The Emotional Rollercoaster

I learned something this weekend that I wanted to share. I know this won’t come as a surprise to a lot of you, and I guess on some superficial level I already knew this. For some reason the following statement became very real to me this past week.

Writng is emotional.

Or at least it should be. I’m not talking about the submission process. We all know the ups and downs of sending your completed manuscript out into the world for people to read and critique. We’ve all heard about the extreme highs of acceptance and deep lows of form rejections. These are all worthy topics, but I don’t want to discuss them today. Today, I want to talk about the actual writing process: the drafting and creating, the polishing and perfecting. When you take a blank page and create a world and characters to put in that world — the birth of a story.

Let me explain.

I finished my latest work-in-progress last Friday. After I hit the “send” button that shipped it off into cyber space to my editor at Loose-Id, I felt emotionaly drained. Never before had I become so close to my characters, so close to a story. Those of you who have read Spyder’s Web know that my writing in general is very dark, but this story was not only dark…  it was tragic. There were three main characters in the story and each of them had flaws which resulted in them being isolated and tortured, either emotionally or physically. As the plot moved forward, they resisted the changes they knew they had to make for their survival, which lead to a couple of very tense, highly emotional scenes. Even when the manuscript was finished, those characters and scenes stayed with me. They stay with me still.

roller coaster

This represents my emotions while writing Under Fire. Every manuscript is an emotional ride for me, but for some reason, writing this manuscript took a lot more out of me.

As an effort to exhume the story so I could prepare for another project, I tried reading a book. I was excited to get to know new characters and set off on an entirely different adventure.

It didn’t happen.

I opened the book to the first page and was immediately plunged into an action packed, life-or-death situation. It was everything a hook should be, yet…it wasn’t. As I was reading I realized that although the story had a lot of drama, I wasn’t feeling it. I wasn’t THERE with them. I wasn’t being swept away.

I wondered why. I tried analyzing it, re-reading it, even breaking it down into sections, and I could only come up with one answer: it wasn’t emotional. The writing was more clinical, more detached. I was never really allowed to get into the character’s head and therefore didn’t feel the sense of life and death I should have felt. I didn’t connect with the story and I’m sad to say that after 50 pages, I put it down and picked up another book.

This one was much better. I noticed that instead of starting off with a physical punch, it started off with an emotional one. While the incident was very minor, the feelings associated with the incident weren’t. Emotions were high and in danger of overflowing. As a result I was immediately swept away and up until 2AM reading.

Michelle Styles, a Harlequin historical author, once told me that a reader only feels about 10% of the emotion that a writer puts into the story. I knew that, I did. But for some reason it really hit home this weekend. In order for a reader to feel a twinge of sadness over the heroine’s brother’s death, the writer needs to be on the verge of tears as he/she writes the passage. Emotion doesn’t translate equally, it gets filtered and diluted over the words. To really pack an emotional punch you need to pour everything you have into a story. If your characters aren’t making you emotionally invested as a writer, how can you expect them to do that to your reader? The best stories, IMHO, are the ones that stick with you long after you read “The End”.

I have no idea how my editor will react to the story I just sent her. Will she be like me and tear up when the heroine turns her back on the first hero, leaving him alone and isolated in his prison? Or grab a tissue when the second hero chooses duty over his heart? Will the characters continue to haunt her after she reads “The End”? Although she may not feel the same strong emotions I did while writing it, hopefully my words will evoke sympathy and compassion, and she will be swept up into the story. After all, that’s what story telling is all about, isn’t it?


So I want to hear from all of you. If you are a writer, tell us about a time when your characters evoked a strong emotion from you. What emotion was it? Did it stay with you? Did your characters ever stay with you after you completed a story?

And if you are a reader, have you ever read a story that made you laugh out loud? Go for the tissues? If so, I want to hear about it!


14 Responses to “The Emotional Rollercoaster”
  1. Nini says:

    Morning Sue…

    When i was ‘just’ a reader, i would know, within the first chapter or two, if i was going to like the book. Linda Howard’s Mr. Perfect stuck with me, because at the end of the first chapter, i laughed out loud and my husband wanted to know what was funny. When i told him, he shrugged and i went on reading. This book was sexy, fun and just ‘perfect’. Same for Julie Garwood’s The Bride and Lion’s Lady. Parts just stick in my mind for their humor and emotion.

    As a writer, though, i’m finding i’m more critical of the stories i’m reading, and i’m not reading for pure enjoyment. I notice mistakes, and POV switches and i’m going to have to learn how to put that aside.

    A story i worked on for a contest, came to me in a flash. I fell in love with the main characters as i was writing and during a poignant scene, i had tears in my eyes as i wrote it.

    Yes, writing is definitely an emotional roller coaster, and the more open you are to the feelings that are evoked, the better the writing is. If you’re a bystander, and are writing just because you’ve got to fulfill a contract, then the story might be good, but it’s missing that snap, that grab you by the strings and yank you in, feeling.

    Now i’m off to pack for Nationals. Chat with later Siren…


  2. Chris says:

    Oh, I read The Butterfly Tattoo last week and cried and cried…

  3. Wonderful, wonderful post, Suzanne. In my own mind, I think of it as “going big”. In other words, I’m looking to invoke Casablanca not a comic strip. There needs to be a lushness, a richness to the emotional impact. You have to dwell and wallow and suck the marrow from the bones of a scene in order to convey the emotion to the reader. The first time I made myself cry with a story was with HUNGER. Coincidence that it sold? Probably not:)

    When I read The Host by Stephanie Meyer, there were moments when I *sobbed*. She is definitely a writer who knows how to write emotionally.

  4. Hey Suzanne, great post. I think that if you can make yourself cry, laugh or whatever when you’re writing, it will show on the page. And hopefully a reader will connect with that emotion!

    Alas, must run, heading to nationals today, (see ya soon Nini)


  5. Nini says:

    Barbara…loved the phrase:

    You have to dwell and wallow and suck the marrow from the bones of a scene in order to convey the emotion to the reader.

    Graphic, scary, and absolutely true.


  6. Suzanne Rock says:

    Hi Nini – thanks for stopping by. I know you are really busy today. You are so right. You can tell when a writer poured everything they had into a story and when a writer was just going through the motions. There’s a huge difference. I think since everything happened so closely together this weekend (the writing and the reading) that this point really struck home with me. Have fun at nationals!

  7. Suzanne Rock says:

    Chris – You know, I’ve heard a lot of people say that Diedre Knight’s book was fabulous. I’m going to have to check it out and see for myself. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Suzanne Rock says:

    Hi Barbara – LOL, no. I don’t think it was a coincidence that HUNGER sold for you. It’s a great book. I’m struggling a little with my new WIP because of the tight deadline. My drafting is much more stiff and unemotional. I think it’s because my head is still in the other book, LOL. Ah well, that’s what editing is for. I find that the first draft, for me, is the least emotional. Just getting the characters from point A to point B. When I go back I layer a lot more emotion into the story…That’s when the characters really “pop” and come alive.

  9. Suzanne Rock says:

    Thanks for stopping by Jules! Hope you get a chance to connect with your agent and editor…or should I say editors? :p Have a lot of fun. I expect a lot of good stories when you come back!

  10. Nini says:

    And pictures! I’m bringing the cell phone and the camera for pictures….Uh oh…meant to grab batteries. Going to do that now…

  11. Elle Ricci says:

    Hi Suzanne. Wonderful post. I absolutely agree – its kind of like when you’re performing on stage and your director tells you to over exaggerate – after all, those emotions and expressions have to be relatable to the people in the back row!

    Megan Hart is an author who “kicks me in the gut” emotionally when I read her books. I laugh, I cry, and I think about them long after they are over. That is exactly what a good book should be. Good luck with Under Fire. I have a feeling your editor will love it!

  12. Suzanne Rock says:

    Hi Elle! Thaks so much for stopping by. so glad to “see” you! I thinkt he “on stage” comparison is a good one.

    Megan Hart tends to be more hit or miss with me – and I think it’s because she writes a lot of contemporaries. When she hits, though, she hits hard. “Dirty” is still one of the best erotic romances I’ve ever read (IMHO, of course). Recently, I’ve been reading her earlier work with Amber quill Press, especailly her paranormal stuff. It’s REALLY good. I’m kind of hoping she gets back to it at some point. If she does, I’ll be the first in line to buy…I’ll even pick one up to give away on the blog. Good stuff.

  13. Grace Conley says:

    Hi Suzanne,

    You bring up some excellent points in your post. As both a writer and a reader, the scenes that really stick with me are those that are emotionally charged.

    Interesting that many of our top actors are Method actors because of the emotional honesty they bring to their craft…perhaps it’s applicable to writing as well.

  14. Thank you, Nini;) Have a good time at conference!

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