Two Editors Wish Lists and Emotional Punch why you need it in your romance novel
Oh my goodness my novel Wicked Wonderland has somehow hit Samhain Publishing’s Paranormal Romance Best Seller list when it hasn’t even come out yet. (It is available for pre-order.) And it’s number 2 for Holiday Themed Romance! (These lists appear to be updated twice daily.)
Today I’ll give you a little market news and then share a workshop I gave on Emotional Punch. Next week my blog will be on agents and editors wish lists so stay tuned.
Ruth Homrighaus of Entangled’s Indulgence line wants to see:
- More funny books with strong tropes. She’d really like a hilarious Vegas marriage of convenience.
- Cowboys, cowboys, cowboys
- Forbidden love of any sort!
- A good falling-for-the-nanny book, contemporary or historical.
- Road trip stories–U.S., abroad, contemporary or historical–you name it!
- Historical submissions of all sorts, with bonus points for British empire (nineteenth-century Australia would be cool) or early-twentieth-century U.S. (think flappers, WWI or WWII, the Fifties).
- Stories of love unrequited (and misdirected)
Submissions for Ruth can be sent directly to ruth (at) entangledpublishing (dot) com. Check out Indulgence submission guidelines for specific instructions!
Tracy Montoya of Entangled Publishing’s Dead Sexy line wants to see:
Fast-paced, sigh-worthy books for Dead Sexy. Anything that starts with a bang (literal or figurative) and keeps her up at night until the end qualifies! She’s also wishing for:
- Dark, gritty stories.
- Stories with lots of realistic forensic and/or legal detail.
- Spies and other types of international intrigue/puzzles.
- Reunion romances (I’m a sucker for a love-gone-wrong-gone-right-again story!)
- Multicultural characters (and no, the Mexican drug lord with gold teeth does not count).
- Historical suspense—the darker the better. Gail Ranstrom is a particular favorite.
- Kick@$$ (in their own way) heroines—always.
Submissions for the Dead Sexy editors can be sent directly to deadsexy-submissions (at) entangledpublishing (dot) com ATTN: Tracy. Check out Dead Sexy submission guidelines for specific instructions!
Why does Lisa Whitefern think Entangled might be a good market? They have best sellers in the Romance category on Amazon.com They are getting a good name for themselves out there. I have heard the odd complaint about editors quitting suddenly, but other authors there report being very happy.
Emotional Punch and why you need it in your Romance Novel
One of the most common comments from editors rejecting romance manuscripts is “this story needs more emotional punch.” But what does this really mean?
Emotional Punch in a story is created by the emotional involvement, empathy and absorption the reader feels when caught up with the in your story. It is emotional rapport she feels with the characters and the steadily growing pace of the story and the emotional development that gives the story its page turning quality.
Romance author Barbara Hannay comments that sufficient emotional punch gives your story the “wham” that sets it apart from other stories.
In order to achieve emotional punch a writer must first give us characters we care about. Characters need to grab at the readers emotions and make her care. To do this you need characters who come alive on the page.
Easier said then done right?
How do we create characters like that? Characters who stir a reader’s emotions?
Award winning Australian romance writer Valerie Parv suggests that at every separate stage of your story you ask yourself what the viewpoint character feels about what is happening. Both Valerie Prav in her book Heart and Craft and Stephen King in his book On Writing advise writers not to back off or skim the surface when writing but to dig deep.
Dig deep inside yourself for the deeper emotional truths that might be involved in any situation you are writing about.
Dig inside yourself for the emotions you would feel in the same situation then drag them out onto the page trough bodily sensations.
In order to make readers care about your characters you must know them as people.
Four ways to make a reader care more about you characters include having each of your characters have a “backstory wound” , a personal yearning, strengths and weaknesses and having clarity of theme.
A major back-story event that that bears directly upon the psychological story of your protagonist is referred to by professional book editor Elizabeth Lyon as “a back-story wound”
A back-story wound is a traumatic event in the character’s past that leaves its mark on the character.
In my novel Wicked Wonderland contracted by Samhain the heroine was found as a newborn baby in New York City dumpster so she has a bit of a chip on her shoulder about that.
She also has a relentless anonymous stalker who leaves her a lot of insulting messages referring to the circumstances of her birth.
In traditional fairytales Red Riding Hood is stalked by the ultimate predatory male while Cinderella grows up in the ultimate dysfunctional family. These characters go through hard times before they reach their goals and that tugs on our heart strings.
We can compare Cinderella’s miserable home situation with Harry Potter’s. Harry’s miserable downtrodden role in his own muggle family certainly attracted my attention and pulled on my emotions. Like many people I like to root for the underdog and Cinderella and Harry Potter are both timeless stories because their underdog status coupled with their quiet strength and ultimate determination to make something of themselves attracts our attention and involves our emotions.
My story Wicked Wonderland is in part a retelling of the fairy tale Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. My heroine’s mother is a gambling addict at risk of losing her home and at the beginning of Wicked Wonderland, my heroine Lillian Rudolph has taken a job as a stripper to help her mother pay the mortgage and keep her home.
However she’s really a classical musician so like Rudolph in the song she stands out like a sore thumb among the other strippers as someone very different. They decide because she is different she must be the unknown thief who has been stealing tips from their locker rooms and beat her up.
She is saved by two fae males who take her for a magical erotic ride in Santa’s sleigh.
So Wicked Wonderland is also an underdog story that pulls at our emotions by keying in to those universal emotions felt by anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, or been bullied and dreamed of being suddenly rescued through the approval of someone powerful. In Harry Potter that someone powerful is Dumbledore, in Cinderella it’s her Fairy God mother, in Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer it’s Santa Claus himself and in my story Wicked Wonderland it’s two extremely sexy half fae/half human men who fall in love with my heroine.
In all these stories the protagonist is an underdog going through very hard times before triumphing and finding their happy endings and this packs a powerful emotional punch.
Many beginning writers choose conflicts that are too light. But to get emotional depth you need to crank up the emotional difficulties your hero and heroine have.
If when the two half fae whisked my heroine away in the sleigh there were no emotional difficulties between them and they lived happily ever after that would not be enough story and would not provide enough emotional punch.
But in fact my heroine knows both of these men from her past when they were posing as full mortals getting an education at the same university she went to. So this is a reunion story with many layered issues between the three protagonists as well as some very dark magical villains who have strong motivations for destroying their happiness.
To intensify emotional punch you must steadily increase the emotional problems of your protagonists in a story.
Think about your current heroine and hero. Are they troubled by internal doubts? Do they face self image problems? Do they have reasons for feeling they don’t deserve unconditional love?
My story is a ménage so we have two heroes. The back-story wound for the more Alpha of my heroes is that when he was a tiny boy his mother often left him to go on adventure holidays. She was an adrenaline junkie who died in a sky diving accident when he was seven. So he has some bitterness and abandonment issues. My other hero has a scar on his thigh and the reasons for this are left a mystery that I hope has some emotional punch on reveal.
In order to achieve emotional punch you need to drop you guard when writing about your character’s backstory wounds or any other emotional event in your novel. Before you can share the characters emotions you really need to be in touch with your own most intense emotions and feelings. Analyze your own most painful memories.
Australian romance writer Valerie Prav even suggests that if you are a writer who has never visited a professional counselor, that you do so now in order to have a deeper understanding of your own emotions so that you can understand your hero, heroines and even your villain’s emotions in more depth.
New York agent Donald Maass gives similar advice when he comments that “Novels that change lives do so because their authors are willing to draw upon their deepest selves without flinching. These authors hold nothing back making their novels the deepest possible expression of their own experience and beliefs.”
To ensure your story is emotion based you need to look at the role each scene or chapter is playing in the development of the romance.
The emotional structure of a romance might go through the following steps
Step 1—The heroine and hero either have a first meeting in which they feel strong attraction for each other coupled with the warning signs of conflict or the hero and heroine are reunited and back-story revealing emotional conflict from their past is carefully woven in.
Step 2—-The hero and heroine begin to feel admiration for each other but this is complicated by conflict. Or in the case of a reunion story – memories of the past rear their heads which increases emotional tension. In a mainstream romance sexual tension will be on the page, but they will not be making love yet because of the conflict. In contrast, in an erotic or very sexy romance the hero and heroine may move quickly to sexual intimacy, but they will both probably be trying to keep their emotions under wraps. The heroine may tell herself that she is capable of having casual sex like a man without emotion as she shies away from what is really true love.
Hero and heroine meet several more times and one or both of them fight their desires and/or their feelings for each other because of both internal and external conflicts.
They are thrown together repeatedly by the plot, but conflict grows between them. In a sweeter romance they may fight their sexual desire for each other, in a sexy romance they fight their emotions and feelings.
In a sweeter romance this may be the stage where the couple finally make love and lovemaking is later regretted when the conflict seems stronger than before. In a sensual, spicey or erotic romance this maybe a point when the conflict grows and becomes so great that they do not make love for awhile, as all focus is now on the conflict. The Grey moment may occur. This is the moment when the couple confront some important issue that seems like the main crisis but they pass through this crisis and it is not as black and devastating as The Black Moment coming up.
Step 6 The hero may declare his love but the heroine suspects his motives.
Step 7 The Black Moment. Your story should have a heart wrenching black moment. How do you go about creating that?
A few tips on creating a heart wrenching black moment from Donald Maas include making one of your protagonists face his or her greatest fear. Working out what your protagonist would never sacrifice and forcing him or her to sacrifice it, and making your protagonist do something the reader would think they would never do. Using one of these moments can lend tremendous emotional power to your black moment.
Step 8 Because of the black moment a future together seems impossible. Decisions are made in an attempt to solve the conflict.
Step 9 The decisions made prove to be the right one. All loose ends are tied up and the couple are free at last to make a commitment to each other.
Throughout your novel you may want to concentrate on one consistent emotional theme. Make sure the emotions your character feels are consistent. They may go on a roller coaster ride of emotions but you still need a dominant theme for you book to be a coherent read. You need to decide on the main emotion you want your readers to feel in each scene and also the main emotion you want your reader to feel reading your book. There should be an emotional theme to your story overall.
Readers read romance for the emotional journey. The more complicated your plot is the more you run the risk of losing the emotional theme running through the book so you must always remember to come back to that theme. Your heroine and hero relationship must be central to everything and more important than other details.
Kate Walker comments that in a romance you have to concentrate on a central relationship and because of this of you need to make sure that what you are describing is a very special, deep, and heartfelt sort of emotion. My own novel Wicked Wonderland is a ménage but it is an erotic romance and so I took care to make sure that I portrayed a once in a lifetime love of the sort every romance should be. In the fantasy world I created the fae live in ménage relationships with their fated mates. The three protagonists in my novel are half human and half fae and so they are unsure if a fated threesome even exists for them.
The romance relationship in your novel should have real depth and real value. The romance should be so much more than a crush. They need to be someone of real value to one another, someone you would want to spend your life with. Someone without whom the other protagonist or in the case of a ménage protagonists would feel hollow and empty if they didn’t have them in their lives. The relationship needs to be the ultimate in true love.
Kate Walker suggests asking yourself 12 questions about emotional punch
- Have I allowed time for my characters to explore their feelings between plot events?
- Have I made sure that the plot doesn’t get in the way of the characters emotions.
- Have I shown emotions through dialogue body language, the choices my characters make?
- Have I hinted at a subtext- thoughts and feelings below the surface?
- Have I allowed my characters to react with emotions true to their personalities?
- Have I used specific details to create a picture so vivid that my reader reacts emotionally?
- Have I created a conflict worth being divided over?
- Have I put my characters into the most dramatic situations possible?
- Have I raised the stakes to force my characters to make tough decisions
- Have I used dynamic verbs and adjectives?
- Have I used the environment to reflect, contrast with or illuminate my character’s emotions?
- Do I feel emotion when I read the most dramatic scenes in my book?
Think back over books you’ve read in the past –the ones you’ve enjoyed most and the ones that made your heart beat faster or made your eyes sting with tears. What emotions did they awaken in you? What is it about the story that appealed to you the most? What did you remember the most? It was probably an emotional moment.
For example in Wuthering Heights Heathcliffe’s outrage at the way he’d been treated as an outcast. The passion and desperation between him and Cathy when Cathy is torn apart by misery because she didn’t follow her heart.
Personally I also feel emotional punch listening to the lyrics of Eminem’s songs. And considering how well they sell I think a lot of other people must feel that emotional punch too. Eminem’s fury at having been abandoned by his deadbeat Dad, and his angst about being brought up by a poor drug addicted mother. His anger about being bullied as a child and very poor as a young adult. His passionate love for his daughter and his fury at his exwife.
Nora Robert’s stories often pack a powerful emotional punch. For example in Nora Robert’s book Birthright thirty year old Callie Dunbrook finds out that she she was kidnapped from her stroller when she was only three months old.
In Public Secrets Emma McAvoy gets whisked out of poverty and into the glamour of rock-music at the age of 3, But when her baby half brother is tragically kidnapped, Emma’s new world changes again, and she must live with the guilt and the uneasy sense that she knows more than she remembers.
Think about novels, songs, and movies that really made you feel. This should help you concentrate on putting emotional punch into your own stories.
Then give your characters’ wounds, make your black moments really big ones, and be utterly ruthless to your characters then pull them out of that black hole with a happy ending that arises realistically from the choices your characters made. That is what emotional punch is all about.