Write Diamonds

by James Scott Bell

We are, of course, flooded with books these days. The Forbidden City still puts out product. The indie output is a veritable tsunami that swells ever larger each day. While most of it is bad (per Sturgeon’s Law), there is also a sizable chunk that is competent, even good.

Which is not enough to make it in this game. You’ve got to strive for unforgettable. You’ve got to write diamonds that sparkle through the rock piles and gravel pits of content.

Emotional intensity is one ingredient that will help get you there.

There’s an axiom attributed to Robert Frost: No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. That is another way of saying you must feel deeply as you write your story, and transfer that feeling to the readers.

Let me offer some tips.

1. Feel it

In my theater days I learned a technique handed down from legendary acting teacher Konstantin Stanislavsky. It’s called “emotion memory.” You think back to a time when you felt the emotion you want to convey in a scene. Get in a quiet place and recreate the memory with all its sensory data. That means what you saw, smelled, touched, heard and tasted.

As you recall these sensations you will discover that the emotion wells up afresh within you. The sense memories are causing you to experience the emotion as if it were happening in the present.

With a little practice you’ll be able to call up emotions as you need them when you’re about to write a scene.

2. Improvise

Invite your characters to play around. Take a seat in the movie theater of your mind and watch what happens.

Close your eyes and conjure up a character. Set the scene, whatever pops into your head.

Follow the character. How does she move? What is she wearing? How does she react to the setting?

Now give her a reason for being in the scene. Where is she going? Why? Have her turn to the “audience” and say exactly what she’s after. Make that hugely important to her.

[Note: this is not an actual scene for your novel (unless you choose to use it). This is a scene to get to know your character more deeply. Let it surprise you.]

With your character on the way toward a goal, introduce another character into your scene, someone who will be the opposition.

Watch the scene unfold. Don’t try to control it. Let emotions run rampant. Have the characters struggle and fight. Where’s the passion?

The late Stephen J. Cannell, author of the Shane Scully series, said, “I’m a visceral writer. I do improvs through the books. I become the characters. I’ll say something as Shane, then I’ll say something as [his wife] Alexa. And it’ll tick me off. And I’ll react to that. I have to know what my characters want and I have to feel things. That’s part of the fun of it for me.”

Stay attuned also to images that will begin to arise in your imagination at odd times. E. L. Doctorow said he was feeing a “heightened sense of emotion” when visiting the Adirondacks after many years. He saw a sign that read Loon Lake. He liked the sound of the words together, and then a flood of images washed over him—a private train at night going through the Adirondacks; gangsters onboard; a beautiful girl holding a white dress in front of a mirror. He had no idea what the images meant, but started writing about them anyway.

Improvisational images will lead to story material pulsating with emotion.

3. Plan

Let your left brain pitch in and help. Ask some key questions before you write a scene:

– Who is the viewpoint character in this scene?

– What does he want?

– Why can’t he have it? Who or what is opposing him?

– What obstacles are placed in his way?

– What strategy will he use to get what he wants?

– What surprises can happen that will lead to emotional turmoil and the necessity for new plans?

4. Write

Write your scenes as fast as you comfortably can. This is not the time for editorial decisions. Get the words down and overwrite the emotional moments. Let yourself go! Get inside that character. Now, come back to this scene the next day and edit things down to where they feel right. You might only retain a line or two, but because you found them in the overwriting they’ll be choice.

5. Finish, Cut, and Polish

Write on. Keep the momentum. Finish the dang novel!

If you’ve written with emotion your draft will be a raw gem of great value. Now finish the job like an expert diamond cutter. This is the editing process, which I cover in some detail here. Another book I recommend is Donald Maass’s The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

My final step is always a polish—I look one more time at scene openings and endings, and long dialogue exchanges (where a trim here and there makes a big difference).

Diamonds are formed by heat. So is great fiction. Feel your characters and plots intensely to produce a precious stone. Then cut and polish. That’s how your fiction will stand out from the pile of the merely competent.

What are some of the ways you bring emotion to your pages?

Infusing Emotion into Every Scene and Chapter

Jordan Dane


Creating a book is inventing a believable world the reader can step into and escape. Your characters must seem real, as if the reader can hear them and see them. The conflict and what’s at stake must be strike a chord with readers. Readers are voyeurs who want to be taken on a journey. Since emotion is a key way to pull readers into your book and keep them there, I thought that should be the topic for today.

10 Key Ways to Infusing Emotion into Each Scene

1,) Put the reader into the scene using the senses – If you expect your reader to “feel” the world you’ve created, put them into every scene. If your protagonist is walking down a dark alley with gun drawn, you have to be there alongside him, author. What sounds can he hear? What does he smell? What are his physical reactions to his surroundings and how does that play on his fear that’s building? Anticipation is a key element in creating suspense and building on tension. Have patience to let the tension mount.

2.) SHOW don’t TELL – If you truly write the scene as if the reader is looking through the eyes and body of your relatable character, that will put them into the scene. If you only “report” what the character is thinking, it distances the reader from your character. ‘Telling’ takes all the unexpected discoveries from the reading experience and it stifles what the reader can imagine. The reader doesn’t have to think. They’re ‘told’ what to think and imagine. Focus on the action of your character and give them a physical reaction. Rather than ‘telling’ the reader that your character is afraid, show how that fear manifests itself in trembling fingers, trickling sweat, and a punishing heart beat.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov

“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” E. L. Doctorow

3.) Make your characters relatable and sympathetic – Dare to give your villain an odd sense of humor or have her fight for a cause she cares deeply about, so her wicked obsession feels real. Your mercenary could be a loner, but give him a dog to take care of. Load up the emotional baggage in your character’s past and force him or her into a conflict where they have to face their worst fear. Dare to make your perfect hero vulnerable. All these human frailties create relatable and sympathetic characters and will have readers rooting for them.

4.) Reach for the emotion/Make it over the top – Milk the scene for every drop of emotion. It’s not just about choosing the right words. It’s about creating effective imagery triggers that will connect with readers. If you think you’re done with a scene, go back over and layer in MORE of what that scene is about. Ratchet up the emotion beyond where you might normally go. The added touch pays off when you’re using words to put the reader into the scene.

5.) Foreshadow the danger or the obstacles ahead – If anticipation ramps up the suspense, foreshadowing helps the page turning pace of your novel and keeps the reader invested. It creates ‘flow’ between scenes and chapters. Don’t waste a scene ending or a chapter ending. Make it work for you. If a scene or chapter ending fizzles to a close, that gives the reader a chance to put the book down. Tease them with a hint of things to come and they won’t want to let go of the story.

6.) Pepper each scene with descriptive words and choose wisely – Word choices have always mattered to me. I take great pains to squeeze every ounce of emotion or sensation from the words I choose. I particularly like words that enhance the scene by the sound or imagery of the word: slither, sizzle, skitter, hiss, bam, punch, clang, klunk, snap, splat, etc. You can almost ‘see’ the action with the ‘sounds’ of these words. I didn’t realize this was one of my things until readers started to point it out as a good thing.

7.) Make the stakes high enough and make them real – Give your character something meaty to fight for. What would he or she die for? It’s not enough to ‘battle evil or fight for the good.’ Make their reason come from a personal place or sprout from their worst vulnerability. Force your protagonist to give up something he or she values most in the world in order to earn the status of hero in your book. Give your character a journey through your book so there is real change in him or her.

8.) Make your reader fear for your character as time slips away – If you’ve set the foundation for a reader to care about your protagonist and the world you’re creating, now introduce a short fuse burning—and suddenly pull the rug out and make that time table shorter. It will make for a breathless plot but will force the reader to care even more about what will happen.

9.) Savor the Twist – Do the unexpected. If the story appears to be going a certain way, surprise the reader with a well-planned twist that will force the protagonist to rise to the occasion with added conflict or will showcase his or her brilliance. Readers love to be surprised by a plot they didn’t see coming. I enjoy setting the reader up in different ways, especially when the clues were always there. Again, word choice or well-positioned elements of mystery, like red herrings, can enhance the effect of a good twist. Readers get excited when they are fooled and often will go back to reread passages. This is another way to trigger many levels of emotion in your reader.

10.) Wrap it all up and make the ending satisfying – A well-written ending, where the characters have been through hell and have come out of a very dark tunnel, can force the reader into that same feeling of having survived along with them. If there needs to be closure at a grave site, where someone didn’t make it, squeeze out every tear and make the ending a satisfying experience. Don’t squander the opportunity to leave your reader with a fulfilling ending to the

For Discussion:
1.) Did your writing tips (on layering emotion into your scenes) make the list? If not, share what works for you.

2.) What books have stuck in your mind as unforgettable emotional journeys?

Croco Designs

Croco Designs

Tough Target – The Omega Team series (Book 2 of 2) launches May 24th as part of Amazon Kindle Worlds. Read book 1 – Hot Target – and catch up. Both ebooks are priced at a bargain of $1.99. (The book page for Tough Target won’t be posted by Amazon until May 24.)

When a massive hurricane hits land, SEAL Sam Rafferty is trapped in the everglades with a cartel hit squad in hot pursuit—forcing him to take a terrible risk that could jeopardize the lives of his wounded mother and Kate, a woman who branded him with her love.

Omega Team Launch – Facebook Party with GIVEAWAYS on May 24 at this LINK.- I’ll be online at 5pm CST. Join the other Omega Team authors most of the day.