Writers in the Storm

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September 27, 2013

Emotional Barrier in Fiction: After You Cross It, What’s Next? (Part Two)

Today Tiffany Lawson Inman is continuing the discussion of the emotional barrier in fiction. If you missed Part One on Wednesday, click here.

We're lucky not only to have Tiffany share her knowledge with us, but she's giving away a "seat" in her next online class at the Lawson Writers Academy on this very subject to a commenter from Part One or Part Two.  We'll announce the winner on Monday. Contest closes Sunday, September 29, at noon.

Tiffany Lawson Inman, headshotby Tiffany Lawson Inman

Welcome back!

We learned in Part One of this post, that the emotional barrier is VERY IMPORTANT, and very hard to break down without completely collapsing in on ourselves. We are all afraid of icky gooey stuff that seeps out when we are alone, and it takes skill to use the memories and gut-wrench that is on the other side, right?


And comedians like Louis C.K. have the ability to rip truths out of the air and make them tangible, right?


And you all are going to do whatever you can to:

  • allow yourselves emotional release.
  • learn how to cross your emotional barrier.
  • learn how to use the emotions you can reach.
  • be fearless and vulnerable when using your own emotions.
  • realize that emotions are one of the most important factors in fiction.
  • unplug from technology every so often to reconnect with yourself, people, and life.
  • write truthful human emotions and create a strong connection between your readers and characters.


If you need a reminder, or didn’t get to read Part One, head on back to Wednesday’s post, Part One: Emotional Barrier in Fiction. Why is it so important for you to learn how to cross it? and we will see you back here in a sec.

Moving on to the meat.

Let’s assume that you have all either gone to a psychotherapist or have taken my class, From MADNESS to Method: Using acting techniques to invigorate your story and make each moment Oscar worthy! and can cross the emotional barrier with ease. *wink wink* And what you have found on the other side is absolutely amazing and totally usable for your fiction and you are raring to jump to the BIG emotional scenes in your novel and write write write!

No. I won’t let you. Not yet.

muppetAwww…come on!

First, we have to make sure your characters have a solid emotional base to jump off of, emotions to fly by, emotional places to visit, and an emotional crash pad. Donald Maass calls this an emotional landscape in Chapter Three of Writing 21st Century Fiction:

“To foster reader involvement it is first critical to map an emotional landscape which readers will travel. Readers must feel that they are on a journey, one with felt significance and a destination that we can sum up as change.”

Yes, your character has to start somewhere emotionally in order to have a journey. You can’t just plop them on the page and start writing events, plot points, outer conflict, and black moments without having an inner conflict jumping off point.  Starting with action is fun. Starting with dialogue, also fun.  But watch out, if the reader doesn’t know where your character is emotionally in the first few pages, their need to read on wanes. And if you, the writer doesn’t start out by mapping this emotional landscape, then you might end up writing the wrong level and wrong angle of emotion in those BIG scenes.

Let’s see how Lisa Unger starts her emotional landscape in Darkness, My Old Friend:


Failure wasn’t a feeling; it was a taste in his mouth, an ache at the base of his neck. It was a frantic hum in his head. The reflection of failure resided in his wife’s tight, fake smile when he came home at the end of the day. He felt the creeping grip of it in her cold embrace. She didn’t even know the worst of it. No one did. But they could all smell it, couldn’t they? It was like booze on his breath.


Wow, this guy is in a really good place in his life right now… . Sorry, couldn’t resist the sarcasm because it is painfully obvious he is on the wrong side of the happy-go-round.

Lisa Unger gives us one heck of an emotional base for this character:

  • Failure that leaves a taste in your mouth. That’s not a little failure, this, is a lot.
  • He can physically feel this emotion in his neck and head.
  • His wife fakes a smile at him.
  • Cold embrace means there is a lack of love and affection between them.
  • He tells us that all of this isn’t the worst of it, which means, this man has a BIG BAD secret.

All of this in the very first paragraph of the novel.

Unger used emotive words like:

  • Failure
  • Ache
  • Frantic
  • Tight
  • Fake
  • Creeping
  • Grip
  • Cold
  • Worst
  • Smell
  • Booze

We don’t have to hear the sirens to know the lights are flashing in this character’s future meltdown.  We know this character is bad news and we want to see how bad it gets. How many other characters can he take down with him? Or, will there be a surprise? Reader interest is definitely sparked and it’s because she started with emotion.

What if she had written:

Kevin felt like a failure. It made his neck tense and his head hurt. When he went home to his wife, she pretended she was happy he was home. They didn’t have much sex anymore. Probably for the best because he had a secret he hadn’t told anyone and it would probably affect their relationship.

Blah blah blah! My version opened the door for an emotional base, but it didn’t really let the reader in. Not a good way to start a book.

Okay okay, some of you think I cheated by showing the prologue, am I right? Because the prologue is supposed to be thick with emotion?  I agree. But I couldn’t not show you that, because I just think it’s a tasty start to a story.

Unger brings the emotional jack-hammer in Chapter One as well. Here you go:

Chapter One

Jones Cooper feared death. The dread of it woke him at night, sat him bolt upright and drew all the breath from his lungs, narrowed his esophagus, had him rasping in the dark. It turned all the normal shadows of the bedroom that he shared with his wife into a legion of ghouls and intruders waiting with silent and malicious intent. When? How? Heart attack. Cancer. Freak accident. Would it come for him quickly? Would it slowly waste and dehumanize him?  What, if anything, would await him?


See! Told you. Lisa Unger rocks at setting up the emotional landscape.  I have NO doubt that she is a frequent traveler across her own emotional barrier.

Part of Cooper’s inner conflict that we can see right away:

  • Will he live the rest of his life being afraid, allowing it to affect every day until a coffin surrounds his body?
  • Will he surpass his fear and surprise us at every turn?

What if she had written:

Jones Cooper woke up most nights with an extreme fear of death.

My version doesn’t have the same rhythm, cadence, intensity, or emotional resonance does it?

LOL, nope.

*Ah, before I go on, if you didn’t know already, if you have a Kindle, or a Kindle app, you can download a sample of most books on Amazon. It’s usually the first two chapters. This is a great way to see (and afford to see) all of your favorite authors and how they emotionally hook you in those two chapters. Unfortunately when a writer is as good as Lisa Unger, there is really no point in just reading the first two chapters, you simply must read the whole book. So head on over and read the rest (after you are finished reading this blog, of course). The prologue alone is worth its weight in gold.

Up next, Markus Sakey and the first few paragraphs of The Two Deaths Of Daniel Hayes:

Marcus cover                  He was naked and cold, stiff with it, his veins ice and frost. Muscles carved hard, skin rippled with goose bumps, tendons drawn tight, body scraped and shivering. Something rolled over his legs, velvet soft and shocking. He gasped and pulled seawater in to his lungs, the salt scouring his throat. Gagging, he pushed forward, scrabbling at dark stones. The ocean tugged, but he fought the last ragged feat crawling like a child.

                  As the wave receded it drew pebbles rattling across one another like bones, like dice, like static. A seagull shrieked its loneliness.

                  His lungs burned, and he leaned on his elbows and retched, liquid pouring in ropes from his open mouth, salt water and stomach acid. A lot, and then less, and finally he could spit the last drops, suck in quick shallow lungfuls of air that smelled of rotting fish.

                  In. Cough it out. There. There.

                  His hands weren’t his. Paler than milk and trembling with panicky violence. He couldn’t make them stop. He’d never been so cold.

                  What was he doing here?


From a quick first glance it seems as though these are all physical issues Sakey is giving his character. But if you take your pulse before you started reading this and after, you would most definitely have a difference in tempo.  This character is half dead and struggling to survive. He gives us some great images and metaphors to show emotion here.

  • Crawling like a child.
  • Pebbles rattling like bones.
  • Seagull shrieking its loneliness.
  • Trembling with panicky violence
  • “Cough it out. There. There.” As if he’s consoling a child, or his mother is there consoling him.

Not to mention ALL of the power words he uses. I’m pretty sure you can point them out. Too many to list!

Part of this character’s initial inner conflict:

  • Will he struggle to crawl out of the ocean to face whatever put him there in the first place?
  • Will he give up and die?

Hmmm… . I keep talking about inner conflict, Donald Maass defines it as follows:

“…don’t confuse inner conflict with inner turmoil, a messy indecision, waffling, and weakness  that turns readers off. Inner conflict is dilemma. A debate that can’t be won, an unavoidable fork in a road that leads to two equally feared or desired destinations. It’s a predicament that’s powerfully human.”

I love that. “…powerfully human.” Lisa Unger and Markus Sakey have done a brilliant job of showing a well defined inner conflict, and they have both done it on the first page!

Do you have to show a defined inner conflict on the first page?


But if you are starting with deep POV, the emotion had better be there and inner conflict better be right around the corner (like on one of the next three pages.) If you are starting off with action and dialogue, then we should have a sense of your character’s beginning emotional state. Here’s a good example. I am currently reading Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

Asher coverChapter One

                  “Sir?” she repeats. “How soon do you want it to get there?”

                  I rub two fingers, hard, over my left eyebrow. The throbbing has become intense. “It doesn’t matter,” I say.

                  The clerk takes the package. The same shoebox that sat on my porch less than twenty-four hours ago; rewrapped in a brown paper bag, sealed with clear packing tape, exactly as I had received it. But now addressed with a new name. The next name on Hannah Baker’s list.

                   “Baker’s dozen,” I mumble. Then I feel disgusted for even noticing it.

                  “Excuse me?”

                   I shake my head. “How much is it?”

                  She places the box on a rubber pad, then punches a sequence on her keypad.

                  I set my cup of gas-station coffee on the counter and glance at the screen. I pull a few bills from my wallet, dig some coins out of pocket, and place my money on the counter.

                  “I don’t think the coffee’s kicked in yet,” she says. “You’re missing a dollar.”

                  I hand over the extra dollar, then rub the sleep from my eyes. The coffee’s lukewarm when I take a sip, making it harder to gulp down. But I need to wake up somehow.

                  Or maybe not. Maybe it’s best to get through the day half-asleep. Maybe that’s the only way to get through today.


While we don’t know exactly what his inner conflict is yet, we have a ton of emotional hits and can get a pretty clear idea of what his emotional state is on the first page.

  • Asher starts the character in the middle of…something, and the character isn’t even paying attention. His mind is obviously elsewhere.
  • He’s rubbing his brow. Hard. A sign of emotion when coupled with the fact that he is having a hard time paying attention.
  • Throbbing in the brain is never a sign of something good.
  • Character says he doesn’t care.
  • Character mumbling to self, disgusted at self.
  • Not paying attention again when he shortchanges her.
  • Rubbing sleep from eyes. Normal action when you are getting out of bed, but this guy is already at the store with coffee in hand. Sign that sleep didn’t come easy if at all the night before.
  • Thinking that the only way to get through this day is to do it half asleep. Another clue that something crappy is going on in his life and it occupying his thoughts.

Have you noticed that even though these aren’t the BIG emotional scenes (that I won’t let you write yet without supervision) they are still stuffed with emotion?  ALL of that work that you did to cross the emotional barrier and everything you brought back with you WILL BE USED. Some of it in slivers here and there to help guide the reader on the emotional journey, and some of it in the BIG scenes.

But you can’t afford to save the whole bundle for that one BIG turning point, it won’t matter to the reader how much is in that scene, if they don’t know where the emotional journey started.

In the online course I teach, I work with writers to infuse emotion into their little moments as well as the big ones. Because so much can be shown in a “simple” scene between husband and wife over breakfast,  getting dressed for the day,  a phone conversation with your best friend, getting into a taxi, giving someone a gift, etc. These little emotional hops, skips, and dips might seem tedious to the emotional beginner, or be viewed as mushy gushy bits of language that could slow pace or veer your scene into a ditch, but as you can see from the above examples, pacing is not dropped and there aren’t any ditches.

Their writing is active.

And it is good!


I want to thank you and Writers In The Storm for letting me hog two spots this week.  Don’t worry, next month I will only write one (unless of course these lovely ladies invite me to do another!)

Ya know, a few weeks ago we had fun with writing a character infused action, wiping the nose, and you guys seemed to have fun with it. So I’m going to give you all another teeny-tiny-dust-spec of an assignment.  Are you game?


Take the situation from the last example, a character at a counter paying for something, and use your character, his/her emotional base and write an interaction between them and the clerk.

Oh, wait, this is Friday…I’m tired of working!

This isn’t work, it is writing! It is ART! Okay okay, if you don’t want to “work,” toss me a comment and just say “hi.”  But if you want to practice your art, I’ll be super excited!

I will be drawing a name from the comments on Sunday evening to gift a free slot in my online course, From MADNESS to Method: Using acting techniques to invigorate your story and make each moment Oscar worthy! to a lucky writer!  **Yup, you guessed it, this is the class where I teach you how to cross that pesky emotional barrier and how to apply what’s on the other side.**

From Madness to Method uses the father of all acting techniques, The Method. Writers will learn how to create the most real of real moments. Course exercises push writers to enhance their emotional repertoire. 

If we held an Academy Awards for fiction, would yours be a highly acclaimed nominee? Polish those shoes and spray on a tan.  After this workshop every moment in every scene will be worthy of actors like Meryl Streep and your characters will be hitting the red carpet!

From Madness to Method includes lectures, mental and physical exercises, assignments and examples from multiple genres. There will be hands-on interaction between you, your writing, and the instructor.

  • Access your sense memories to fuel character emotion on the page
  • Turn reality into fiction by awakening your innermost observational skills
  • Thrust your story forward by using every facet of character
  • Increase your character’s emotional authenticity
  • Create memorable moments readers will remember for years
  • Write with your scars

Sound like fun? Drop me a comment and your name will be in the drawing to get a free slot in this course!

Tiffany Lawson Inman (@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, Physicality, 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 and dramatic fiction editing services. Stay tuned to writersinthestorm.com to see Tiffany’s upcoming guest blogs, contests, and lecture packets.

84 comments on “Emotional Barrier in Fiction: After You Cross It, What’s Next? (Part Two)”

    1. morgynstarz, Yeay - you made it back here today! Thank you!

      I'll be heading over to random.org on Sunday evening to draw winner, I'll post in comments and will also be posted Monday morn. And if you don't win,(even though I think you ALL are winners!) there's plenty of time for you to 🙂

  1. Tiffany, I didn't think you could outdo your Wednesday post, but this sure did it. I have to go look at the beginning of my WIP, and be sure I'm slapping the reader with emotional portent!

    Then I have to go infuse the rest with...well, you know.


  2. Another wonderful post. It's almost discouraging to read passages like Ms. Ungers, because I doubt I will ever get there! But it's beautiful, too. All of the examples are great.

    I didn't participate in the nose swiping exercise, but I'm going to try this one. Here goes:

    “Overnight delivery?” the clerk asks.

    “Yes, please.” I force a polite smile until my eyes drop to the package in her hands. My mouth and throat go dry, but I refrain from snatching it back and stalking out the door.

    “Ten forty-six, please,” she says while affixing the label to the box.

    I set my purse on the counter. A slight tremor seizes control of my fingers, leaving me fumbling with my wallet clasp. I want this. The words I’ve recited dozens of times this past week fall flat in the face of the dark, twisted truth rearing its head to taunt me again. I don’t want this, but I’ll pursue it rather than face the alternative.

    That weakness tastes like battery acid on my tongue. It makes me want to smash all my mirrors so I don’t have to face the truth about myself. It makes me want to curl into a ball in a closet so no one else will ever see how different I am from whom I pretend to be.

    The clerk tosses the package aside and hands me some coins. “Fifty-four cents is your change. Have a great day!”

    “Thank you.” I pocket the change and inhale slowly, readjusting my invisible mask before I turn around to face the world once more.

    Thanks, again, for another helpful post.

    1. *Jumping up and down*

      YEAH!!!!! Highfive to Jamie for kicking a$$ today and completing the assignment challenge. Not easy to do in front of a live audience.

      I am very interested to see MORE of these characters.
      Thank you so much for reading and participating.

      My only fear is that you will intimidate the rest of the commenters, LOL!

      1. Thanks. I'm totally NOT intimidating, though, as I've seen the wonderful things this community always contributes to the blog and the comments. But I'm encouraged by your enthusiastic response. I needed a little pick-me-up! 😉

  3. Hey, Tiffany! I would have posted this comment on the first part, but I arrived late to that post.

    First, a pimp comment for you. When we worked together on ALL INN, you challenged me to amp my character's action to something stronger than holding her hands behind her back with her thumbnail pressed into tender palm flesh. At first, I thought, "What the cluck? It shows she's inflicting pain to control her angst." You said you'd seen it before, called a bit cliché. C&P previous thought. Then, I decided to give it a go.

    The resultant scene carries much more Molly Moxie than the original. Thank you! I'll be back for a repeat visit on METHOD TO MADNESS.

    Second, I'm ignoring the first few paragraphs of ALL INN (for now) because I find I'm trying too hard to be clever. Molly's emotionally landscape at the time the book opens is blurred. And, gets blurrier with each rewrite. This post solved that problem. No. I can't tell you yet. I have to sit down and FEEL the panic attack. I've had them. I need to put myself back on scene so I can take Molly there.

    Third, I am SO coming back with an example to post. A challenge? Can't pass up that opportunity. Especially from you. Later!

    1. Gloria!

      I'm so happy you joined the party 🙂 Can't wait to see your example.

      Thanks for sharing how I influenced your WIP and steered it in a smoother MORE emotional direction. *patting myself on the back*

      What? You can't tell me yet? 🙁 Well just make sure you have an emotional escape plan if you are going to put yourself into a panic attack. PRETTY PLEASE! They are very unique when they happen and I understand the want/need to get in there deep and experience it, but be safe, ok?

  4. Thanks, Tiffany! Your two posts come at the most opportune moment in my WIP. I say that as I'm nearing the last quarter and digging for that emotional reveal to show how my MC has grown, changed, learned throughout the story. I'll be sure to apply what you've shared here as I start the revisions. Thanks again!

    1. Betty -
      You are very welcome! I wish you the very best of luck and TONS of energy for
      upcoming rewrites. Sometimes you can add emotion with just a few words.

      Thank you for reading today! Stay tuned on Sunday/Monday to see who wins the class 🙂

  5. "Did you find everything you need?" The voice shattered Clara's thoughts. What had she been thinking about?
    "Are you ready to check out?" the girl behind the counter plastered a smile on her face. It looked more like a grimace. "Ma'am?"
    Clara stared at the girl, heat flooding her cheeks. The counter stretched an impossible distance away.
    "Ma'am, are you OK?" The clerks ghastly smile faded. Colors blurred and lights flickered as the floor reached up to claim it's victim.

  6. One of the things I like the best about the excerpts you mentioned is how physical they are -- as a reader, I'm right there in the bodies of the characters, not just in their heads. So it's not "he was sad/scared/lonely" -- it's about the taste in his mouth, the ache in his temple, the tightness in his tendons.

  7. Ok, I just signed up for your class. Don't know quite what I'm getting into, but I do know I need all the help I can get! So, HHHHHEEEEELLLLLLPPPPPPP! Thanks.

  8. I am twenty years old and writing has always been a passion of mine. I have yet to complete a story, but I won't give up. You make everything so clear and easy to understand. You have answers to questions I haven't even thought to ask. You are amazing!

    1. Alice,
      Good for you! Writing, and well, any art form, is something that sometimes takes months, years, even lifetimes to achieve excellence in our view and the public eye. But the WHOLE journey is worth it. So glad I was a step ahead of your brain today 🙂

      If you are in college, learn whatever you can IN college and AT THE SAME TIME, start branching out into the real world to see what is out here. Learn wherever you can. I know that means more work for you, but the more experiences you have as a person (not just as a college student) the more you will have to put into your writing.

      Nobody told me that when I was in school and I was very frustrated that I didn't know more about what professionals were doing when I got out. By reading this blog today, shows me that you are already striving for a broader education. Kudos!

      Thanks for reading today!

  9. Us west coasters may seem to be chiiming in late, but it’s still morning here.
    This is good timing. I just got a “great writing but I’m just not connecting to the character” response, so I obviously have to look at the clarifying the emotional starting point of the characters.
    Here’s an excerpt for the homework: Maddie is renting a cabin.

    “Four hundred a month, two months in advance.”
    Yes! She barely stopped her fist from punching the air. “Who do I pay?”
    The woman peered over the glasses perched on her nose. “You can pay me now, and at the first of the month. Name’s Fiona.That’ll be eight hundred dollars. Cash or check?”
    Maddie’s eyebrows shot up. “That’s it?”
    Fiona looked pointedly at the customers falling into line behind her. “We know where you live.”
    “Cash.” Maddie scanned the store for a private spot. “I’ll just pick up a few things first.”
    Grabbing a basket, she tried to walk casually to the back of the store even though her heart was pounding in her chest. Turning her back to the till, she reached into her shoulder bag and brought out the money-sock and the roll of bills.
    Peeling sixteen fifties off the roll was as painful as peeling off a fresh layer of skin. But at the rate she’d been going through her bankroll since she’d gotten to the Island, the cabin was a bargain. Just thinking of the small private space – no noisy neighbors the floor below, no Mr. Caspicio waiting in the hall to cop a feel – a warmth washed over her that made the muscles in her shoulders that had tightened during her quest turn into soft putty. Surely she could be happy there. Putting the sock back in her shoulder bag, she filled her basket with staples and walked to the counter.
    “What’s my landlord’s name?” she asked as Fiona signed the receipt.
    “Landlady. Mrs. Murphy. You’ll meet her soon enough.”

    Enjoyed the post.
    Judy Hudson

    1. Judy,
      Well done! Thank you for participating and bringing your writing guns to the WITS
      blog today.

      It's amazing how a small seemingly insignificant transaction can open up so many reader
      questions. And my interest is definitely sparked from reading your

      Have a great weekend!

  10. Okay, I'll give it a go and start my class early:

    The sleigh bells on the door jangled and another body squeezed into the tiny area.
    Great. Now there was a line forming behind her.
    Alicia's face flushed hot then cold, starting at her hairline and racing down her chin, her neck and finally her back. An image popped into her head - a serpentine line full of important people with critical business snaking out the door, wrapping around the building. A living thing with thousands of toes tapping, thousands of fingers drumming impatiently.
    Waiting waiting waiting. On her.
    "Oh! I'm sorry! What did you say?"
    The words sliced through the roaring in Alicia's ears. Her heart tripped like a hummingbird's - she was trapped! A wall - well, a half wall - was before her, and behind her was a toe-tapping, finger-drumming, murmuring serpent with urgent boxes to ship !
    A huff from the high schooler working the counter. "I sa-id, that'll be eight forty-six."
    Alicia fumbled the clasp. Her fingertips were sweaty, her hands shook, and the bills sprang from her wallet. Coins flew before Alicia's eyes like space debris in slow motion, dancing and spinning through the air, pinging and clattering on the terrazzo floor.
    "Let me help you," said the man who waited by the door.

    Okay, stopping now. Thanks Tiffany! Tell me where I can be more emotional.

    1. Ok - great start, Pamela! Now pull it back.

      What? Yup. Pull it back, reign it in, dial down some of this:

      "An image popped into her head – a serpentine line full of important people with critical business snaking out the door, wrapping around the building. A living thing with thousands of toes tapping, thousands of fingers drumming impatiently."
      "The words sliced through the roaring in Alicia’s ears. Her heart tripped like a hummingbird’s – she was trapped! A wall – well, a half wall – was before her, and behind her was a toe-tapping, finger-drumming, murmuring serpent with urgent boxes to ship !"

      It's too much of the same image/feelings.

      Now go back in and give us a little something that connects WHY she is feeling this pressure. Don't tell us why. But remember in Jay Asher excerpt you feel that disconnect between the character and what is happening around the character. He was able to give us a sense that something was wrong with this day and it wasn't the fact that he was paying to send a package.

      From your excerpt I am feeling the panic and the urgency, but feel like it's only coming from the fact that there are too many people around her (now if that is the case, then kudos and I will shut up 🙂 ) But I think there is something else here, yes? pretend it's a mini mystery and give us a clue. Asher dropped the line in there that sparked my curiosity - it was about the baker's dozen and the fact that he was disgusted to have even thought about it.

      ok I have typed too long and my baby is crying her head off. 🙁 I would go on in a few directions here, but, lets save it for class, yes?

      Thank you so much for "working" on a Friday! I can tell we are going to have fun in class. Bring your friends! 🙂

    2. I think I got her to sleep. As I was rocking, I was thinking about your excerpt and how much I LOVE the serpent image. LOVE LOVE LOVE. But just use it the first time.Yes?

      Not sure if I was clear in my earlier post. I wanted a sense of where her anxiety was coming from. I didn't know if it was fear, shame, guilt, etc. Make sense?

      1. Yes! I think I see where I missed out here when you said the disconnect with the 'baker's dozen' reference.
        Okay... just back from a weekend of too much fun without internet. Must mull.

  11. These are such helpful posts, Tiffany. I'm always challenging myself to dig deeper and pull the emotion out of my characters because my own emotional barriers are made of 10 foot blocks of concrete. Ugh! I have to be extra careful that I don't "tell" their feelings instead of show them.

    Here's something really weird: The one thing that grips me emotionally, and therefore allows me to filter it into my characters, is dance. Not me dancing, heaven forbid, but watching the performance of emotionally powerful choreography. The fluidity of movement performed by lithe human bodies, couples in particular, always twists my heart into knots. It puts me in a vulnerable place that I can then transfer to my characters. I'm a blubbering fool after watching a particularly graceful dance performance. I know this isn't your assignment, but I wanted to share. 🙂 There could be other closet dance enthusiasts who are affected the same way and could use the emotional fallout to benefit their writing.

    1. Karen,
      Thank you for reading today! It's not a subject a lot of folks like to tackle because there are so many published authors out there writing cliched and trite emotions, keeping it safe, they figure, well what's the difference? Why should they work harder if it gets published the way it is. 🙁 so sad!

      That is a BIG BARRIER! LOL. I hope you have a chisel or a jack hammer handy 🙂

      That is a great example of humans crossing the barrier! So much emotion is a part of dance. Thank you for talking about it. And it's glaringly obvious when the routine is done without emotion. Just doing the steps ain't gonna cut it.

      Have a great weekend!

  12. I'm not sure I did it right, but I tried. Here it is:

    "Can I help you?" The gas attendant smacked her baby pink gum, as she filed her fingernails.

    Carter slams the bottle of whiskey onto the counter. He places a hand on the counter to steady himself. The room around tilting back and forth, like an amusement park ride. He places his other hand at his temple, as if his hand could stabilize his shifting brain. "Can I get a pack of camel crush?" He slurs, an image flickers in his mind. That's his brand. He shakes his head back and forth. The alcohol's numbness could only last so long. The rhythmic beating in his chest accelerates matching the sync of his frantic shallowing breaths. He feels the lump fall down his throat into his stomach, as the panic sets in. Glimpse and pieces of the memories come flooding in, chaotic, with no sense of structure. The thoughts sending waves of shivers thorough out his body. He smacks his hands against his ears, as the bombs ring in his ears. His eyes squeezed tight, yet the tears escape. "No!" He shouts as his eyes shoot open, and an erie silence fills the air.

    "Sir, do you want it? Yes or no?" He lifts his head up to look at the girl, blinking a few times. She wears a frown, as she rolls her eyes.

    "Yes," he whispers, out of breath.

    "35.99," The gas attendant stared at him, deadpan. Carter drops two bills on the counter, and snatches his cigarettes and liquor as he limps out the door.


      Seriously? Did you do it right? Are you kidding me?

      Heck yes, you did it right.

      Yeah, ok, there are some issues in there, like too much simultaneity: the word "as" is a killer. This happened as this was happening. This happened while this was happening. When this happened, this happened.

      The reader reads one event at a time and jumbling more than one doesn't let the story happen in a linear form. I know people do two things at once in life, but with fiction it stumbles our brains. And sometimes the image doesn't make sense for it to happen at the same time, like your last line:
      "Carter drops two bills on the counter, and snatches his cigarettes and liquor as he limps out the door." How can he drop bills, get his cigs n booze AND limp out the door. It takes the power away from the active image if you say he's doing it all at once. Also, Your sentence structure is repeated over and over and the reader will get tired of it. There are so many more ways to show action without simultaneity. Make sense?

      Ack, before you think I am raggin on you....totally NOT my intention. Moving you closer to finishing the best version of your WIP and then poof, to publication - THAT IS my goal 🙂

      Cuz, Alice, you have got IT.

      I almost didn't see the simultaneity because I was soooooo drawn in to what was happening to this guy emotionally and physically. WOOT WOOT!

      Good stuff. And yes, I want to read more. I really hope I get to read more in my October class!!!!

      Thank you so much for writing and posting today.

      1. Your honesty is welcomed, and your words are encouraging! 🙂 Thank you for all that advice.

  13. So stoked to see you here and with such a fantastic pair of posts. Makes me want to run out and buy Lisa Unger for sure, but also makes me want to dig into all of my WIPs scenes and dredge the bottom for the good stuff that hides beneath. Thanks Tiffany!

    1. Now there is a face I haven't seen in a while! HELLO JESSICA *both hands waving!

      Thank you for popping over here today and for reading BOTH posts 🙂 Awesome, makes me feel good.

      Oooh I bet you have tons of good stuff in your WIP that could be tweaked with a little more emotion to make an even tighter grip on your readers.

      Have fun with it!


  14. Okay. I'm going to try the assignment. It probably won't be any good, but I'm about start Book 2 of my Peri Jean Mace series and it'll be good practice. 🙂


    "When do you need it to get there?" The cashier never stopped tapping on her smartphone. The clickety-clack sound rasped at my raw nerves.

    "Yesterday." I crammed my hand in my pocket, digging for the last of my money. My empty stomach hollered for food. I ignored it. Food wouldn't matter if I didn't get that package to that psycho in the desert.

    "I can't have something delivered yesterday." She grinned at something on the smart phone's screen and tapped out more words. "Earliest it'll get there is tomorrow morning."

    I itched to snatch the phone from her, to yell in her face. But I couldn't do that. If I raised hell, she'd never forget me. Someone would be around sooner than later showing her my picture and asking about me. I had a chance--a slim one--if she didn't remember me.

    "I just meant as fast as possible." I set the stack of small bills on the counter. "Tomorrow's perfect."

    She snorted and raised her head for the first time. Her gaze flicked over me, almost dismissed me, but snapped back. Her eyes widened. Her lips parted.

    My muscles stung as adrenaline poured into my bloodstream. Too late. I was too late. They were already here. An orange curtain separating the back room from the mail store twitched. No. If they got the package, it was all over.

    I snatched the package off the counter with one hand and scrabbled for the money with the other. It flew off the counter and drifted lazily to the grungy carpet. No time to pick it up. I ran for the door.


    Horrid, I know. I already see a million things wrong with it.

    As for your post, Tiffany, interesting idea about the emotional landscape. I've never thought of it that way, but you're exactly right. I have read THE FIRE IN FICTION by Donald Maass. But I need to make a point to get WRITING 21st CENTURY FICTION (and read it). 🙂

    1. Oh, stop, Catie!

      It's not horrid at all!
      My eyes were racing down the page. I could feel the fear and urgency for sure!

      Man, writers are hard on themselves... . 🙁

      What I want you to show a little more frantic/awkwardness/anxiety in her actions between telling the reader she is trying to be incognito and the line of dialogue and handing her the money.


      I itched to snatch the phone from her, to yell in her face. But I couldn’t do that. If I raised hell, she’d never forget me. Someone would be around sooner than later showing her my picture and asking about me. I had a chance–a slim one–if she didn’t remember me.

      “I just meant as fast as possible.” I set the stack of small bills on the counter. “Tomorrow’s perfect.”

      Just an action that magnifies how important it is for her to remain unknown. And don't go with the obvious or cliched ones, like putting sunglasses on, etc.

      Thanks again for writing today! And yes, buy Writing 21st Century Fiction, and read it. Haha!

      Oh, and kudos to you, because there is a wonderful use of voice in your excerpt as well.

  15. I'm in--love this. Here is mine:

    I clutched the box to my chest, my eyes darting to the stapler carelessly tossed to the side, signs placed in thoughtless patterns, and scraps of paper lay forgotten from like scattered thoughts. I couldn't help my fingers as I poked the smooth plastic of one sign. An urge to put everything an order a driving force in a world where nothing seemed to make sense.

    "Ma'am can I help you?"

    Snatching my hand back I force my lips into something I hope is a smile and the quizzical lift of the clerk's eyebrows makes me realize I failed.

    "Yes." I manage, happy my voice doesn't come out in a whisper. I lay the brown-paper box in the center of the desk, making sure it is equally distant from the walls. "I'd like to mail this." Such simple words when what I wanted was so out of reach, no matter how many things I fixed, brushed off, or straightened would make it right.

    "No problem." Such a cheery, bright voice, vibrating with energy all in a world where all I felt was gray.
    Thank you for letting me participate. I am late--but I had to try.

    1. You aren't late, myfreeman, I will be checking back all weekend!

      Nicely done! OOoo I like the last line the best.

      AND I adore the "I couldn’t help my fingers as I poked the smooth plastic of one sign. An urge to put everything an order a driving force in a world where nothing seemed to make sense." VERY unique and wonderfully human.

      I'm so glad you came back to write this!!! Thank you thank you!

  16. Okay, here is my go at it. Not quite the situation you used as an example, but it was inspired by it:
    “I need to see your ID,” the waitress yells louder this time, straining to be heard over the thump-thump-thump of the music.
    I feel for the frayed strap on the back of my chair, pulling my messenger bag up and into my lap. I blink down at it, trying to ignore the familiar burning sensation warming my cheeks. Why wasn’t anyone else at the table carded?
    The waitress stands with her hand out, a striking figure in her low-cut purple blouse and little black skirt. Two men at an adjacent table can’t help but look. I deliberately stop rummaging for my wallet to fan myself, hoping the three other girls at my table will attribute my flushed face to the hot, crowded bar. I feel their eyes on me as I finally pull out my drivers’ license and hand it over.
    “Alabama?” The waitress says with arched eyebrows. “I’ll have to show this to my manager.”
    She turns and walks away before I can stop her. I feign a smile at the girls I’m sitting with, girls I just met this morning when I moved into the graduate student apartments.
    “How old are you anyway?” my roommate Gabriella asks, flipping her silky black hair over her shoulder with a perfectly manicured hand. “I thought you looked young, but I didn’t know you were a baby.”
    I manage another fake smile as they laugh, shifting in my chair. My license proves that I turned 21 two weeks ago, but apparently that doesn’t matter to L.A. waitresses.
    I trace two fingers along my collarbone, pulling at the itchy neck of my sweater. My license and the drink I ordered need to get here soon. What was I thinking anyway, wearing a sleeveless turtleneck my first night out? Every girl in the place, including my new found friends and all the waitresses, looks and dresses like a Victoria’s Secret model.
    The waitress winds her way back to us, expertly balancing a tray of drinks high above everyone’s heads. She hands Gabriella her drink, announcing its name with a flourish. She does the same for Kayla and Megan, then turns and gives the rest of the drinks to the men at the adjacent table.
    “Aren’t you going to say anything?” Gabriella says, smirking at me.
    The waitress turns back to our table. She reaches in her apron pocket and hands my license back to me. “Sorry, we can’t serve you any alcohol. But you can order a soda.”

    Advice is appreciated. I would love to win a seat in your class 🙂

    1. Beth, thank you so much for posting your full comment. Feels better to have them all in the same place 🙂

      There is a good sense of her emotion here, but it feels like it's coming from a lot of different areas at once and I'm not feeling a build.

      So she is new to LA. barely 21, with new "friends," feels like she is sticking out in the crowd anyway with her outfit, and now the waitress is making the whole situation worse.

      That's a lot to take in, so we have to define a few of the interactions she has with the other characters and have specific emotional responses and physical actions so the readers can feel each mini event with her. Make sense?

      “I need to see your ID,” the waitress yells louder this time, straining to be heard over the thump-thump-thump of the music. ** her visceral reaction needs to be here, and then she can slowly come to life and reach for her bag. Make the situation worse - she can dig dig dig into her bag, you know the feeling when people are waiting on you to find something and it makes it that much harder to find? Use that to build tension here. **

      I was surprised she didn't have more of a reaction when her new roomy called her a baby. This is someone she has to spend the whole year with. Yikes! I want her to say something here too. So we can hear her voice and you can show emotion through her dialogue and dialogue cues.

      I think I said this to ... Julie Glover in her excerpt, tension needs to build the entire time she is sitting there, so everything that happens to her is like putting another match on the fire. Then when waitress comes back with the ID, instead of getting the fire extinguisher that she wants, ( breath holding moment) the waitress offers her the soda and to your character she might as well have tossed a stick of dynamite into the mix.


      Very impressed with how you brought us into the environment of the scene. Music thumping, crowded, itchy sweater, waitress maneuvering through crowd. You are competing with a lot of stimulation through the setting,other characters and internally. So make sure when she is having a reaction to something - we can see/feel it.

      Thank you for jumping into the assignment with both feet! Gosh, I feel like I started the class early...LOL!

      Stay tuned on Sunday for winner announcement.


      1. Thanks so much for your comments on my writing! I definitely can learn a lot from your class. I plan to follow your link and sign up for the class. It's been a lifelong dream of mine to publish a novel (actually many, I hope) some day (sooner than later), so your class will be another step towards making this dream of mine come true. Your posts and the comments here are very helpful to everyone. Thanks again!

  17. Okay, here we go...

    Paul juggled the bottle between his hands and peered over the shoulder of the man in front of him. Even in her blue work shirt, with her brown hair pulled back in tight ponytail, Louisa seemed to glow from within. His eyes were drawn down to where a missed button made her shirt gape slightly, the glimpse of beige lace making his cheeks flush with heat. His pulse edged up a notch as she handed the man his change, gave him a tight smile and then turned her attention to the next customer. Paul.

    He stepped towards the counter, tried to swallow the lump in his throat, and then he felt the bottle begin to slip in his sweaty palms. He fumbled with the smooth glass but it was like trying to hold on to a fish. It fractured into pieces, glass pin-wheeling across the floor, lemonade pooling at his feet. Paul buckled at the knees, frantically scraping the wet glass into a pile, oblivious to the cold liquid soaking into his jeans. And then the moment he had been waiting all year for, she spoke to him.

    "You are such a retard."

    He froze, his skin prickling, the mess underneath his fingers blurring in front of his eyes.

    1. My my, littlemiss, you were up late 🙂

      And I'm glad you did, because this is great! I can see the scene unfold. The emotions you use are physically and mentally active. Thumbs up! Poor Paul. I feel for him, you made a reader feel for your character. Goal achieved!

      The only changes I would make would be to get rid of the filter phrasing and by doing that, you will create even more of a connection with your reader. At first glance, these phrases I would nix:
      "making his cheeks,
      he felt the,
      and then the moment he had "

      Instead, simply show his cheeks heating up. Show the bottle slipping. And the last line is the most important because this whole thing is leading up to this monumental embarrassing moment, right? The way it's written now, takes the immediacy away from the moment. We don't get to fully experience the horror that is coming over him second to second after she says those words.

      Here is a breakdown of what I would write:

      ...oblivious to the cold liquid soaking into his jeans.

      “You are such a retard.” *add a dialogue cue/tone, quality, rate, emphasis on which word, etc. ---what her voice sounds like to him. Maybe even a mini-metaphor to allow us to "hear/visualize" it too. But if you add the mini metaphor and it slows the pace, then nix it.

      Paul froze, his skin prickling, the mess underneath his fingers blurring in front of his eyes. *amplify his physical emotional reaction (visceral) then show us an actual physical reaction (dipping his head down, or clenching his hands, something like that) and then he can think about "the moment he'd been waiting for all year."

      By doing all of this you have given the reader a proper stimulus/ response or also referred to as motivation/ reaction.

      Why do I want you to write all of this for one moment, in this order? Because it is a big moment for Paul, you have amplified his response into the full three part reaction: 1.the emotional response/visceral 2.physical "kneejerk" reaction 3. finally his body is done reacting and his brain is able to piece together a thought about what is happening.

      And again, I say, "Poor Paul!" You did a fantastic job of getting us inside his head and heart in this excerpt. We can tell he has been watching her for a while and every inch of her sets his heart on fire.

      LOVE THIS: "Even in her blue work shirt, with her brown hair pulled back in tight ponytail, Louisa seemed to glow from within. His eyes were drawn down to where a missed button made her shirt gape slightly, the glimpse of beige lace..."

      Thank you thank you thank you for participating. Really. Good.Work!

      Check back on Sunday night for the winner announcement!

      1. Thanks for the fantastic feedback. It really is invaluable. I have another question though, should writers writer like this ALL the time or only in meaningful moments?

        PS I live in Australia so not really a late night 😉

  18. Great advice, Tiffany! I'll take a stab at the assignment as well:

    I slid the six-pack across the short counter to the clerk. The middle-aged man pulled his eyes away from the small TV to the left of the register showing a soccer game.

    "I need to see your I.D.," he said, one eyebrow raised like I was trying to pull something over on him.

    My stomach hop-scotched, and I reached into the wallet for my card. I slapped it onto the counter with a confidence in complete opposition to the pounding of my heart only a few feet away from my steady hand. Of course I was trying to pull something over on him.

    I wondered which commandment I was breaking this time. Oh yeah, DO NOT LIE. I was definitely not 21 years old, not for another really long five years.

    He studied the photo, my birthdate, and the card in general. This fake ID had better work, or I was in a heap of trouble with The Preacher (aka Dad). The police too, but I knew from experience that they were more forgiving than the parents.

    I tapped one finger on the counter to demonstrate the impatience a 21 year old might have for such a long perusal of an identification card. Meanwhile, my other hand tapped wildly on the thigh of my jeans, trying to calm my jig-dancing nerves. Heap. Of. Trouble.

    Finally, the clerk gave a short nod, passed the ID back, and announced the total. I fought against the urge to just throw a ten dollar bill at him and run, happy that I'd gotten away with it. Instead, I carefully placed the money on the counter. But it wasn't until he handed back my change, and I opened the store's door to the chill of night that my hard-clenched body began to relax.

    Scratch that. My body began to party, a surge of adrenaline coursing through every happy vein. Fine, it was just a six-pack, but it was my first successful purchase with a new, you-bet-it-works ID.

    And hey, about that commandment...it was stupid anyway. Hello, it's not like there was a drinking age in the Bible! Jesus was probably drinking wine at festivities from age 13 or whatever. If anything, I was behind. Which I would remedy with my best friend Lacey right now...starting with this six-pack of beer.

    1. Julie,

      HELLO VOICE! Great personality here. I can really get a sense of what
      kind of kid this is.

      I would like a little more visceral emotion from him though.

      This is a big deal - first time using a fake ID? Did you ever try it? Well I was naughty and I did. I was an emotional wreck! Throughout the whole thing thought I was going to pee my pants. And i was seconds away from saying, "hahhaha! Gotcha, I'm just joking around, I don't really want to get in the club, see ya later!" and run down the street before they could punish me.

      So, what am I saying? The adrenaline should be with him the entire time screwing with his system. You did the tummy hopscotch (love it, keep it) and the pounding of heart (telling and cliche - but you could totally write it fresh!)

      But I want more emotion directly linked to what is happening in the scene. We are missing the TENSION BUILDERS here. Make sense? Go through and look at every interaction he has with the clerk, the beer and the ID. And every new thing that the clerk does. Is your character reacting to each stimulus? Either with a visceral, active emotion physical (like hand shaking or adjusting clothing, etc.)

      His thoughts seem like valid thoughts to be having at this time, but they aren't erratic enough and they slow the pace of the scene. Show the reader how time feels to this kid as he stands there. During times of duress our thoughts sometimes get jumbled and fragmented, right?

      We should feel tension tensiontension all the way up until he gets out the door - which is right where you say he relaxes. Did you catch that? "say he relaxes." Telling! 🙁

      "But it wasn’t until he handed back my change, and I opened the store’s door to the chill of night that my hard-clenched body began to relax. "

      A touch of author intrusion. Because you use "but it wasn't until" you have changed time on us and brought the reader out of the moment. Reword and show him walk out the door and what the let down of adrenaline and night chill does to his body/brain. Make sense?

      My favorite part of this whole thing is his giddy and hilarious rant at the end!

      "Fine, it was just a six-pack, but it was my first successful purchase with a new, you-bet-it-works ID.

      And hey, about that commandment…it was stupid anyway. Hello, it’s not like there was a drinking age in the Bible! Jesus was probably drinking wine at festivities from age 13 or whatever. If anything, I was behind. Which I would remedy with my best friend Lacey right now…starting with this six-pack of beer."

      Truly funny stuff.

      Thank you thank you for chiming in with your assignment!

      1. Thanks so much, Tiffany! I knew you'd have great editing tips (free, no less! 🙂 ).

        Honestly, if this was really a scene in my book, I'd draw it out a lot longer, but I didn't want to do that in a comment. I like this idea enough, though, that it might end up in a sequel for this character. So I'm keeping all of these comments for the future.

        And NO, I never had a fake ID or tried to buy liquor pre-21 years. I was way too chicken! (But I grew up as a preacher's daughter, so I can relate to rationalizing recklessness and religion, LOL. Thus, the rant.)

  19. Just got this e-mail and wanted to chime in on how much I enjoyed it. The comparison between "great" writing and "ho-hum" glared out at me. Makes me want to go back to my wip and make sure I'm doing it right.
    Your class sounds awesome.

  20. I use irony in my fiction, which requires a certain narrative distance. It's challenging moving in and out of deep POV to bring in the character's emotion. I doubt I'll ever write like the authors in the examples, but breaking through that emotional barrier is still essential to connecting readers to the characters.

  21. Love this! I've had my eye on this class since I first saw it listed on Margie's site! But my schedule just hasn't worked out yet.

    I SO want to do this exercise, but I really need to sleep before my six-month-old wakes up again. (Good thing they're so cute, eh?)


    First I want to thank you all for participating in my two part blog on Emotional Barriers.

    Thank you to the writers who put their creative hearts on the page and stepped up to the mini- assignment challenge.

    Thank you to the writers who put their emotional hearts out there and shared a little of themselves after Wednesdays blog.

    Thank you to the writers who gave me virtual high fives and kudos on the blog.

    And a HUGE thank you to WITS for letting me do a two part blog this week!

    It is such a wonderful feeling to see the writing community come together to learn and share on these sites. Kudos to everyone!

    Even Marcus Sakey, Jay Asher, and Lisa Unger popped over to read and say "Hi" and "Thank You" and "You nailed it' on Twitter. (yes, it proves these top-notch writers are in fact human. )

    How fabulous is that?!?!?

    Wicked fabulous 🙂

    And now, the moment you have all been waiting for.............The winner of a free slot in the Madness to Method class:

    JUDY HUDSON *applause!* (I''ll contact you via email tonight, Judy.)

    As for the rest of you. If you are out here reading and learning and applying what you learn to your writing. And if you are willing to put yourself out there and take a classes to better your fiction, well then gosh, you are winners too! *I just can't give you all free slots in the class...sorry!*

    I hope to see your bright shiny faces in class on October 2nd! Enrollment is open now, here is the link: http://www.margielawson.com/lawson-writers-academy-courses/detail/2-writing/94-october-from-madness-to-method-using-acting-techniques-to-invigorate-your-story-and-make-each-moment-oscar-worthy

    I'll be back on WITS mid-October.

    See you then!

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