For the next few weeks, we're going to talk about some of the great wisdom other people have given me on my writing journey. This week's writing tip came from a freelance editor who provided the content edit for my first published novel, Canyon Walls.
If you're unfamiliar with how the process works, usually a full-time acquisition editor buys your book. Often times your book is then passed onto a different editor or multiple editors to handle things like the content and line edits.
After reading craft books and hearing experts talk about the importance of conflict, I'd crammed my book full of dramatic dialogue and big character reactions. In my content edit, the editor told me that some of my scenes were like "emotional whiplash."
This term turned on a lightbulb in my head. Good conflict should come organically when your character has a goal and another character or force is in the way of that goal. Melodrama is not conflict. It simply makes your characters come across as irrational and immature.
One way to guard against emotional whiplash is to think about what emotion and tone you want to convey at the beginning and at the end of your scene. The journey from the first emotion to the second should be natural and the motivations should make sense. In real life, we may feel angry, hungry, bored, and guilty all at the same time, but in fiction it's too much. Make sure you fully develop one emotion in your character before you throw them into another one.
It's like a singer who sings with too many flowery runs and falsettos. Sometimes it's too much and a stripped down, honest version of the song would make more of an impact.
Have you ever come across "emotional whiplash" in a novel? Have you ever written "emotional whiplash?"