Emotional Shielding


"Emotional Shielding" is a new term for me, but I like it. It creates the right visual for what the character is doing - protecting themselves from emotions with other emotions. Understanding the kind of shields your characters carry and, importantly, where those shields come from is key to having a complex, three-dimensional character. It is what takes your character beyond the stereotype.

For example, the "emotionally unavailable alpha male" appears in a lot of books, what makes them different is WHY he is emotionally unavailable. Digging deep into his back story and understanding why he started shuttering his emotions - and using them as a shield against anyone ever getting close to him - makes him a more interesting character. 

Just be cautious about how much of that backstory is included. The reader doesn't need his entire life story, but revealing key moments will break down that barrier and allow him to access those more tender feelings.

Take a look at this article by Becca Puglisi on The Creative Penn Blog. She outlines four ways that characters (and people in general) manifest our emotional shields:

  • Flaws - perfectionism, selfishness, etc.

  • Dysfunctional Behaviors - lying, avoidance, being a jerk

  • False Beliefs - it is all my fault

  • Biases - "they" can't be trusted

These can appear alone or together in a character. They can morph and feed on each other over time until the person doesn't even realize it is a coping mechanism versus a part of their true self. 

What kind of emotional shielding do your characters have? Where did it come from? It is the second question that is really challenging. Sometimes we can see our characters in our heads, we know that certain situations will make them uncomfortable or a certain word will trigger their anger. But we need to be clear in our heads (if not directly on the page) about the source of their discomfort to understand why that is. 

The emotional shielding doesn't have to be made up of negative feelings. I worked on a book last month where the heroine was viewed as kind and sweet by everyone around her. As the setting was 1600s Scotland, there were plenty of Highlanders around to protect her. As we got to know her, it turned out she was kind and sweet thanks to her training. As sister to the laird, she would need to be able to run a household and host celebrations so she was meticulous about details and very good at putting people at ease when there was tension. We find out she is tired of the protected life and wished the people around her would see that she can take care of herself. Every time someone called her sweet it made her angry, something she hid effectively until she just couldn't anymore. Once the anger was out there, that opened her up to revealing more emotions. When the Fairy Queen needed a spy to keep an eye on the men and make sure dissent was not sewn in the ranks during their mission, she was the right candidate. She used her charm to stay close and direct conversations when needed. 

Do you know why your character behaves a certain way? Need any help in figuring it out? Comment here, let's chat. 

Villains Are the Real Heroes

We love our heroes and heroines, but a well-constructed villain is a truly beautiful thing. Not only do they provide the central conflict of the book, but they can create conflict within us. They can make us think doing something terrible for a very good reason is an admirable thing. They make us question our own beliefs. They might even haunt our dreams. 

Read More

Creativity Jump Start: Structure By Way of Cats and Paper

I am a member of RWA's romantic suspense chapter, Kiss of Death. Members there have a number of forums to post on, including one called Invisible Words that focuses on the pre-work involved in writing a book. We discuss creativity, plotting, characterization, and more. 

Here's my IW post for this week...

Hi everyone,

When a book has issues, sometimes it's helpful to come at it from a new perspective. If you are dealing with the dreaded saggy middle, taking a look at the story's key points (or beats) can help to identify where things are dragging. Today I'm sharing a great article that outlines the 15 point screenwriting structure found in Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need. 

The book implies that one should begin with an outline and build the story around that, but I know that will give my pantser friends a bad case of hives. So don't think of it like that. If you are a plotter looking for a new approach to the outlining process, try this. If you are a panster stuck in a round of revisions going no where, try applying this structure over the current WIP and see where you find a gaping hole or a section that maybe goes on (and on and on) too long. 

The author of the article, Tumblr user thatkatiecooney, lays out the 15 point structure and then uses the Disney animated short Paperman to illustrate how the plot points are used to create a story.  

The 15 PLOT POINTS of Story Structure

What I particularly like about this article is that the example is a romance, but the plot point structure could easily be applied to a mystery/suspense story as well. That's the unique challenge that KOD members have set for themselves, to somehow braid together a thrilling story line with the emotional journey of people falling in love.

What do you guys think of this approach? Do you have a tried and true method that helps you manage your story structure? Please share it! 


Side Characters Make Your World A Better Place

A romance novel is all about the hero and heroine, their journey to connect and learning to love one another. It can be tempting to put all one’s writing energy and creativity in to those characters, but you do so at your own peril – professionally speaking.

While you want the story to center on the stars, it is the surrounding cast of characters that makes the story interesting, creates intrigue, adds depth to the plot, and fills out the world. Creating interesting secondary and tertiary characters means you have a layered world and community for your hero/heroine to interact with and for your readers to wonder about.

Read More