June 22nd, 2018

First Page Critique

I chose this month’s first page to explain how to get close POV. I think it’s due to our visual, reality based, Netflix, 3-D modern world that makes readers want an immersive read. They’re used to ‘being in’ films, which makes it easy to BE the character. Who didn’t want to be Katniss? *raises liver-spotted hand*. This makes extra work for the author. It’s not easy to do. But it’s a learned skill, and once you get it, you get it forever. I learn best by seeing transformations in examples, So let’s dig in.

This is a compelling, emotionally fraught situation. An en media res opening. But because the reader is so distant, they’re being told what’s happening, which keeps them from the opportunity to  BE the character.

Thank you, brave soul, for trusting me with your work.

Black = original

Red = my thoughts/comments

Purple = text I added/altered

Willow repeatedly pressed her right foot down on the brakes. There was no resistance. Her chest tightened, she began to pant. Her steering wheel would not respond. She was going over the edge, right into the icy water. She screamed as her car flew off the road and sailed into the murky depths. Her body bounced off the steering wheel. She coughed as the air bag deployed, and fumbled for the seat belt, then remembered Rose had an emergency knife in the glove compartment. Her sister had been bugging her for months to get one. If she made it through this, she was heading for Big 5 Sporting Goods. Grabbing the knife, she cut the seat belt, and pulled herself out of the open window.

             She emerged to the surface and inhaled deeply, gasping for air. Pushing her hair back she twirled around in the water, trying to get her barring’s in the dark. She saw the lights from the shore, and swam in that direction.  Teeth chattering, she did breast strokes. Come on, you can do this. Her sister was going to goad her endlessly for this.  She stopped, treated water and wiped the salt water out of her eyes.

I’m going to rewrite this in close POV, then analyze the difference, below. Not knowing much about the setting, I’m going to make assumptions which won’t be correct.

Willow slammed the brakes. The pedal hit the floor with a hollow thump that wasn’t anywhere near right. She tried again. Then again, as  the December icy-waters of the Monongahela advanced. Alarm jangling, she cranked the wheel right to full-stop, but the river still expanded in the windshield. Shit. She was going in. There’d be no help; she was the only one stupid enough to be out in an ice storm. But her swelling eye care of Brad’s fury made that impossible. When you decide you’re finally leaving for good,  you don’t check the weather first.

A scream trapped in her locked windpipe, the car took out the flimsy barrier and sailed off the road to hit the water with a jarring whomp. Remembering an NCIS episode about people trapped in a floating car, her fumbling fingers found the button and retracted the window. Frigid wind slapped her face. The car took a sickening tilt, and slushy ice water cascaded in, stealing her breath, freezing her thoughts.

Do something! 

Her heart throwing staccato, SOS beats, her numb fingers found the seat belt and released it. The car drifted, moving fast. Both banks looked a lifetime away. Shivers coursed through her, ending at her chattering teeth. Her muscles were pulled taut, but responded slow. Too slow. 

Move, before you can’t. 

Kicking off her useless pretty heels, she took on the incoming waterfall, pushing off the seat, launching herself out the window. The iron band around her chest only allowing tiny rabbit breaths, she kicked for shore. She wasn’t saving herself from Brad to die in a river.

Kick, dammit!

I had a couple of problems with the logistics: why wouldn’t the seat belt open? I’ve never heard that it could be jimmied to jam. You said salt water, but unless the car was on a bluff above the ocean (you didn’t  mention hitting a barrier). The beach wouldn’t have posed such a problem. If it were a bridge, there would have been a retaining wall as well. So I took the liberty of making it a river (you can fix that). Also, I didn’t realize it was night until the very end (lights from the shore) – remember, the reader doesn’t know where they are, so you need some scene-setting at the very start, so they can settle in. Part of close POV is being aware of logistics, and what is possible. If the reader doesn’t buy it, they’re going to be analyzing the scene – not being in it.

Also, the reader isn’t going to be invested in what happens to Willow, if they don’t know who she IS (I see you nodding, Jenny). Give the reader a quick hint, so they can root for her. I added Brad, which probably doesn’t follow your plot, but do you see how that makes us know something about your character – enough that we sympathize, and care that she makes it?

Okay, mine isn’t great, but is it closer POV? Why? 

  • Details – I made it December, in an ice storm, during the day. I named the river. Mentioned NCIS. Put her in heels. Why? it helps the reader BE there, and details can make the situation worse. I didn’t spend lots of time on them (would have loved to have mentioned what she was wearing – a wool coat would make things worse, weighing her down) but can you see how details are an important key to close POV. They give the reader hints of who this person in the car is. Maybe she’s in an evening gown. Or her pajamas. See how that would raise questions in the reader? 
  • BE the Dude – Margie Lawson calls this, being true to the character’s emotional set. I call it, Being the Dude. I’ve made this same mistake; it’s a tense situation. You’d be panicking. Thoughts would be jumbled, broken. You wouldn’t be making a note to yourself to buy a knife at the next Big 5 you passed. Heck, you’re not even sure you’re going to live through this! And what kind of sister would goad you when you almost died? To amp tension, use short sentences, make them jerky, use action words. What I do: I sit, close my eyes, and put myself in that car. What am I feeling? What is my body doing? What experience can I draw from in my own past to make this more realistic?
  • Tie thoughts to the character’s past. I don’t know enough about this character to do that, but think about it. If you’re dying, what would you regret? Who would you think of? Let’s say she is competitive with her older, almost perfect sister. Would she regret wasting all that time on useless competition, when she should have spent the time loving her closest relative? The thoughts would have to be short, not more than a sentence, but they can be a powerful way to slip in backstory, and tempt the reader to keep going. What if she had a secret? Would she wish she’d have told someone, or be glad that if she died, no one would ever know?

If you want to learn more about Close POV, WITS has several blogs on the subject:

Determining a Character’s Emotional IQ

Becoming Your POV Character

Keeping Your Entire Scene in Deep POV

Layering Emotion of Deep POV 

Showing Deep POV in love

What say you, WITS readers? How to you convey tension? Have any other close POV tips for us?


Did you know that Laura does craft podcasts? They’re short, dorky fun, shot in different locations, and usually include a rant. You can check them out on her website: HERE

June 20th, 2018

The Body Language Of Love: Beyond Lust And Attraction

Lisa Hall-Wilson

Last week at WITS I wrote about writing deep point of view using layers of emotions and I promised this week to share about writing love in deep point of view. If you missed last week’s post, make sure you check it out.

Let’s recap for a moment. A secondary emotion is our thinking response to primary (instinctive, unthinking) emotions. A secondary emotion could be triggered by one or a dozen primary emotions, and that blend will be unique for every character in every situation.

In deep point of view, it’s vital to understand the why of an emotion. Why is your POVC attracted to that other character? What need or desire are they trying to ease or fill? What emotions (or mix of emotions) is fuelling that feeling of love?

“I opened the door and there he was. It was like I was a magician and had thrown aside the curtain to show my lovely assistant. The sight of him caught my breath in my throat.”

Laurel K. Hamilton, Blue Moon

When it comes to love there isn’t a one size fits all kind of love, is there? It’s nuanced and varied, the relationships don’t all have to look the same or be founded on the same primary emotions. The Greeks have/had 7 words for love:

Eros – erotic-sexual love

Agape – selfless, sacrificial love

Ludus – playful love, overt flirting/teasing/seduction with no strings attached

Philia – deep friendship, platonic and sincere

Pragma – standing in love (as opposed to falling in love) the longstanding practical love as shared by a couple married for a long time

Philautia – self-love – could be meant in an narcissistic way, or in the way of taking care of yourself enabling you to better love others

Storge – familial love as between parent and child

I would guess there’s a lot of books out there that focus on ludus moreso than eros or even pragma. So, let’s reframe how we think about writing love. All too often, what I see from beginning writers is something like this:  

Love flooded Steve’s chest every time he looked at Melissa.

In deep point of view, we want to avoid naming emotions. Here’s why. Does this tell us anything about Steve’s character? Or Melissa’s? Do we know in what way Steve loves Melissa or with how much intensity Steve feels this emotion? Do we understand why? No.

Writing love like this draws conclusions for our readers and in deep point of view we want to give evidence or proof of an emotion and let the reader decide what emotion is being felt.

Telling your readers that your character is in love is a wasted opportunity to show characterization and emotional arc for readers. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, love is very individual and subjective. Help readers understand the emotions fueling your character’s love—hand the reader the virtual reality headset.

Show readers what qualities and characteristics your character is in love with, show what love feels like to that character. That’s the goal with deep point of view. Some fall in love because they’re looking to be understood, others are seeking security or confidence, humility and simplicity, someone comfortable in their own skin, someone with similar values.

“It made more sense that way because when they weren’t together … well, Holly just felt as though she was missing a vital organ from her body.”

Cecelia Ahern, P.S. I Love You

Let’s have another try at why Steve loves Melissa.

Steve shook his head and smiled at the over-filled backpack Melissa wore, likely filled with every textbook assigned to every class, and more paper and pencils then she could ever need. She turned, scanned the room, and then shot up to her tiptoes and waved at him. His chest filled with warmth. The heat spread through his whole body until sweat broke out on his brow. Didn’t she know he’d been watching for her? He’d always look for her until she was beside him again.

So, which primary emotions are at play here? Seeing Melissa filled Steve with adrenaline, hence the racing heart and sweating. This could be excitement or anticipation. Happiness is also in the mix and security or safety—Melissa isn’t someone who likes surprises clearly. She’s prepared for anything. Those instinctive, unthinking emotions force Steve to DO something so he’s waiting and watching for her to enter a room.

Steve could’ve commented on her hair or body, on how smart she is, how she fills in the gaps where his own introversion and social awkwardness work against him – I could continue coming up with theories. This is what love looks and feels like to Steve. Knowing why Steve loves Melissa shows readers what’s important to him, how he values others, the gaps or weaknesses in his own character he’s looking to shore up in a partner, etc. Readers see what’s important to Melissa through what Steve is drawn to.

Aim higher than just communicating to readers that your point of view character is in love. Use love to show readers why your character is in love, why they’re in love with that person and what that feels like. This helps readers made their own decision about what the character is feeling through what they’re attracted to, what they value in others, and what they’re seeking more of in their life.

Did you get my free PDF on the body language of attraction?

July 1st is the release of Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layers. Subscribe to my blog or follow the Confident Writers page on Facebook for more details.

The body language of new love is very similar to the body language of attraction: sweaty palms, leaning in, touch, open body posture, change in tone of voice, puffed out chest, preening, eye contact, smiling, etc. Most writers seem to instinctively understand this body language—just be sure to capture the why for readers.

Ever watched the body language of a couple who’ve been together for a long while? It’s different, right. What body language cues might you observe between long-together couples?

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Lisa

Lisa Hall-WilsonLisa Hall-Wilson was a national award-winning freelance journalist and author who loves mentoring writers. Fascinated by history, fantasy, romance, and faith, Lisa blends those passions into historical and historical-fantasy novels.

Find Lisa’s blog, Beyond Basics for intermediate writers,  at www.lisahallwilson.com.

June 18th, 2018

The Efficient Author’s Cheat Sheet for Creating Suspense and Tension

Tiffany Yates Martin

The Efficient Author’s Cheat Sheet for Creating Suspense and Tension:
Questions that Keep Readers Hooked

Even if you aren’t a fan of the Marvel universe (and I have to confess that I am), you may have heard some of the uproar over the latest Avengers movie. Without laying down any spoilers, the last ten minutes or so hit most viewers like a plank in the face. Why? Because it didn’t end the way we expected it to.

Most stories offer an inherent promise of resolution: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. That’s why we watch (or read, in our cases): for a happy ending, or to see the good guys win, or—with great tragedies and art films and literary books—at least to find some meaning or enlightenment.

Now, like the last Harry Potter films, Avengers: Infinity War is apparently the first in a two-part finale, so I would bank on the end of part two delivering on that inherent story promise. But if, in most cases, we already know how a story is going to end, why do we still want to experience it?

The answer lies in uncertainty.

The appeal of story is the same reason we do a lot of things we enjoy: baking or gardening or bungee jumping. It’s not just to achieve the end product, or we’d go buy a box of doughnuts or an eggplant or just stay down there on the ground. The journey is the point—those moments flailing through the air on the end of a glorified rubber band. For a few breathless moments you get to experience the thrill of uncertainty—will the soufflé rise…how big will my watermelon get…is that thing going to snap in midair? That’s why we read (or watch) stories. And the crucial tools a writer uses to create that delicious uncertainty are suspense and tension.

The terms are often used interchangeably, and they’re certainly intimately related, but I think of suspense as an element of story and tension as an element of scene. Both create a question in the reader’s mind: In oversimplified terms, with suspense it’s “What happens next?” and with tension, “How will the character overcome this obstacle?” And both are crucial to compelling fiction in every genre, not just suspense novels. Your suspense may be whether a character will reconcile with her family, your tension the microaggressions between a mother and a daughter, but the theory is exactly the same.

Here a few “shortcuts” for determining whether you have enough suspense and tension in your story, along with tips for how to develop these elements so that readers are compelled to keep turning pages.


How to Find It

Suspense results from the unknown. An easy way to determine whether you have created suspense in your story or scene is to look for whether and where you create questions in the reader’s mind: What happened? How? Whodunnit? Why did they do it? What’s going to happen now?

Say what you like about Dan Brown as a writer stylistically, but the man is a master at creating suspense that keeps readers frantically turning pages, using an array of techniques for making us need to know something that compels us to read on for the answers—especially at chapter ends, one of the most important places to keep the reader hooked. (How many times have you put down a mediocre book after finishing a chapter and then just sort of forgotten about it?) Questions and uncertainty abound in The Da Vinci Code:

  • Prologue: A freshly assaulted art curator realizes that he must summon every last bit of his waning strength to accomplish some “desperate” unnamed task before he dies. [What for? What task? Why is it desperate? Who is the man who killed him, and why?]
  • Chapter 1: Robert Langdon, a code expert named in the man’s dying gesture, regards a photo of the curator’s bloody corpse in horror, unable to imagine who could have done such violence to the old man—only to be informed by the investigator that the victim did it to himself. [How could he have done this to himself—and why? (This is also an upended expectation.) Why did the victim summon Langdon? What is the message, and what is it for? Will Langdon be able to decipher it? Is he a suspect?]
  • Chapter 2: The killer calls the Teacher to tell him the murder is complete, and the Teacher tells him to retrieve the keystone. The killer then flogs himself with a barbed whip. [Who is the Teacher? Why did he instruct this man to kill the curator? Why does the killer take orders from him? What is the keystone? What does the Teacher mean to do with it? Why is the killer self-harming after succeeding at his task?]

How to Fix It

Once you’ve spotted places in your manuscript that may lack suspense, look for ways you could introduce uncertainty using techniques similar to the ones above:

  • Unanswered questions
  • Unresolved issues, an unsettled conflict, leaving things in the air
  • An unknown—withheld information, secrets
  • Bread crumbs/puzzle pieces
  • Misdirection or upended expectations


How to Find It

Tension results from an obstacle or conflict. To check whether you have tension in every scene—on every single page—look for whether and where you have opposing forces keeping your protagonist from what they want.

I’m randomly opening the hardcover of Gone Girl as I write this article—Gillian Flynn’s book is rife with tension that keeps readers’ hearts in their mouths throughout. Here’s a summary of a single scene on pages 74-76:

Nick walks into his “coffin of an office” with the officer investigating him as a suspect in his wife’s disappearance, and on Nick’s desk is an envelope marked “Second Clue.” He’s obliged to open it with the officer watching—it contains both a clue to her disappearance and a folded piece of paper marked with a heart. He has no idea what either might contain. The heart note turns out to say how brilliant Amy thinks Nick is—belying Nick’s having told the officer they’d been having marital problems. The cop reads over his shoulder, comments on the sweet note, then points out the pair of women’s underwear flung in a corner of Nick’s office. He waits for an explanation—Nick lies and says the panties are his wife’s and tries to take them, but the officer slides them into an evidence bag. The cop asks Nick what the clue means, and Nick says he has no idea, even though he does.

This short scene is just dripping with tension, from the first line where Flynn uses a word—coffin—that evokes death, to the last: “I lied.”

The forces keeping Nick from what he wants—which is ultimately to be exonerated for his wife’s disappearance—are:

  • The investigating cop’s presence
  • The possibly incriminating clue
  • The unexpected love note
  • The exposing of what seems to be Nick’s lie about their marriage
  • The underwear from Nick’s affair
  • The cop taking them into evidence
  • The import of the clue, which Nick knows and cannot reveal to the cop

Even the seemingly casual dialogue in this scene helps create tension—Nick references Freddy Krueger and the cop says he never saw the movies (opposition); the cop comments that Amy is a “sweet lady” after reading her note (though Nick has painted her as anything but); the cop waits in freighted silence for Nick to explain the panties; the officer offers overly jovial assurances that taking them into evidence is “just procedure.”

How to Fix It

If you find you don’t have these kinds of tension in every single scene in your story, look to add opposition using these and other techniques:

  • A problem, challenge, or impediment (whether person or thing)
  • A looming deadline (ticking clock)
  • A disagreement, friction
  • A lack of response
  • A thwarted desire or goal
  • A false front or lie
  • An unmet or upended expectation

Whenever possible, take the path of most resistance—and stay on it. Avoid making things easy on your characters. And don’t resolve these tensions too quickly: Wring out all the juice by exploring your characters’ visceral responses and showing knee-jerk reactions rather than intellectualizations. Tension almost always happens in “real time” and in tiny moments, not in summation or broad generalizations.

This is a small chunk of a very large pie—volumes could be (and have been) written on making your story more engaging with suspense and tension. But I want to stress that although I used two examples that lean toward the suspense genre, this idea applies across every single genre. Creating questions in the reader’s mind will deepen reader investment, raise stakes, and make your story compelling on every single page.

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Tiffany

Tiffany Yates Martin helps authors find the best version of their vision and get it onto the page effectively, compellingly, and truthfully.

She has worked in the publishing industry for more than twenty-five years. As a developmental editor she works directly with authors through her consulting service, FoxPrint Editorial, as well as through major publishing houses, on titles by New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal best-selling authors as well as manuscripts for unpublished writers, single titles as well as entire series. She holds a BA in English literature from Georgia State University and is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association. As a presenter she’s led editing and writing workshops for many writers’ groups, organizations, and conferences, including RWA National, Pikes Peak Writers, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and has written for numerous writers’ sites and publications.

June 15th, 2018

Determining Your Character’s Emotional Range



Becca Puglisi

I firmly believe that while readers sometimes do connect with our stories, they more often fall in love with our characters. If we want to really pull readers in, we’ve got to make each protagonist relatable and easy to connect with.

This can be a tall order when you consider that each reader is different. Their geographic location, individual circumstances, personal experiences—no one character can encapsulate all of that for every person who picks up your book. But there’s one thing that every reader and character do have in common: emotion.

No matter who the reader is or what they’ve been through, they’ve experienced the same emotions as the character. The circumstances may be different, but they will connect on some level to a character exhibiting the feelings they’ve felt at important moments in life. For this reason, it’s super important to write a character’s emotions consistently and believably so they ring true with readers. As with many other areas of writing, the best way to do this is through showing that emotion rather than telling it. But before we can write about the character’s feelings, we need to know how those feelings will manifest. In short, we need to establish the character’s emotional range.

Each person (and therefore, each character) has a unique way of expressing their feelings, meaning you can have two people in the same situation and they’ll respond differently. If we’re going to consistently write a character’s emotions, we need to first know her baseline—how she reacts to the normal, everyday things that happen. To figure that out, ask the following questions:

Is My Character Demonstrative or Reserved?

Think of emotional range as a spectrum: a straight line with RESERVED at one end and DEMONSTRATIVE on the other. Where does your character fall on this line? A demonstrative character has bigger reactions while a reserved character plays it closer to the vest. They feel the same emotions, but they exhibit them differently.

Consider the lovely but fairly mundane event of receiving flowers at work. A reserved character is likely to smile when it happens. Maybe she’ll hug herself, gaze at the beautiful flowers with a silly grin on her face, and shoot off a quiet email to thank the sender. In contrast, a demonstrative character screeches as the delivery person walks in. She may jump up and hug him. She slaps her thighs and laughs out loud, then takes her flowers on a victory lap around the office to show them to everyone.

Same situation, but different responses based on the character’s emotional range. When you know where your character falls on that spectrum, you’ll have a good idea of what her responses will be to the normal, day-to-day things that happen. Then you can write those reactions consistently so readers will know what to expect. This builds that reader-character connection as the reader begins to get to know the character better.

Who Is She Comfortable With?

Most people don’t act the same around everyone. They’re more themselves with the people who make them feel comfortable. Whether that’s family, close friends, a co-worker, or the next-door neighbor, the character will stay true to her typical responses when she’s with those people. But as she gets less comfortable, her emotional responses will change, becoming either more inhibited or exaggerated. So examine the various people groups your character will encounter and determine how she’ll act around them. How is she with strangers? Is she sensitive around people of a specific race or political affiliation? What about people with certain physical characteristics? Examine those dynamics and the reasons behind them so you’ll know which cast members will evoke a different emotional response from her.

Who Does She Hide Her Emotions From?

When we’re feeling vulnerable, we tend to hold back emotionally. Maybe the people making your character uncomfortable can be found a little closer to home: her father-in-law, her soccer coach, her child’s third-grade teacher. The pool boy. If you’ve done your backstory work, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out why these people set the character off. If you haven’t gotten that far in your research, explore those relationships. This will provide a better understanding of how your character will depart from her baseline when she’s around certain people.

Which Emotions Does She Suppress?

One of the nuances of emotion is that not everyone is comfortable with the full range. You might have a character who’s mostly in touch with her feelings—except when it comes to fear, or anger, or sadness. At the first sign of that emotion, she hides it—possibly, only when she’s around one of the people mentioned above. This is one of those small details that, when added carefully and thoughtfully to your character’s emotional profile, can make her more realistic and familiar to readers.

Questions like these are important to consider because they define your character’s “norm.” They tell you how she’ll respond to daily stimuli so you can write her reactions consistently and realistically. This information will also tell you how hard you’ll have to push when you need a bigger emotional response and elevated conflict—which is another way to pull readers in. But that’s a post for another day.

How do you tap into your character’s deepest emotions? Do you brainstorm, let it happen organically, interview them, fake it till you make it? We want to hear about your characters and your process!

Laura here, with a quick note:  I’m teaching ‘Your First Five Pages’ over at Savvy Authors –  Starts June 18 for two weeks, online. If you like my First Page Critique on WITS, you’re gonna love this class, because we work through YOUR first 5 pages!  Check it out – http://dld.bz/gPnEK

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Becca

Becca PuglisiBecca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels, including the latest member of the family: The Emotional Wound Thesaurus. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

June 13th, 2018

Emotional Layers: The Gateway to Deep Point of View

Lisa Hall-Wilson

Deep point of view lets your readers experience story through a virtual reality headset. Readers want to take an emotional journey alongside the main character in every scene. This style puts readers IN the story as much as possible.

To achieve this, writers have to avoid summarizing or telling how a character feels. Instead, they must present evidence to the reader about how the character feels. Not enough evidence and the reader is lost, too much and the reader is bored.

To effectively write in deep point of view, the author must know the WHY in every scene. Why did your point of view character (POVC) say that, do that, hide that, run away or stand and fight—all of it.

I’m constantly looking for a way to break things down, create an actionable process, so I can understand things. Deep point of view makes sense to me by writing in emotional layers. Every action (or in the case of fiction, every thought) has an equal and opposite reaction.

Layer 1: Primary or Basic Emotions

These are the unthinking instinctive emotions. Some examples would be: attraction, lust, disgust, joy, fear, excitement, sadness, surprise, etc. Most often, we show readers primary emotions through body language and physiology—what’s going on inside: heart rate, skin prickles, sweating, etc.

Layer 2: Emotional Triggers

Sometimes, a situation or scenario can catapult a character straight to layer 4. They won’t be able to articulate the primary emotions involved because this particular mix is their unique brand of poison. This is most often shown to readers through internal dialogue.

Layer 3: Secondary Emotions

Secondary emotions (such as anger, shame, anxiety, and love) are reactions to primary emotions.  Secondary emotions demand the character DO SOMETHING because these emotions are intense and uncomfortable and feel out of control.

Layer 4: Behavior

This is the observable part of primary and secondary emotions. This is where the fight, flight or freeze instinct would come in. Fear and surprise force a character to run away or fight back. Love forces them to hug or kiss.

In any given scene, your POVC could experience one or all of these emotional layers. Each layer may only be a couple of words – a sentence fragment. Just a word. Run! But readers will be pulled deeper into the story this way and take their own emotional journey—it may not be the same emotional journey as your POVC, but that’s OK. Your goal is to make the reader feel.

That’s a whirlwind summary of the emotional layers theory. Now, what many newer writers misunderstand about deep point of view is that each layer overlaps and is interconnected. These emotions and actions are not felt in isolation of one another. It’s like a spider’s web. Every intersection of the web is influenced by every other intersection. A tremor in a far corner of the web is felt throughout, right.

You Must Know The Why

So, getting back to the original question—the why. Why your character does things is what pulls the reader in. Readers don’t have to agree with your POVCs feelings or decisions, but they do have to understand them. In deep point of view, your POVC can’t keep secrets from the reader.

“Let go of me,” I say. I hear ringing in my ears. My voice sounds clear and stern—not what I expected to hear. I feel like it doesn’t belong to me.

I am ready. I know what to do. I picture myself bringing my elbow back and hitting him. I see the bag of apples flying away from me. I hear my running footsteps. I am prepared to act.”

– Veronica Roth, Divergent

Here, you can follow Tris’ thoughts to understand why her voice is clear when she should be scared. The reader understands why she feels the way she does, and in the next sentence we learn why she doesn’t give in to this impulse. She’s been raised to completely deny self, but in this moment of fear and surprise her ability to remain calm and have an action plan instead of just submitting to the abuse is a self-revelation and helps her make a decision.

There are plenty of readers who likely would never have this reaction to a homeless man grabbing them, but they cheer for Tris because they know this small tug is going to cause major reverb across the story web.

Make sure you come back next week where I’m going to take these concepts and explore the emotions of attraction and love and how this layering technique might work for you!

I’ve put together a free pdf for Writers in the Storm readers on the body language of attraction. You can get that here. Next Wednesday, I will be posting here at WITS on The Body Language of Love – Beyond Lust and Attraction.

I also have the free 5-day e course on writing emotions in layers that expands on the theory I’ve shared above.

July 1st is the release of Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layers. Subscribe to my blog or follow the Confident Writers page on Facebook for more details.


Is deep point of view something you feel you need to learn or learn more about? If you’ve mastered it already, what tips do you have to share?

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Lisa

Lisa Hall-WilsonLisa Hall-Wilson was a national award-winning freelance journalist and author who loves mentoring writers. Fascinated by history, fantasy, romance, and faith, Lisa blends those passions into historical and historical-fantasy novels.

Find Lisa’s blog, Beyond Basics for intermediate writers,  at www.lisahallwilson.com.