05-26-18 – Blog Queen - Sarah Raplee

Monday, September 24, 2012

Overheard at... Starbucks

“It’s too sweet.”

It didn’t really matter what the customer was complaining about, my angst was up. This is a hot button for me since I write sweet romance. Lately I have felt, well, a bit under fire for not exploring the intensity of sexuality in my stories. There seems to be an assumption that sweet stories automatically do not have depth or intensity. Wrong. I deal with difficult issues like death and heartbreak and lost love… not to mention parenthood. And, just as sex scenes can come off as contrived, so can philosophical themes if not handles properly.
Which leads to my discussion in this post about Post-apocalyptic Romance; something the Genre-istas are highlighting in October.

As I found while researching reviews for this genre on Amazon, there is no way to handle this topic without delving into the depths of personal tragedy, pain and suffering that is caused by losing everything you know and love. An author can try, but in every case I found the readers sussed it out as superficial and lacking credibility (and reviewed it as such).

So whether you write sweet with emotional depth or post-apocalyptic, how does a writer seek out those feelings within themselves to create believable characters? Not all of us have (hopefully) lost a close loved one or seen tragedy occur right in front of our eyes; so how can we possibly relate to what we want to put our characters through?

In researching this idea of empathy I found that Doctors experience something very similar in their work. While patients expect or hope their doctor will be empathic, (or share their feeling so as to better diagnose or treat them), doctors must also maintain their focus on the patient, rather than on their own, similar experiences or emotions. To do this one article describes the term emotional attunement (

Emotional attunement operates by shaping what one imagines about another person's experience. In trying to imagine what the patient is going through, physicians will sometimes find themselves resonating. This is not an additional activity to imagining, but rather a kind of involuntary backdrop to it. Further, resonance is not a special professional skill, but a part of ordinary communication. While listening to an anxious friend, one becomes anxious, while talking with a coworker, one feels heavy, depressed feelings. Importantly, attuning to patients does not always involve resonating with strong feelings, but often is a subtle nonverbal sense of where another person is emotionally.

This then is something everyone already experiences living out our everyday lives. The question is how to tap into it, whether as an author writing a book, or a reader trying to relate to one. And this depends on conscientiously observing non-verbal cues, such as a bitten lip, a shaky hand, no eye contact, a lax face, hunched shoulders…..

The goal for this post then is to observe these cues in those around us; do not react to them but note how they make us feel; Anxious, scared, tired, bored, excited, concerned, hopeful? And then write down the association.

Then, when we go to write that post-apocalyptic love scene we can physically use the appropriate cue to help us recreate the emotion.

I’d love to hear how it works for you… be it in relating to a hot sex scene, a sweet heartbreak or a lone dog wandering the streets of post-apocalyptic New York.


Paty Jager said...

I try to see, hear, and feel what I believe the characters would int he scenes. With my Native American books I read all I could get my hands on that was in the words and thoughts of the Nez Perce. Then I try to portray them as I "felt" what they had gone through and lived. It has to be devastating to see your family and people killed and run from the places they called home. Yet they were strong and resilient. That's what I tried to portray. And I've had several NA tell me I did a good job.

Judith Ashley said...

Thoughtul post, Deanne. I hadn't heard of 'attunement' before although I certainly have heard of 'vicarious traumatization' which must be related in some way.

I'm very fortunate to have had a rich and varied life full of happy and less-than-happy experiences so I've felt a whole range of feelings from despair to euphoria. The challenge is always to 'show' readers as it is oh so much easier to just tell them!

I like the idea of looking at the visual clues (body language in particular) people give when talking about life situations and will pay a bit more attention now. (I'm more auditory so closing my eyes and 'Listening' works better for me but then I miss the other ways the person is communicating with me).

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Deanne,
Great blog. That was so interesting. Absolutely nothing wrong with a well written sweet romance. Some of my favourite novels are "sweets" even if I do put a bit of spice in my own stories.



Sarah Raplee said...

I believe many writers are very empathetic people. Writers are usually voracious readers, and recent scientific research has shown that readers are more empathetic than non-readers, probably because we have been putting ourselves in other peoples shoes since childhood.

Great post!

deanne said...

I'm so sorry I've been terribly lax this month in checking in on everyone. I'm sure everyone can emotionally 'resonate' with the crazyness that sometimes comes upon us.

But I did want to say a belated thank you for the wonderful comments. It is so very itnerestign to hear how we all go about tuning into (or out of) others emotions. Hope it has been a good month of exploring this topic. Cheers,