Writing Emotional Scenes- What Is Too Much or Too Little?

Today as I edit, I’ve reached chapter 13, the most emotional scene in my book, A Heart Not Easily Broken, and I have to ask myself, “Is it too much? Will my reader be too sensitive to what my heroine is going through that they put the book down? Will they need to grab a tissue because they’ve experienced the same thing themselves?”

To be honest, I’d love for them to feel both. “You want them to put the book down??? Are you crazy?” you ask. Yes, I want my reader to be so shaken by what my character is feeling so  they feel like they’ve experienced it with her, so much so that they have to step away to regroup. But I also want them to be so hooked they after taking that emotional break they have no choice but pick it up again to find out how the matter is resolved. If they can do that, then I know I’ve done my job as an author and created not only a character the reader can relate too, but a story they are now emotionally invested in.

With that said, I’ll share a little bit about my character, Ebony Campbell, and where she is in her life when disaster hits.

Ebony is a twenty-six-year-old African-American woman who has spent the past seven years of her life studying to become a veterinarian. After hard work and sacrifice, she’s finally made it to the final stretch, her last year of school. Her reward? If she manages to graduate in the top of her class, her dream job of working for the Los Angles Zoo is hers. During her time in school, she hasn’t allowed herself time for romantic relationships. Then one day, she meets Brian Young, a member of the band performing at the night club her friends convenience her to go to. His attractive, talented…and white.

My genre is Multicultural Romance/Women’s Fiction, yet the story is so much more than the romance between people from different races. Its also about about the strength of my heroine when she finds herself in a situation that changes her life and forces her to choose between coming forth with information that will hurt the ones she holds close or deal with it on her own terms. As a sample, I’ll share with you a part of chapter 13.

A Heart Not Easily Broken

Chapter 13

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get rid of the smell.
Dark spices.
            Neither the fragrance of my cucumber-melon body wash nor the tropical scented soap could get rid of the stench.
            My skin flamed red, my inner thighs raw. I ached everywhere: my breast…my back….the very heart of me.
            I squeezed my eyes shut to block out the memory.
            How could this have happened? What did I do wrong? How did I let someone rape me?
            A wave of revulsion hit. I doubled over in pain, retching in the shower.
Nothing came out.
            I crossed my arms tight across my chest and sunk to the tile, watching as the soapy water disappeared, praying it would erase his disgusting odor. Heavy tears mixed with lukewarm water on my face…my hair. Nothing short of bleach could get Javan’s pungent scent, his…semen out and off of me.
            Why hadn’t I seen this coming?
I’d never felt comfortable being around Javan unless Brian was there. I stayed far away unless we were double dating with him and Yasmine.
            Why didn’t I wait for Yasmine to come home? She could have gone with me. Then none of this would have happened. It’s my fault.
            The water ran cold making the pain worse. How long had I been in the shower? What time was it? Had my roommates gotten home yet?
            I dragged my aching body out of the tub and over to the bathroom mirror. Faint traces of blue and black marks had emerged under my light brown skin. Javan’s handprints showed clearly on my arm. I turned sideways to examine the spot on my hip that ached most.
            My tattoo, my dedication to Brian looked marred. The skin around the blue butterfly had swollen and darkened from the grip of his heavy hands.
            Oh God, Brian…
            Where was he?
            I needed him. I needed to tell him his so-called friend had…
            Javan’s leering voice flooded my mind, growling, sending chills down my spine. “Tell Brian,” he said, smirking. “Go ahead; he’s not going to want you. You cheated on him. At least that’s what I’ll say. Why would he believe you? Deep down, he knows you’d rather be with a black man anyway.”
            My heart wanted to break. Why would Brian believe me? We’d only known each other for a few months. He’d known Javan for years. If I told Brian, it could damage our relationship. I loved him too much to take the chance I’d push him away.
            But what if he did believe me? Would he view me as damaged goods? Would he still want to be with me knowing someone raped me?
            Staring at my reflection, I knew these scars would be long gone by the time Brian came home. My body may not have blemishes, but deep down, I would never be the same.
That is such a powerful scene. I joke a lot about doing audio edits and how fun or awkward it can be to bring voice to my characters while looking for gaps in editing that I’ve missed. But today was unreal. Reading this out loud, I let Ebony’s voice come from me and I swear I could feel every emotion, every ache and pain as my voice trembled, my chest tightened and my eyes watered, picturing her crouched over in that tub. Nothing like this has ever happened to me, but I can only imagine what it could be like for someone to have experienced this kind of pain. This is the heart of my story. How does Ebony recover from being raped? How do the people in her life, her boyfriend, her best friend and roommate help her handle this kind of pain?
To find out, you’ll have to wait until the book comes out. A Heart Not Easily Broken, look for it, 2012.

11 thoughts on “Writing Emotional Scenes- What Is Too Much or Too Little?

  1. I think that's the best angle; to have the reader be emotionally in sync with the chratchers. They share the laughs, the fears, the tears and in some cases even the beers.But the question you ask, too much or too little, is hard to answer because there is no definate line. Some scenes need to be graphic, some scenes need just cliche words to get the point across.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts W.G.! I ask the question because I've been trying to apporach this scene without being too graphic and turning readers off. This is the 'after' scene. When I first wrote it, I put the reader right there as it happened. I had a few people tell me that it was too much. Book publishers will often be turned off by graphic scenes like that. So in the end, I decided to lightly dance around it. Chapter 12 stops to leave the reader wondering if it happened. Chapter 13 lets you know that it did. Everything else is fill in the blank.

  3. Powerful scene, MJ! You reached the depth of her despair, her shame—though unwarranted—over the act of violence that she had to endure. Sad, that too often, this is exactly how some people make women feel—as if this act of brutality is their fault. Great job. I will look forward to reading when you are finished.

  4. @Carmen DeSousa, thank you so much for the feedback! Every time I read this chapter it brings tears to my eyes and I have to remind myself I'm the one who wrote it!

  5. What a great job you did of laying the heroine's feelings bare! You know, the first person is not the easiest to write. It's very risky because if not done well it can come across as plastic. But you have nailed it, lady. Such emotion, my heart is still tight….

  6. Thanks @Angela for that wonderful comment! I'm glad it touched you. That let's me know I did my job.@Sharon, I can't wait for you to read it! Coming your way soon!

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