Emotional Turning Points
by Joan Swan
Big thanks to Martina for having me today!
I confess—I am a closet hoarder of craft books and a deep lover of all things writing craft. Hearing the perfect cadence of a sentence or the fresh turn of phrase stirs my emotions as effectively as my favorite song on the radio.
So I believe in enjoying that learning process. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy the information I strive to share about turning points here today.
One of my favorite places in a romance is when my hero and heroine reach the point of no return. That place where one or both make the decision to do something, say something or feels something that changes everything in their current reality. Something that changes the existing relationship. From that point on, there is no going back to the way things were.
This can happen in one pivotal location, in a baby-step progression or in a push-pull pattern, where the hero and heroine take two steps forward and one step back. For me, as long as it’s done well, I don’t care what method is used, I still love these turning points. The action—or inaction, their realization—or lack of one, is a conscious investment in their new future; a commitment—to themselves and to the other person. And I thrive on the emotion involved in making that choice.
In BLAZE, book two in my Phoenix Rising series which released a couple days ago, the romance is a reunion story, so my hero and heroine make many realizations over the course of the book. It’s a push-pull scenario as they work through both their external and internal conflicts.
The scene I want to share to illustrate one of these emotional turning points is late in the book. My heroine, Keira, in BLAZE has far more emotional baggage than my hero, Luke, and it has taken her far longer to accept the fact that she can’t go back to the way her life was before she crossed paths with Luke again.
In this scene, Keira has been up all night after another argument with Luke, struggling with her demons.
Sleep had completely eluded her. Keira’s exhausted eyes gazed beyond the guest bedroom window where the caramel sunrise nudged the indigo night into another hemisphere. Mountains blanketed with pines and aspens waited silently for the change from shadow to light.
Even going on fifty hours without any rest, Keira’s mind continued to fight. Her heart continued to struggle. But worse and most painful, her soul continued to reach. For Luke.
At times over the night, she swore it was a two-year-old throwing a tantrum. At times she’d come so close to letting it have its way. Going to Luke and promising him anything if he’d just vow to love her forever in return. Love her like he used to. Before everything went wrong.
And that was the very memory that kept her pacing the room instead of lying by his side—all that had gone wrong.
The soft carpet beneath her feet had flattened from hours of travel. She threaded both hands through her hair and yanked at the strands. Her scalp pulled, the sting a welcome relief to the tension that made her think her head would explode.
“Why am I so screwed up?”
Stupid question. Stupid, stupid question. She knew exactly why. The real question she’d stopped asking a long time ago, but which was creeping up now in her moment of helpless crisis, was why me? She’d never had the luxury of self-pity. Besides, she wasn’t the type.
“So knock it off.” She pulled her hands from her head and shook her hair back. “Just go out there and deal with it. Stop being such a coward.”
Here, Keira moves from stewing over her problems to getting sick and tired of going round and round with it in her mind and draws that line in the sand for herself. For some characters this can happen fast, for some it can take an entire book. What matters is that the layers have been removed beforehand so that when she gets to this point, she is ready to take the next step, because an emotional realization without an intellectual correlation and a commitment for change is a setup for the same problem occurring in the future. And in all fiction that ends on a positive note, the reader needs to believe that what the author has set up within the book will continue into the unseen future to have that sense of satisfaction in a good read.
She realized how messed up she was. She got it. The problem was, Luke didn’t.
Luke, the sick, crazy bastard, looked at her as the mother to whatever brood he had dreamed up in that gorgeous head of his. And he pushed and pushed and pushed. Every time he brought up the subject, as he’d done last night, she felt like he was smothering her. As if he’d crushed a pillow over her face and she had to kick him in the balls to get him to let up so she could breathe.
She was trapped. Because now that she’d seen him again, kissed him again, touched him again, realized she’d never stopped loving him, she knew why her attempts at life—a real life—for the last three years had failed. Miserably.
She needed him. She wanted him. He had been the part of her life that made it rich and spontaneous and joyous and . . . meaningful. Through the fights, the fun, the loss, the love. It was Luke. Luke made her feel like . . . herself. Luke made her feel real. Unique. Authentic. Luke made her feel alive.
Without Luke, she worked. She ate. She trained.
Without Luke, she existed.
You won’t let me in. Not really. You always hold something back. You always have a safety net. An out.
As far back as her memory would take her, Keira had lived with a bag packed and hidden away. A change of clothes, snacks, her favorite blanket, a stuffed animal. Yes, she always had an out.
But if she was going to make it work with Luke this time, she’d have to go all in. She knew that. Which was why she was still in her room pacing, not out in the family room with everyone else eating breakfast like a normal person.
Because she was so not normal.
“This is ridiculous. I can’t keep living like this.”
She didn’t know what the answer was. Didn’t know how they’d find it. But she was committed to crawling through those dark spots to figure it out, as long as Luke was crawling with her.
Keira turned toward the door. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “We’ll talk.” She nodded once. “We’ll fight.” Her lips compressed. “We’ll fight some more.”
Resignation sank in and her chest grew heavy. “We’ll . . . probably fight a lot . . .”
Tears of fear snuck into her eyes. For a flicker of a second she considered rejecting the idea. Then her mind darted toward returning to her life in Sacramento. To her eighteen hours at work. Two hours at the gym. Four hours in bed—alone.
A void opened in her chest. Trying to live without Luke was like trying to breathe in a smoke-filled room. Trying to run under water. Trying to hold back an ocean wave.
She reached for the doorknob and hesitated. As if she was split in two, one half of her urged her to stay put, keep her mouth shut. But the other half, the half that knew she couldn’t keep living this way, pushed her feet forward.
And this is where she’s fused her emotional turmoil with an intellectual conclusion. She’s strategized a reasonable short term plan and her heart is in the right place. She’s acting like the heroine she is.
When she pushes her feet forward – and in the remainder of the scene – moves on in search of Luke with conviction to set things right once and for all, as a reader, I’m not only invested in her success, but I believe the outcome will be favorable, despite the rough bumps that are obvious to both the character and the reader.
You can read how Keira and Luke started out in the first chapter of Blaze, here.
What is your favorite point in a story? As a reader? As a writer?
BLAZE by Joan Swan
The hotter they come, the harder they fall…
With a man like him, every mission becomes personal…
Ever since FBI agent Keira O’Shay started tracking a young boy named Mateo, she’s felt a connection even her empathic abilities can’t explain. She needs to save Mateo from the cult leader holding him hostage. Nothing can interfere with that—not even the reappearance of Luke Ransom, the hot-as-hell fire captain she’s regretted walking out on for three long years.
Losing Keira left Luke vulnerable—in every way. When they were together, the powers each possesses were mysteriously enhanced. But it’s the sexy, surprising woman beneath the tough exterior that Luke’s really missed. Even if she betrayed him utterly. And even if agreeing to help her uncover a government conspiracy means watching his life and his heart go up in flames again…
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