The Spectacle just did a post on Creating Supsense Without Ominous Music. It made me think of another element of writing that I feel strongly about- emotion. Whether the emotion be due to love, tradgedy, or hate there is difference between intense, believable emotion and crossing that line into sappy, soapy, or maudlin.

I am not a very emotional person to begin with so I am probably more sensitive to this than others, but there are some books that make me want to gag with their overly-intense emotion, particularly with romance. “I can’t live without him!” “My life is over!” Retching and bawling…and the violin plays.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy romance as much as anyone. I can get giddy about it, and even though it’s rare, I can be made to cry when things are sad. I recognize that emotion is important in writing but what actually causes believable emotion? And who should actually be feeling the emotion?

One of my favorite children’s books is Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and in my opinion is probably the best Cinderella retelling we have. (Let me know if you think another is better!) When Prince Charmont asks Ella to marry him, she selflessly refuses him to save him and the Kingdom from her curse. She has cried, pleaded and begged to those who could help her, but to no avail. Then we get this part:

…some lass would win him over. His nature was loving, and he’d find someone to love.
As for me I’d be lucky to glimpse him on the street. He wouldn’t recognize me. My dirty servant’s garb would rule out identification at a distance, and he’d never be close enough to see my face. (Ella Enchanted
Gail Carson Levine pg. 196)

This is where I break into tears. Ella has made amends with her situation. She sees herself going on in her present circumstances. That’s worse than death! She didn’t have to cry. I did it for her.

What get’s you emoting when you read? What doesn’t?


  1. I agree with you. The melodramatic is a huge turnoff. The emotion gets to me is the real kind. The kind that by reading, I really get a glimpse of and I can almost feel that it is happening to me.

    • Cindy

    • September 3, 2009

    • 4:00 am

    Relatable characters. When I can really relate to a character or something they’re going through strikes a chord with me, I can really feel the emotions.

    Melodramatic scenes are definitely a turn off. As are cliched descriptions of emotions. Interesting topic!

    • Liesl

    • September 4, 2009

    • 12:39 am

    Too true Cindy. If we can’t relate to a character not only will we not feel anything but we probably won’t care a wit about the story.

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