Sinking Emotional Anchors

Becoming a vegetarian (two years ago this month!) has been good for my writing. Yesterday, while chopping vegetables I had two juicy bits of inspiration, one right after the other, about the WIP. 

Had to put my knife down and run upstairs to write them out before I forgot them. Chances are, I would not have forgotten, because I’d been thinking about how to solve a writing problem, and these ideas were part of the answer.

Answers tend to come, at least for me, not when I’m writing, not when I’m brooding over a notebook, trying to figure things out logically, but when I’m doing repetitive chores like chopping vegetables.

My current writing problem is a tough one. It’s what makes the difference between a just okay novel and an excellent one: How to convey emotional intensity.

The characters’ conflict needs to hook me (and the reader). I want the reader to hope with all her heart for a positive resolution. The stakes must be high enough to bring on tears or at least catharsis in the critical moments or the book just doesn’t hit the mark for me. 

And there’s no blueprint to get there. Some writers have a talent for emotionally intense plotting. They do it with every book. They make it look easy. For me, it’s usually a struggle, maybe because I’m not all that comfortable with my own emotions. I don’t like to cry. I don’t like to suffer. (I realize most people don’t, but I go a bit further, and am often cut off from my own negative emotions. I just don’t feel them. It’s called denial.) So for someone who practices negative emotion denial to the extent that I do, having to create those circumstances is tough. 

Emotional intensity begins for me when I make like a method actor and use a highly charged moment in my life, translating my feelings into the story. That’s only part of it, though. Just because a writer is feeling the feeling doesn’t mean the reader will feel it too.

There have to be hooks dropped, like little anchors, into the heart of the reader (and yes, the writer), so that when the right time comes, the story pulls the anchors up and the heart swells into the throat and maybe even wells the eyes with tears.

If my story does that to me at those key moments of darkness and resolution, I’m pretty sure my anchors worked. Yesterday, I found a way to make my conflict manifest through a new anchor. I had some stuff already stowed up for later in the story, and I was hoping it would work, and that it would be enough, but wasn’t convinced.

I kept wondering how I could intensify the emotional conflict. Then I got an idea of how to sink something small at the beginning of the story that will, I hope, carry my conflict through to a powerful resolution.


  1. Sometimes I put my “personal computer” to work on a problem, subconsciously, while I go about my business. It’s amazing what gets worked out when I’m not paying attention.


  2. I have been trying to write mostly on the keyboard, but this morning I went back to pen and paper. It’s so much faster to just go with the keyboard…


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