Thursday, September 27, 2012

10 Joan Swan on Nailing Emotional Turning Points in Your Novels

Today's guest is the lovely Joan Swan, an award-winning author of sexy romantic suspense, who occasionally throws in a paranormal twist or two for some extra spark. In her day job, she works as a sonographer at UCSF Medical Center. She lives on the central coast of California in beautiful wine country with her husband and two daughters. You can catch her on her website, on Facebook, on Twitter, or on Goodreads.

Emotional Turning Points
by Joan Swan

Big thanks to Martina for having me today!

I write romance, so you may wonder how I met Martina. I met her through Twitter. I am a big fan and follower of Elizabeth Craig and her fabulous Twitter stream focused on writing-related articles. Elizabeth introduced me to Martina’s Twitter stream. Of course, I instantly fell in love with Martina’s writing craft articles as well. Martina and I have bonded over the mantra…craft is craft, across all genres. Ahhhh, I so love Twitter for leading me to such fabulous people.

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…

Buy Links:
Amazon | Amazon Canada |Barnes & Noble |B-A-M |Book Depository |Chapters |IndieBound |Powell’s

Want to win a copy of Blaze?

Joan has very generously donated a copy for giveaway. Enter below to win!

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  1. Thanks, Joan! This is a timely post for me, since I'm trying to figure out where to place emotional turns in my WIP.

  2. Hi Jess! Thanks for stopping! Good luck with your writing!

  3. Blaze sounds fantastic! My favorite point in a story is when the OTP realizes that they love each other & confess. Love it! ( I also love it when they fight and then get emotional!)

  4. When it comes to writing (of the scientific variety, since that's the only type I do), the acknowledgements section. It means the paper is finished, thank God :P.

    In reading, I'm a fan of the 'hook'-- that moment when it becomes apparent whether I'm going to be invested in the characters and the story and enjoy the book, rather than moving on to something else.

    Congrats on the release!

  5. I agree with Arely, my favorite point in the story is when the individual characters realize that they love each other. They are often conflicted with their emotions and I like watching that play out.

  6. When there so much tension between the hero & heroine, I love when they finally realize it's all for real, be it lust or love - no deceptions or misconceptions, and they are stronger together in stead of fighting what they think they believe. Great excerpt - can't wait to read Blaze! Thanks for the giveaway.

  7. I'm a craft book hound too. My husband insists I have enough to start my own lending library. =) I have a tough time deciding what exactly IS a turning point. I think I've gotten much better at it lately, thanks to great articles =) and my books!


  8. Hi Joan,

    Adding Blaze to my TBR pile. Great excerpt! Can't wait to read it. My favorite part of a story is when the characters finally realize they love each other, and then their relationship begins. Thanks for the giveaway. :)

  9. Love your excerpt! And you're right--that really establishes her motivation. I think if the reader understands a character's motivation, they'll accept almost any kind of ridiculous decision. :)

  10. P.S. Not saying your excerpt showed a ridiculous decision...just saying how important it is to show those motivations in general. LOL!


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