Friday, March 22, 2013

YA Author Beth Revis talks "Character Emotions"

NY Times Best Selling YA author Beth Revis is here to talk with us today about why and how to use character emotions to make our stories stronger.  Beth's debut novel, Across the Universe was published by Razorbill/Penguin in Spring 2011, landing on that NY Times Best Seller list and the Indie Best-seller list too.  The second book, A Million Suns came out in 2012, and the final book in the trilogy, Shades of Earth was just released in January 2013.  Beth's also published stories in several anthologies.  She has a great novella, As They Slip Away, set in the Across the Universe world, that is available free online. Check it out! 
Beth runs a blog on writing ( and is a participant of a group blog by debut dystopian authors (
 Thanks Beth, for being with us today!
 Let's jump in with this first Question:
The first chapter of your first book in this series, Across the Universe, opens with a scene in which your main character and her family are feeling strong emotions –in this case pain and fear. The scene is gripping and it’s keeps us readers reading!  :)  (For those Writermorphosis readers who haven't gotten to read Beth's books yet, I strongly suggest clicking above on "the first chapter" and reading the 1st chapter before reading the rest of this post.  That Chap. is our starting point for today!)

So Beth, I’ve heard you say that as authors we should “Dig as deep as we can go into some sort of emotional or physical intensity (in our novels)”   You’ve said … “you’re trying to make us care about your characters—do that by making us feel.  

In Across the Universe The main idea of my first chapter is pain -- but any intense emotion or feeling would do. If it was a kissing scene, I could have described the kiss in great depth, the emotion of love and longing. If it was a sad scene, I could do more than have a tear fall down the main character's cheek...the reason? We all have feelings... You're trying to make us care about your characters -- do that by making us feel. Really dig into the emotion and you'll keep your readers hanging on."

This is great advice!  Thanks Beth! Let’s talk a bit more about writing emotional scenes for our characters.
Question 1.)

From your perspective, what is it about strong emotional scenes that makes them an effective tool for writers to use?
We cannot connect with every character on every single level. Characters come from all different backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, ages, socioeconomic situations, and more--and chances are, none of them are like me exactly. But I *can* connect with a character on an emotional level. As a young woman, I might not understand what it is to be an old man, but I do know what heartache is. Regret. Joy. Sorrow. Hope. This is where you make the connection with your reader.


That is definitely true, Beth.  I was quite sad the other day identifying with something sad that's going on in a friend's life right now.  We all often identify and hurt, rejoice, laugh, and cry right along with the emotions felt by others who we care about. 
So, can you give us any specific tips or suggestions on how to write or think about writing emotional scenes in our books? Are there specific components to add or not to add?

When you hear the phrase, "write what you know," that doesn't mean that you have to limit to your own background. Write the emotions you know. Tap into that truth, and you'll be able to find the emotional connection you need for your characters.

Great tip! I suspect that even just thinking of the multitude of emotional experiences we all had -- even just during our Middle School and High School years -- can give us a wealth of fodder for the types of emotions to layer onto our characters, and the physical, emotional, and behavioral responses those characters are likely to exhibit as a result of those emotions!

So, here's another specific question related to your use of emotions in your own writing.  Shades of Earth, your 3rd book in the Across the Universe trilogy, was just released in January 2013! Without creating a spoiler situation for those who haven’t gotten to read it yet, can you share with us a particular scene or situation in that book in which you used character emotions to make the scene strong?
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was really my way of showing a girl who realizes for the first time that her parents can't save her. She wants her parents to be able to tell her everything is going to be okay, but they can't. In SHADES OF EARTH, it's about a girl who has the comfort of her parents back with her, but realizes that maybe they're not right after all. This is something we all go through: that moment when we realize we disagree with our parents on some fundamental level, that our lives have diverged from theirs.

Ah yes... we all certainly remember the emotions that go along with that!

So, it seems like we've a all had plenty of emotional experiences in our lives to make it easy for us to create emotional experiences for our characters.  We've all been refused something we wanted; we've all lost something; We've all won something or beaten someone at something. We've all been sad, afraid, excited, overwhelmed... 

So... looking at the flip side of this theme, in your opinion, how can we writers know if we’re including too much emotion, or too many emotional scenes in a single chapter or story? Or is it not possible to use too much emotion? (Perhaps another way to ask this question would be: How important is it to balance very emotional scenes with less emotionally driven scenes , and do you have any tips on how to maintain this balance?)
Too much emotion is melodrama--look at any cheesy soap opera and you'll see that effect. It's not so much about balancing high emotion with less emotion; it's about being true to your character. Just ask yourself, if you were in that situation, how would you feel? Make your characters feel that. You don't spend every second of every day in a state of high emotion--you'd exhaust yourself. And if your characters are like that, you'll exhaust your readers. Just be true to the situation and truly show the emotion that a real person would have.
Those are great tips, Beth!  We do want to definitely avoid the melodrama!

Before you go, though, we have one final, more personal question. :) Now that you've wrapped up Shades of Earth, do you have a new project that you’re working on, and if so, what about that new project makes you “emotional?”

I am working on something new, although I can't say too much about it! I will say, however, that it totally fills me with fear! I'm desperate for it to be good enough--better than good enough!
Ha ha!  I'm sure it will be great!  No worries!
But that's good for those of us who are newer writers to be reminded that even as we progress in our careers, the pressure and desire to write that "better than good enough" novel that editors will love, and publish, and that readers will want to read and tell their friends all about, comes back to dance around our fingers and our hearts as we type every page of every book. 

Thanks for sharing your your tips and your heart with us!


We look forward to reading your next project, and I'm sure many Writermorphosis readers are now rushing off to finishing up our read of the Across the Universe trilogy, with Shades of Earth!

Good luck to all Writermorphosis readers this week, as we each think about how we can make our characters' emotions ring so true that the readers can't help but be drawn to them!


Anonymous said...

Great point about using emotions effectively while avoiding the "melodrama!" Have certainly seen manuscripts that fall on both sides.

Anonymous said...

Talk about synchronicity! I had only minutes before sent a critique which encouraged the writer to let us get more of what the character is FEELING and less of the logistics of what's happening. Immediately sent him the link. Thanks so much!

Janelle said...

Great Rebecca! Your critique group and this blog seem in synch on topics for the second time in as many months! :)

Carol Baldwin said...

Great blog. Now, just to do it! Thanks for sharing with us, Beth and Janelle.