That’s What Brandilyn Said

Back in May, I promised to pass on the wisdom I soaked up at the Christian Writers Renewal Conference. Here’s the second part of Brandilyn Collins’ lecture on creating dynamic suspense: CHARACTER EMOTION.

I’ll start with the blurb that described the lecture: Human emotions are interconnected and multi-layered. They force action, which in turn produces more emotion. Often authors don’t go far enough in creating character passions. The result is a ho-hum story. I want you to leave this hour understanding more about emotion than you ever have before.

So here’s what Brandilyn said:

Passions are multi-layered. The greater the passion, the more diverse the layers that comprise it. Find those layers and portray them in the story to give the reader a stronger emotional response. Here are two ways to do that:

1) Find the passion’s components. What are they? What do they look like? How do they show in char’s life?

Example: Anger is a secondary emotion and arises from other emotions. What fuels it? Frustration? Jealousy? Greed? DON’T focus on the anger. Explore all the emotions that lead to that anger, then reader will understand the anger when it shows.

2) Find the passion’s opposite. Contrast makes the emotion pop.

Example 1: Cross-walk attendant adores children. As she’s helping a small child cross the street, a truck comes right at them; the driver isn’t paying attention, doesn’t see the attendant and child. Attendant is terrified, willing to sacrifice her own life to save the child. The truck stops at the last second, and her emotion turns to immense relief. Then it turns to anger and she lays into the truck’s driver. After she’s spent that, she turns to see if the child is okay, hugs him in relief, then yells at him that he’s supposed to RUN when there’s a truck coming toward him! Love is shown in through all these other emotions.

Example 2: Wife thinks husband is having an affair. She wants to win him back, so she asks him to be home by 6. He promises he’ll be there. She puts on a tight red dress and high heels, fixes a fabulous meal, lights the candles, and waits. At 6:00 she’s excited. At 6:05 she’s disappointed. At 6:30 she’s worried that he’s been in an accident. She’s getting cold, so she puts on a sweater. At 6:45, she’s getting depressed. He’s out seeing his lover. Her feet hurt so she kicks off the shoes. Dinner’s ruined. At 7:00, she decides she doesn’t need him after all – he’s hurt her so much, so doesn’t care anymore. At 7:15, she’s in full-blown hatred. When he walks in the door with a dozen roses, she rips them from his hands and stomps them on the floor. The hatred at the end came about because of her love for her husband, and the reader went along for the ride so she can FEEL all that hate and love.


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