Monday, June 2, 2014

Craft Book Recommendation - Writing With Emotion, Tension, & Conflict

I was contacted by a mutual friend several months ago asking if I'd review a new book, Writing Emotion, Tension, & Conflict: Techniques for Crafting an Expressive and Compelling Novel, by Cheryl St. John. Full disclosure: I was sent a free copy to read for the review.

"Today's highly competitive fiction market requires writers to imbue their novels with that special something - an element that captures readers' hearts and minds. In Writing With Emotion, Tension & Conflict, writers will learn vital techniques for writing emotion into their characters, plots and dialogue in order to instill that special something into every page."

There were several things I really like about this book. First, Cheryl stresses from the very beginning that different things work for different folks, so she didn't write this book to tell us what to do, so much as how to figure out what works for us as individuals. This isn't a "my way or the highway" book. She provides writing exercises that involve watching movies or television shows, in addition to reading other books. In fact, she uses examples from these different mediums, which I think is a great way to get across the meaning of what she's saying to an array of folks. Not only does she recommend books/movies, but she points out what to look for in them and cites her own examples in spots. 

Hearkening back to what I said about her stressing different strokes for different folks, she was good about pointing out examples of what worked for her and what worked for other people she had spoken with. If there were different ways to do something, she pointed out different examples and why those worked for others.

Cheryl St. John has been writing for awhile, and has quite a few books under her belt (over 50). She uses this experience to tell new writers how she did things in the beginning and how those methods have metamorphosed for her with experience. This is something that could easily come across as condescending, but not in the way she does it. What it does accomplish is a little background that lets us know not to get discouraged, that we will all find our way to a system that works for us, and that the way to get there is experience, persistence, and flexibility. And it lets us know that even someone with this many books out, an award winner, is always learning as she moves forward with her writing career.

The book is separated into clear sections, as outlined at the beginning in the Table of Contents. When she deals with Conflict, she stresses the difference between things like conflict vs. incidents or conflict vs. misunderstandings/disagreements. She addresses GMC (Goals, Motivation, & Conflict), an important combination in writing. Of importance, she talks about how to make the conflict realistic. When talking about Emotion, she goes into POV (point-of-view), emotional triggers, characterization, and dialogue. And for Tension, which is addressed in the other areas, as well, she not only discusses how to create that tension, but how to sustain it and show it in your writing.

Her tone throughout the book is friendly and encouraging. She laces fun book and movie quotes throughout. The exercises she provides are useful (not just busy work) and interesting, and she provides asides in boxes to the side when a little something extra is needed. Her examples all work to reinforce what she's trying to teach the reader. I came away from this book with a better understanding of quite a bit, including external vs. internal conflict, something I struggle with identifying. And I had several revelations while reading. I highly recommend this book as a craft and reference book for your writing area. This is one I'll keep nearby to help me when I'm struggling with something.

Just a couple quotes from the Introduction and first chapter to give some examples:

"Feeling tells you what to say. Technique gives you the tools with which to say it." Intro, P. 5

"In order to have conflict, your character must have a goal and his goal must be believable. The believability factor comes from motivation." Chapter 1, P. 13

"This is an important lesson to remember: It's effective to eliminate all possibility that the character could go back to life as usual. He can no longer return to an ordinary world." Chapter 1, P. 15

Cheryl St.John is the author of over forty Harlequin and Silhouette books. Her first book, RAIN SHADOW was nominated for RWA’s RITA for Best First Book, by Romantic Times for Best Western Historical, and by Affaire de Coeur readers as Best American Historical Romance. Since then she's received several RITA nominations and three Romantic Times Achievement Awards. In describing her stories of second chances and redemption, readers and reviewers use words like, “emotional punch, hometown feel, core values, believable characters and real life situations."

Cheryl is admittedly blog crazy. She has a personal blog, From the Heart, a recipe blog, and a blog that follows a home remodel. She guest blogs whenever and wherever she's asked, and blogs monthly at Petticoats and Pistols.

You can purchase Writing With Emotion, Tensions, & Conflict at and Barnes & Noble in paperback and e-book. 

What's your favorite craft book? Have you read anything by Cheryl St. John? Do you feel you have a strong grasp of tension, emotion, and conflict? Are you familiar with GMC?

May you find your Muse.


  1. Hi, Shannon! Thanks for sharing about this book.

  2. There's always more to learn. Thanks for sharing :)

  3. Probably something I will pass on.

  4. I don't know if I have a favorite craft book. We just had a presentation on GMC at our monthly writers' meeting.

  5. A good review Shannon. Thanks.

  6. Great review, and I like that it doesn't take the one size fits all approach. Nothing irks me more than seeing someone explain "how you should write" and all it is is just them explaining how THEY write.

  7. Wow, now there's a book I think I need right now. Been working on my world building a LOT, and need to actually write...thanks for the recommendation and the excellent review.
    Tina @ Life is Good
    On the Open Road! @ Join us for the 4th Annual Post-Challenge Road Trip!

  8. If she's written over 50 books, she must have something to share with writers. Thanks for posting about her here.