Channels. What is neat about yours is that one of the characters is very aware of the difference. What I’d like to see is a deeper conflict from Tillman and a little more direction when he switches gears. And although I don’t think I mentioned it in the following notes – I’d also like to have a little more of Eddie’s indifference to the actual conversation. So maybe one more line from Tillman to Eddie and eddies attention is on the scale.
          The swap from Shelly to Eddie to Shelly is good, but it feels as he flips Emotional channels in mid-stride. We either need a through-line emotion from start to finish, or cleaner breaks between gears. Make sense?
          You have a good start, now I want to take it to the next level.
          And please keep in mind these are suggestions, you can take or leave them. My feelings won’t be hurt!
          “So you see . . . Shelly’s different. Shocked me silent when she came out of the water and onto the boat.” Tillman dug in his pocket and drew out the piece of fish scale he’d salvaged. “What do you think?”
          Eddie took it and twirled the scale close to his eyes. “Pretty.”
          “Let me see.” Tillman examined it. Iridescent shades of silver, purple and green shimmered on its surface.
          **Redundant to say he examined it and then tell us more about the color, it’s obvious that he is looking closer with the description you gave. Keep the description, lose the “examined it.”
          So use that space for something else, like an action or reaction that shows the reader something more about each character. Maybe like this: Tillman waited while Eddie’s fingers danced the scale on his palm. A few more minutes of that and his brother might slip into a cartoonlike trance. Tillman couldn’t wait any longer, he touched Eddies shoulder. “Please, may I?” Eddie snapped out of it and handed over the scale. Still warm. Iridescent shades of silver, purple and green shimmered on its surface as if they were still under water. An electric shiver tickled the back of his neck. “I didn’t notice that before.”
          Ok, what did I do there? I emphasized that his brother is easily entertained and might need a nudge and a magic word to obey his brother’s request. Tillman is slightly on edge but is still respectful of his brothers needs. Tillman has a physical reaction to something new he sees in the scale before his next line of dialogue.
          “I didn’t notice that before.
          ** need a beat here, before he thinks about the weirdness of the situation. What turns his thoughts from the intricacies of the scale to the big picture abnormal? How about turning his attention to his own normal skin beneath the scale? Or he could put both his hands back on the steering wheel and notice his skin. Or they could pass a burger joint with two normal girls sitting out front. We just need something, and it can be small, to click us over. **
          But you’ve got to admit this whole thing is weird. I mean — it’s not normal.”
          ** and after he says not normal we need an action from him. Does he remove himself from the scale – does he have an itch to put it away as if to give his brain a break from obsessing over the situation? Or does he put it in a cupholder on his dash, so he can look from a distance? Why am I asking for this? Because when Eddie says “Like me?” the scene is thrown into another subject for a second and we don’t know where the scale is. It’s like he looked the cool colors on it and then poof it vanishes when he almost ran car off the road. If this was a play, the actor is responsible for the journey of his prop. Same as in a novel. Props and setting can’t vanish.
          “Not normal,” Eddie drawled out the words, as if tasting them in his mouth. He cocked his head to one side and tapped his chest. “Like me?”
          Tillman almost ran the car off the road. **I can’t see this action. It’s too broad. Can you write something specific that happens? **
          **I’m sure if I read this scene from the beginning, I would have understood they were driving, but because I started in the middle and also because you are showing us a point of view of someone that has his attentions elsewhere. As in, if this was a movie, I’d be saying – “There is no way he can be driving that car because he hasn’t looked at the road once. “ Make sense? So you need to subtly gear this as if it really is happening in a car as it is moving and as Tillman is dividing his attention from road to brother to scale to road to …etc. Like above where I said he could put his hand back on the wheel, or drive past a girl in front of a diner. Pulling in active description to help us see more of what is going on.” **
          Damn, just how much did Eddie really understand? He hesitated, thinking through his answer.
          **Show us hesitation and thinking through his answer, instead of telling it. We need to feel the anxiety that almost ran him off the road. Show us what is ticking in there. **
          “You’re special,” he said at last.
          ** Nix “at last.” Don’t need it, and there is an echo in the next line. But this is a great place for a dialogue/vocal cue. **
          But Eddie’s head lay against the car seat, eyes closed.
          **Don’t need the “but.” Giving us the visual is all we need.** At last, he’d surrendered to sleep.
          ** Even though human brains click from one topic to another and back to the first, the reader still needs a nudge so as to keep the dramatic motion alive.
          Maybe like: “ Tillman’s eyes flickered back to the scale on his dash. His gut clenched.” And then you can show us his thoughts in italics. Perfect!**
          Not normal. So what if Shelly wasn’t normal? Who the hell was? He set the sliver of mermaid tailfin on the dashboard,
          **Ah- see, we didn’t know where the scale was! **
          where moonlight reflected the twinkling pastels.
          ** Nice!**
          He again envisioned Shelly emerging from the sea. But this time he recalled the graceful curve of her hip where it joined her tailfin, the glitter of her body rippling in the moon-drenched water.
          ** OOH I love that line!!! Moon-drenched water. Really nice!**
          I’m such an ass. Tillman banged his fist against the dashboard.
          ** You have all of the pieces, the order needs a little fixin’. We lose the significance of that amazing line (moon-drenched water) because I’m such an ass overshadows and swallows it up. Show us an internal, visceral reaction to that image and then he can think about how much he has to get her back and he can’t believe he lost her. THEN he can bang his fist. Then the scene ends with, I am such an ass.
          Make sense? Every line comes together in mini-storylines, written and placed for the most dramatic impact. **
          **He bangs his fist against what? Ack! Does he crush the scale? That was my first thought, and it might be the first though of other readers too. Lets bang the wheel instead.”**
          Phew! I bet you didn’t think I could say so much about such a small scene. Surprise!
          Just so you know, it’s harder for me to edit when there isn’t enough good stuff on the page to work with. So you should pat yourself on the back.
          Thank you again, Debbie, for being the first and for trusting my dramatic editor eyes with your work.
          Hope to see you next month in class! Not sure if I’m doing the drawing on Thursday night or on Sunday night – all depends on if WITS has another guest on Friday or not. But keep tabs on the comments – that is where I will post the winner of the drawing.
          Happy Family and Feast Day!

        • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

          Thank you Debbie, for being the first one out of the gate on this one. I know it’s not easy! And thank you for the set-up. I completely forgot to ask for one.

          ** I apologize for the other post – I forgot that when you copy/paste from a word doc – it takes away ALL of your spacing. My eyes were crossing on that one – so I re-posted this WITH spacing so you can properly read it. **

          Ok, are you ready? I’m diving in.

          This is a scene that could work for different Emotional Channels. What is neat about yours is that one of the characters is very aware of the difference. What I’d like to see is a deeper conflict from Tillman and a little more direction when he switches gears.

          And although I don’t think I mentioned it in the following notes – I’d also like to have a little more of Eddie’s indifference to the actual conversation. So maybe one more line from Tillman to Eddie and eddies attention is on the scale.
          The swap from Shelly to Eddie to Shelly is good, but it feels as he flips Emotional channels in mid-stride. We either need a through-line emotion from start to finish, or cleaner breaks between gears. Make sense?

          You have a good start, now I want to take it to the next level.
          And please keep in mind these are suggestions, you can take or leave them. My feelings won’t be hurt!

          “So you see . . . Shelly’s different. Shocked me silent when she came out of the water and onto the boat.” Tillman dug in his pocket and drew out the piece of fish scale he’d salvaged. “What do you think?”
          Eddie took it and twirled the scale close to his eyes. “Pretty.”
          “Let me see.” Tillman examined it. Iridescent shades of silver, purple and green shimmered on its surface.

          **Redundant to say he examined it and then tell us more about the color, it’s obvious that he is looking closer with the description you gave. Keep the description, lose the “examined it.”

          So use that space for something else, like an action or reaction that shows the reader something more about each character. Maybe like this: Tillman waited while Eddie’s fingers danced the scale on his palm. A few more minutes of that and his brother might slip into a cartoonlike trance. Tillman couldn’t wait any longer, he touched Eddies shoulder. “Please, may I?” Eddie snapped out of it and handed over the scale. Still warm. Iridescent shades of silver, purple and green shimmered on its surface as if they were still under water. An electric shiver tickled the back of his neck. “I didn’t notice that before.”

          Ok, what did I do there? I emphasized that his brother is easily entertained and might need a nudge and a magic word to obey his brother’s request. Tillman is slightly on edge but is still respectful of his brothers needs. Tillman has a physical reaction to something new he sees in the scale before his next line of dialogue.

          “I didn’t notice that before.

          ** need a beat here, before he thinks about the weirdness of the situation. What turns his thoughts from the intricacies of the scale to the big picture abnormal? How about turning his attention to his own normal skin beneath the scale? Or he could put both his hands back on the steering wheel and notice his skin. Or they could pass a burger joint with two normal girls sitting out front. We just need something, and it can be small, to click us over. **

          But you’ve got to admit this whole thing is weird. I mean — it’s not normal.”

          ** and after he says not normal we need an action from him. Does he remove himself from the scale – does he have an itch to put it away as if to give his brain a break from obsessing over the situation? Or does he put it in a cupholder on his dash, so he can look from a distance? Why am I asking for this? Because when Eddie says “Like me?” the scene is thrown into another subject for a second and we don’t know where the scale is. It’s like he looked the cool colors on it and then poof it vanishes when he almost ran car off the road. If this was a play, the actor is responsible for the journey of his prop. Same as in a novel. Props and setting can’t vanish.

          “Not normal,” Eddie drawled out the words, as if tasting them in his mouth. He cocked his head to one side and tapped his chest. “Like me?”

          Tillman almost ran the car off the road.

          **I can’t see this action. It’s too broad. Can you write something specific that happens? **

          **I’m sure if I read this scene from the beginning, I would have understood they were driving, but because I started in the middle and also because you are showing us a point of view of someone that has his attentions elsewhere. As in, if this was a movie, I’d be saying – “There is no way he can be driving that car because he hasn’t looked at the road once. “

          Make sense? So you need to subtly gear this as if it really is happening in a car as it is moving and as Tillman is dividing his attention from road to brother to scale to road to …etc. Like above where I said he could put his hand back on the wheel, or drive past a girl in front of a diner. Pulling in active description to help us see more of what is going on.” **

          Damn, just how much did Eddie really understand? He hesitated, thinking through his answer.

          **Show us hesitation and thinking through his answer, instead of telling it. We need to feel the anxiety that almost ran him off the road. Show us what is ticking in there. **

          “You’re special,” he said at last.

          ** Nix “at last.” Don’t need it, and there is an echo in the next line. But this is a great place for a dialogue/vocal cue. **

          But Eddie’s head lay against the car seat, eyes closed.

          **Don’t need the “but.” Giving us the visual is all we need.** At last, he’d surrendered to sleep.

          ** Even though human brains click from one topic to another and back to the first, the reader still needs a nudge so as to keep the dramatic motion alive.

          Maybe like: “ Tillman’s eyes flickered back to the scale on his dash. His gut clenched.” And then you can show us his thoughts in italics. Perfect!**

          Not normal. So what if Shelly wasn’t normal? Who the hell was? He set the sliver of mermaid tailfin on the dashboard,

          **Ah- see, we didn’t know where the scale was! **
          where moonlight reflected the twinkling pastels.
          ** Nice!**

          He again envisioned Shelly emerging from the sea. But this time he recalled the graceful curve of her hip where it joined her tailfin, the glitter of her body rippling in the moon-drenched water.

          ** OOH I love that line!!! Moon-drenched water. Really nice!**

          I’m such an ass. Tillman banged his fist against the dashboard.

          ** You have all of the pieces, the order needs a little fixin’. We lose the significance of that amazing line (moon-drenched water) because I’m such an ass overshadows and swallows it up. Show us an internal, visceral reaction to that image and then he can think about how much he has to get her back and he can’t believe he lost her. THEN he can bang his fist. Then the scene ends with, I am such an ass.

          Make sense? Every line comes together in mini-storylines, written and placed for the most dramatic impact. **

          **He bangs his fist against what? Ack! Does he crush the scale? That was my first thought, and it might be the first though of other readers too. Lets bang the wheel instead.”**

          **Phew! I bet you didn’t think I could say so much about such a small scene. Surprise!

          Just so you know, it’s harder for me to edit when there isn’t enough good stuff on the page to work with. So you should pat yourself on the back.

          Thank you again, Debbie, for being the first and for trusting my dramatic editor eyes with your work.

          Hope to see you next month in class! Not sure if I’m doing the drawing on Thursday night or on Sunday night – all depends on if WITS has another guest on Friday or not. But keep tabs on the comments – that is where I will post the winner of the drawing.

          Happy Family and Feast Day!

  7. Wonderful post! If I find the courage for the mini-challenge do we post here?

    • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

      Absolutely – post here.

      Thank you for reading and hope you find your courage, Carol!

      I will be popping back over tonight and tomorrow to give feedback n’ edits.
      See you soon!

  8. Do it, Carol. Don’t let me be alone on this!

    LOL Debbie

  9. LOL, Debbie! Okay I’ll play but I’m not at all sure I understand this correctly. I have what on the surface sounds like a mundane conversation but it’s fraught with emotional undercurrents. Not exactly the same as talking with someone who isn’t reacting but it’s non-emotional (the conversation) layered with emotional. Did I understand this correctly? This little part is from my current romantic suspense. Ok, well, here goes.

    She motioned toward the ice chest. “See, the little one there, in the corner. The end of his tail is missing. He had a close call. He might not be so lucky next time.”

    Bon Dieu, now she was blathering on about alligator behavior. She needed to get rid of him, not encourage him with idle chatter.

    He stepped closer. “I’m not sure what part luck plays in it. Some creatures are born survivors. No matter what the odds, they come out on top while others…others get eaten up just like baby alligators”

    He stood close enough for her to smell his spicy aftershave. The scent was familiar, reassuring in its familiarity, and she tried again to convince herself everything was going to be all right.

    “Can that one survive without a tail?” He glanced down at the baby alligators. They were in an inch of water on the bottom of the old chest.

    She motioned toward the bayou that encroached upon their small pocket of civilization. “Sometimes even the keenest survival instincts won’t help you out there.”

    She stepped away, not only putting distance between herself and the stranger but maneuvering so she was now between him and the family’s pontoon boat. “I don’t mean to sound rude, but we’re closed today. What was it you were looking for?”

    “Actually, I’m looking for Alphonse Hebert.”

    He smiled and the beauty of it jolted her. The smile not only softened his harsh features, showing off perfect teeth, it did something else, something frightening. His smile threatened to reach past those protective walls she’d spent twenty-six years building. Bon dieu would she ever wrestle stupid back into its box? Even if she could erase her mistakes, men who looked and dressed like him didn’t waste time on women who wore thrift store clothing.

    • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

      Carol, Thank you thank you for participating! Woot woot!

      I’m coming back to yours in the morning. Well, I mean LATER in the morning (2:24am now) There seems to be a baby going through a teething crisis in the next room and I need to attend to her before she wakes the neighborhood. I will be back on here with feedback tomorrow.

      See you soon!

  10. Love it, Carol! How could I not? It’s set in the bayou — my favorite location — and your hero has my last name, minus one ‘r.’ 🙂

    Seriously, great subtext on survival and great set up for conflict based on their class/financial situations.

    Send Alphonse down my way if your heroine doesn’t want him.🙂

    Debbie

  11. Kudos to Tiffany!

    I am impressed. Stellar blog from a stellar daughter.

    Happy Thanksgiving Eve to you! Glad you live just an hour away so I get to enjoy oh-so-fun-and-fabulous daughter and granddaughter time. 🙂

  12. littlemissw says:

    I love these mini-challenges! Ok here I go:

    The egg had shattered across the wall, sunshine yolk and fragments of shell slid down the perfectly painted walls and dripped onto the brand new carpet.

    My mother was red in the face, she pulled at her pearls with one pale bony hand, and clenched the other at her side in a tight fist. “Why did you do that?” she hissed through gritted teeth, narrowing her eyes at me so that the skin on her temples wrinkled like a cat’s…well, you know what.

    I shrugged, my heart fluttered lightly in my chest but I held her gaze, “Dunno. Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

    “Look at this mess!” she shrieked suddenly, veins throbbing under her thin, “you just wait till your father gets home.”

    I laughed then, the sound bubbling up in me like the fizz in a bottle of Coke.

    Her mouth dropped open, the colour faded from her face.

    I stepped closer to her, our noses were almost touching, she smelt like lavender soap and hair spray. Adrenalin surged through me, everything came into sharp focus and I smiled, “Who do you think you’re kidding?” I whispered.

    Mmmm…I don’t think I quite got it right. I wanted to contrast the anger of the mother with the apparent disinterest of the teenager but I’m not sure that comes across. I love trying it out though, it really makes me rethink my WIP and whether I’ve captured these things in that.

    • Way to go! I love her laughter bubbling like Coke fizz and the Mom’s scent of lavender and hairspray.

    • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

      yahooo! Another participant! Of course, you have experience with my mini-challenges, so glad you are coming to play again, littlemissy!

      So, like i said to Carol, I’m coming back to yours in the morning too. Well, I mean LATER in the morning (2:28am now) There seems to be a baby going through a teething crisis in the next room and I need to attend to her before she wakes the neighborhood. I will be back on here with feedback tomorrow.

      See you soon!

    • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

      Littlemissy,

      Took a little longer than expected, but here you go:

      • littlemissw says:

        Hi Tiffany,
        Sorry to be a pain but I don’t seem to have gotten the feedback, it’s just blank. Don’t worry if it’s going to be a problem, there’s enough going on at this time of the year without adding more work.😉

  13. Debbie, thank you! I enjoyed yours too.

    Actually, the hero said he was looking for Alphonse, who is the heroine’s uncle and owner of the swamp tour business. She’s been trying to hide in plain sight but figures the game is up when this unlikely stranger shows up. I’ve been having fun with it because hero is so out of his element in the swamp and the heroine knows it like the back of her hand. I had to cut it down a bit to post it here so it might be a bit choppy.

  14. Debbie, I loved “drawled out the words, as if tasting them in his mouth.”

    Littlemissw, I loved “like the fizz in a bottle of Coke”

  15. tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

    Yippeee! Just finished dinner and now I see I have a few talented and courageous ladies on here whooopin butt in the mini-challenge.

    High kicks for you!

    I still have an awake baby that I need to read to, feed, and then possibly dunk in the tub (depending on how the feeding goes.) but you ladies will have reply with lots of tasty feedback by the morning.

    Thanks again for participating! I’m so proud 🙂

  16. WOW, Tiffany! I loved what you did to the scene!! I can’t believe how much difference it made with all the tweaks. So impressed. And I appreciate all the time you put in this.🙂 You’re awesome. Hope you and baby and family have a peaceful, Happy Thanksgiving!

    • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

      You are so welcome, Debbie! I had fun editing, as always. 🙂 If you are in my December class, be prepared, this IS the type of attention I give to your writing.

      I’ll be drawing the name on Sunday. Stay tuned!

  17. I agree with Debbie, wow! Tiffany, I learned a lot just from reading the notes you gave Debbie! Is this what your December workshop is like? I am definitely considering it.

    • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

      Carol, I am so glad you got to learn from my feedback to Debbie. In my courses, this IS exactly what you can expect. I work one on one with you and your scenes, answer questions, edit, and sometimes give examples on how I would write it – so you get a better idea of what I am talking about. And you can learn from watching how I work with other writers too.

      Ok, I have handed off baby duties to grandma for the moment and am diving into your mini-challenge. Check back before the end of the day and you will have your own notes to sift through and absorb. 🙂

      Hope you had a lovely Turkey day with family and friends.

    • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

      Carol, Here you go

  18. tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

    Reblogged this on NAKED EDITOR. DRAMATIC EDITING. and commented:
    I will be drawing for a winner tomorrow! Because class starts tomorrow! Madness to Method: Using acting techniques to invigorate your story and make each moment Oscar worthy!

  19. I’m bowled over by the whole post so thank you, Tiffany. What a terrific lesson for this relatively new author. Time’s a wastin’ since I’m also long in the tooth, so to speak. Here goes with a new story. Ten sentences:
    Prologue
    The present time

    I sit in a comfortable rocking chair in my apartment in River’s Edge, NY caressing the beginning swell of my abdomen. Pregnant at fifty six sounds ridiculous. Why didn’t I say no when Cindy asked me to be surrogate for her baby. That’s the question. The answer is simple for me at least. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my Cindy. I’ve already lived a full life as a single mom with one daughter and have a thriving pet grooming business. Outsiders must look and say, “She’s nuts. Let her kid pay someone.” They don’t know me. So I rock back and forth in semi-darkness and remember my one and only love.

    Thanks from Charmaine Gordon

  20. Rhonda Lane says:

    What a great blog post! Thanks, Tiffany. I’m one of your past students and feel like I’m working sort of a 12-step program to keep my Crossing the Emotional Barrier passport up-to-date. The digital world is full of instantly accessed Slippery Places: Facebook, YouTube, TED Talks. When a person takes to writing as an escape, we don’t realize the Buckaroo Banzai was right about this, too: No matter where you go, there you are.

    • tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

      Hugs to you Rhonda! Glad you are still visiting WITS🙂

      LOL, Emotional Barrier Passport. Yup, I have a few hundred stamps in mine.

  21. tiffanylawsoninmanisnakededitor says:

    Well even though it was kind of a ghost town over here over the Holiday, there were still a handful of comments and some stellar mini-challenge participants – YEAY!!!!

    For those of you who aren’t aware, I said at the end of the blog, those brave participants got their name in the hat twice. Since there were only a few courageous enough to put their writing out here for all to see —–and for me to edit – I decided they should get their name in the hat 3 times 🙂

    Yup, they deserved every extra chance because WOW writing with Emotional Channels is HARD! Not to mention I don’t hold anything back with my edits in order to help writers as much as I can.

    Okay okay I will tell you the winner! Sheesh🙂
    ………………………
    ……………………………………..
    ……………………………………
    ……………………

    Debbie Herbert, YOU ARE A WINNER! You have won a slot in December Madness to Method: Using acting techniques to invigorate your story and make each moment Oscar worthy.

    I’ll be emailing you shortly.

    For the rest of you, I will be on WITS again in two weeks (and every month after that) and you will have another shot to learn some fiction-know-how and another shot to win a slot in my class. Keep in mind I will be dropping your name in the hat 3 times again next time if you participate in the mini- challenge.

    See you next time!

  22. Pingback: Crossing the Psychological Barrier: More to Writing than Meets the Fist | Writers In The Storm Blog

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