That’s something you hear a lot from writers, especially when their or their friends’ lives are going down the toilet. No matter how bad a day (or week or month) you’re having, there’s going to be something in it you can use in your work down the line. Trust me.
Three years ago this month, my sister’s only child died just days after his seventeenth birthday. It was an amazingly awful time, but those emotions were there to tap when I wrote a character who’d lost her fifteen-year-old daughter. Last year I broke my wrist and had to have surgery. I know exactly what my current hero feels when he breaks his wrist. And earlier this year, my husband broke his wrist and had to have surgery, so I know exactly how the heroine feels taking care of him post-injury. (And I’m convinced that no matter how whiny or grumpy my hero gets, anyone who’s ever nursed a man through an injury will know that there’s no such thing as “too much.” LOL.)
Granted, we don’t have to live through an event to be able to write characters experiencing that event. After all, we’re authors. Imagination is our biggest tool. I’ve never killed anyone (though maybe I’ve been tempted a time or two), but I can imagine it quite well.
But emotions that we’ve felt ourselves can certainly add a feel of authenticity to our stories, and emotions are the backbone of romance novels. In other genres, the focus is on other things — the who-or-how-he-dunnit in mysteries, the world in sci-fi, etc. — but romances succeed or fail on emotion. You can have the best characters, plots and twists ever imagined, but if the emotion’s not real, the readers won’t care.
I knew a woman who lamented that her books weren’t finding the success she wanted; in the same conversation, she remarked that she hadn’t read a certain book — a really emotional laugh-and-sob romance novel that was flying off the shelves — because she didn’t like anything that made her feel too deeply. Duh! That was the problem with her own books: she had good characters, good plots and good writing, but nothing really touched the hero and heroine or, as a result, the readers. The emotions were superficial, and so was her readers’ connection to her books.
How are you with emotion in your own books? Do you have any tricks for getting it in, or do you rely on your critique buddies to send your pages back with “more, more, more!” scrawled on them?
Can you think of any books that really, truly reached down inside you to tug at your heart? The one that always comes to my mind first: Always to Remember by Lorraine Heath. I cried from about the second page on. I loved that book!