Author, Teacher, Psychologist and Speaker

Posts Tagged "writing"

Pulling Your Character’s Emotional Trigger

Posted by on Apr 24, 2015 in Blog, On Writing | 0 comments




What’s your emotional trigger? The thing that stops you in your tracks, makes your heart pound or stop, and blurs the pages of the morning paper? A lost child? A hurt puppy? A dying grandmother?




Emotions are among the most researched of psychological conditions. The word “emotion” dates back to the 1500’s, deriving from the French émouvoir, which means “to stir up”. But a journey back through history, even before that time, demonstrates the prevalence of that human state.

You can’t invent new emotions to go along with your fictional world. Given that your emotional construct will reflect the real world, you’ll rely on two types of emotions: primary emotions and secondary emotions. Your primary emotion will develop from your inciting incident. This is the emotion that propels all of your main characters’ actions. How they display and deal with the primary emotion will be the backbone of your story. Your secondary emotions are those emotions your characters demonstrate as they strive to resolve the conflict brought on by the primary emotion. For example, they may experience an inciting incident that creates a fear response. Fear is your primary emotion. As a response to that fear, they become angry and driven to conquer their fear. Anger is your secondary emotion. As you structure your story, you typically have one primary emotion and several secondary emotions. This adds the depth to your characters and story that gives your readers an enriching and fulfilling reading experience.




All good fiction writing has at its heart the goal “to stir up”, whether it is an adventure, a fantasy, a mystery, or a romance.

Emotions – feelings, moods, behavior – are reactions and responses to stimuli. These stimuli may include certain events, stressors, behavior of others, or even our own inner thoughts and conflicts, attitudes, frustrations, etc. For example, the emotion of sadness may be caused by the loss of something or someone very important. Anger may be precipitated by someone taking something very important from you.




Rational-emotive psychologist Albert Ellis designed the following Model of Emotion:

A (Activating Event) + B (Belief) = C (Consequence)

Based on the human belief that our desires must and should be fulfilled, our emotional responses can be an irrational reaction to those stimuli.

For example, if your protagonist (Let’s call him Brad) wanted more than anything to ask the new girl out on a date and she declined, this might be his emotional response:

A (Dinner invitation declined) + B (Because I am unlikeable) =
C (Sadness, depression, feeling rejected)

Brad’s belief, whether rational or irrational, leads to his feelings of rejection and sadness. Of course, if she had accepted his invitation, the model would yield a different result.

Just as we react in our real world, we want our characters to react in our writing. And even though we all want and feel we deserve to get what we want – the job, the car, the girl – life often does not turn out that way. Enter the disturbance that will stir things up!




Take our rejected protagonist for example. When we first meet Brad in our story, he appears to be a pretty normal guy. Handsome, friendly, ambitious. Brad’s a rising attorney in a large law firm, who graduated from a major university, where he was a star quarterback on the football team. But when it comes to women, he strikes out. He’s shy and awkward. On that playing field, he lacks self-confidence. Why?

Maybe he had a girlfriend in high school that cheated on him, dumped him, and married his best friend. He never got over her. He subconsciously compares all other women to her. Now we have a character with some emotional baggage to go along with his promising career.

Enter the emotional trigger. As soon as Brad saw the attractive paralegal walk into the law library. He wanted to pursue her, take her out to dinner. But the subconscious response linked to his past experience and the subsequent arousal of his nervous system, set him on another course.

Brad felt heaviness in his chest. He was light-headed from the rush of adrenalin. A flush crept up from his neck to his cheeks. He clenched and unclenched his fists, his nails dug into his palms. Words crept out in uneven syllables, hanging…

When Brad’s attempt to get something he wanted was thwarted, it sent him spiraling into a deep depression. That moment and what he does next will become his emotional journey. And whether he responds in a positive or negative way to stimuli, his action and motivation will be propelled by emotion.

When your characters don’t get what they want, one of the first emotions they experience is frustration. It is in that moment that he or she must choose what to do in response to that setback. The choices are dependent upon what kind of person they are and where the plot will take us. The emotional response of your characters is deeply rooted in their personality.

What is Brad feeling? Anger? Sadness? Hurt? Pain? Will he lose control? Seek revenge? Will he give up and shrink back into the stacks of the library and lick his wounds? Will he take a deep breath and try again until he succeeds?

Initially, our character’s reactions to frustration are tied to learned behavior. In Brad’s case, how did he respond to the loss of his girlfriend in high school? Were there other significant emotional events in his childhood that might influence his present day reaction? Was he abandoned by someone else? Left alone? Did he feel unloved by a parent or another significant person?

Brad’s emotional journey began before we met him in our author’s mind. It has been a fusion of his external persona, i.e. successful attorney, and his internal identity, i.e. wounded child. His complete character is a combination of flaws, i.e., insecurity, depression, quick temper and strengths, i.e., intelligence, handsome appearance, integrity.




Character flaws are often learned coping mechanisms to compensate for our vulnerability. Often the direct result of not getting what we wanted or felt we deserved. Perception is reality. And when we view ourselves as insecure, unlovable, weak, our character is threatened. In Brad’s case, when he was rejected in the past, he was hurt and angry, prone to despair and depression. This is his emotional maturity level when we first meet him.

Now that we care about him, we want him to succeed. We know that there is potential for growth and transformation. As we travel with him on his journey, we see how he reacts to stimuli at each juncture. From the introduction in Act One, where we create empathy for him, with his vulnerability and flaws. We show his reactions and adjustments in the turning points when his desires and longings are thwarted thrusting him into new situations and pursuits.

Into Act Two, we show his fear and angst as he pursues his dream and his goal, facing the conflicts and failures, the progress and retreat. We describe his commitment at the point of no return when he realizes what his life would be like if he failed. And when we raise the stakes even higher for him, we paint the peak of his emotional journey as we glimpse the all or nothing moment when it seems he will not succeed. Then the emotional maturity level has grown and his reaction to stimuli has changed.

The emotional journey that your character(s) take serves to heighten the interaction between your reader and that character. The reader has been on that journey, become that persona, and experienced that growth. And that is one of the many reasons we write what we write. To fuse that emotional connection between the reader and the story.




A great resource:

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression


This piece first appeared on the SCWW Blog Post 8/31/2014.

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Posted by on Aug 20, 2014 in Featured, On Writing, Uncategorized | 2 comments


What’s a “Writers’ Conference”, anyway?

Writers Conference


A Writers’ Conference can be a mixture of break-out sessions and programs, insights and intensives, and social and networking opportunities.

The conference faculty will be replete with experts in the fields of writing and illustrating, editing and publishing, and author representation.

When researching and registering for a conference, keep in mind the elements that fit your current needs as a writer. Choose the conference that best addresses where you are, where you want to go, what you need to learn and how you can accomplish your goals.

WC #2

Among the many benefits of attending a Writers’ Conference are chances to:



How does the publishing industry work? Who decides what gets published, where and how books are placed, what makes it to the front of a bookstore? Who designs the covers? How do authors get blurbs and reviews? What are the latest trends? 


Intensive Programs – in-depth hands-on workshops of interest that explore, examine, and educate the participant in specific content areas. They concentrate on deepening the craft for the committed writer

Break-out Sessions – targeted sessionson craft and creative process, knowledge and/or insight into the publishing industry, social media, networking, marketing and promotion

Critique sessions – one on one with an agent, editor or author who reviews your work and offers insight, feedback and/or and recommendations for improvement  


Finding new writers are among the reasons thatagents and editors attend conferences. Attending a conference is a great chance to get a face to face moment with one of them. You should be prepared to tell them about your book. The best way to do this is to develop a perfect pitch – the“shortest summary of story that captures the core emotional conflict of a story”.  Have your pitch memorized for those convenient and appropriate times to deliver. Sign up for a Pitch Session if available. Your pitch is your job interview.

Business cards/Illustrator Postcards – a professional representation of who you are to exchange with authors, editors and agents

Synopsis – one page describing your narrative arc, introducing your main character(s), revealing your inciting incident, compelling core conflict and the major plot twists and turning points, divulging the stakes, describing the emotional upheaval, climax, resolution and the change that will take place (Have one in case someone asks for it.)

Manuscript – your work in progress, written in proper format, edited and revised (Have one in case someone asks for it.)


Connect with industry insiders and fellow authors at informal social gatherings, autograph parties, luncheons, open mics, and red-eyes to exchange ideas, numbers, emails and form writing partnerships.

WC #4



      1. Come prepared with an iPad, laptop, or note pad
      2. Practice good etiquette andobservesocial media rules
      3. Be Professional andmakea good first impression
      4. Respect Agents, Editors & Speakers and their privacy
      5. Follow-up with a “Thank You!”

And, most of all, have a great time!

I hope to see you at my next conference:




Click here to register.






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Week 19: The Next Big Thing

Posted by on Oct 10, 2012 in Blog, Writing Wednesday | 1 comment

Holly Hughes tagged me for The Next Big Thing blog hop. She answered these same questions last week on her blog,

What is the working title of your book?

Where did the idea come from for the book?

This is the second book in the SEAN GRAY, JUNIOR SPECIAL AGENT series. The idea for the first book HIDING CARLY, and the series came from a mentoring relationship that I had with an eleven year old boy who went through the FBI Junior Special agent Program. The main character, Sean, was born from this relationship. The story is his.

What genre does your book fall under?

Middle Grade mystery and adventure

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Sean – Dylan Boyack  (from The Hangover)

Andy – Tucker Albrizzi  of Big time Rush and good Luck Charlie

Carly – Joey King  of Ramona and Beezus

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Sean’s testimony in the trial of a child kidnapping ring involving a rogue FBI agent is at the root of a mysterious accident plunging Sean and his new friends smack in the middle of another mystery.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Published by Peak City Publishing
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

One year…still revising
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

NANCY DREW or the HARDY BOYS. Other popular series in this category are Encyclopedia Brown and Cam Jansen stories.

More contemporary novels in the compete category:

CHARLES COLLIER, SNOOP FOR HIRE – A series of middle grade mystery novels by John Madormo follows the adventures of a 12 year old investigator.

CLOSED FOR THE SEASON by Mary Downing Hahn – a stand-alone book follows the adventure of 7th grader, Logan and his friend Arthur as they try to solve a murder mystery.

THE BIG SPLASH by Jack D. Ferraiolo features Matt, a middle school boy who tries to keep the halls safe and free from crime.

THE POSTCARD by Tony Abbott, is an Edgar Award winner, in which 13 year old Jason cleans out his deceased grandmother’s home and gets involved in the mysteries of her life.

John Grisham’s THEODORE BOONE series is also in the competitive category. Where Theodore works with the justice system in his home town to solve some situations of his peers.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

My love of children and the issues that they face. My continued involvement with the FBI.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The uniqueness of the SEAN GRAY, JUNIOR SPECIAL AGENT (JSA) mystery/adventure series is the FBI and the continued involvement and collaboration of the protagonist, Sean with the agency.

Tagged for next week:

Debra Koontz Traverso

Joan Y. Edwards

Linda Anderson

Gretchen Griffith

Sandra Warren


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Why I Write

Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Blog, On Writing, Writing Wednesday | 6 comments

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Writing is my powerful passion, my prevailing purpose, my prominent path. It gives my life meaning.    It brings me fantastical joy. My creative veins pulse every time I see a fascinating figure, a shivering shadow, an unexplored universe.

I write because I have to. There are worlds of players inside my head, exploding with dreams, desires, and daring adventures. They are storming the stockade, entering the empire, and announcing their arrival. They are waiting to tell their story.

I write for many of the same reasons for which I read. Communication. Connection. Camaraderie.

Books shaped my life. From the moment that I could hold a book with both hands, I read. Oh, I might not have understood the words exactly – but my imagination painted a picture of the things that my mind did not comprehend.

I fell in love with story. And characters. And plot. I hungered for adventure and excitement and experience.

Why do you write? Are there characters dancing around in your head waiting to tell their stories? I would love to hear from you.

Helen S. writes: “I write to know myself. I write because I can. I write to record truths, to imagine worlds, to persuade people, to make them think. I write because it’s an art form. Even as a child, writing played an important role. I set up an office in my closet, pulled in a small chair, desk, and lamp and graced the desktop with a typewriter. The blank paper intimidated me, but I pecked away at the keys and recorded a few thoughts. It was a tableau I’d create again and again…”


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Posted by on Apr 23, 2012 in Blog | 2 comments

FBI Citizens Academy Alumni Association

FBI Citizens Academy Alumni Association

I have always been a writer. I have always loved books. When I was three years old, my idea of writing a book was picking a bound book from the library at my house, opening it up and adding some illustrations, via crayons or a number 2 pencil. From there, I ventured into poetry, short stories, articles for school papers, and the senior class song and play.

My first piece of fiction was (is) an adult novel. I had never taken a novel writing course – so I was intimidated! My thought: I will start writing a children’s book! That will be easier! Ha! Was I mistaken! I stumbled into the vast wonderland of Children’s Books.

As a teacher of Language Arts and Social Studies, I was familiar with children’s books. Good books! Great books! Charlotte’s Web, The Wind in the Willows, Goodnight, Moon, Bridge to Terabitha, Little Women, Tuck Everlasting, to name a few. But talking about them after they are written is way different than writing one from scratch! I had a lot to learn about the field of Children’s Publishing!

As I said, I was a teacher for many years. Then I became a school psychologist. And although I had retired from my job as a school psychologist for the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice, I still wanted to work with children. I had been mentoring students at Logan Elementary in Columbia for several years. One of the students was enrolled in the FBI Junior Special Agent Program. A program for the fifth graders at Logan. As I closely watched his participation in the program, I was intrigued. The idea for Sean began to dance around in my writer head! I told the Special Agent in charge of the program about some ideas I had with Sean’s character development. He invited me to FBI Headquarters in Columbia.

I interviewed special agents at the FBI Columbia Field Office about their Junior Special Agent Program, which led to negotiations with the FBI Office of Public Affairs (OPA) in Washington DC about my story and an endorsement with them to collaborate on a series of at least 4 or 5 more books based on my protagonist.

I was then nominated to become a member of the FBI Citizens Academyand received training in all areas of the FBI, including terrorism, counter-terrorism, gangs, and hate crimes, kidnapping and cyber-crime. This has given me personal insight into the inner workings of the organization and a great trove of stories for the potential series! Storylines I wish to develop include bullying and hate crimes; chat room lures and cyber-stalking; kidnapping; witness protection; and violent gang and organized crime.

About the FBI Citizens Academies

Want to find out first hand how the FBI works? Hear how the Bureau tracks down spies and terrorists? Learn how to collect and preserve evidence? See what it is like to fire a weapon and put yourself in the shoes of a Special Agent making a split-second, life-or-death decision?

If you are a leader in your community, you just might be able to do that and more––through an FBI Citizens’ Academy, open for business in all 56 of our field offices.

Who attends? Business, civic, and religious leaders. You must be at least 18 years old (with no prior felony convictions) and must live and work in the area covered by the field office sponsoring the academy.

Who teaches? Special Agents in Charge of a field office, their senior managers, and senior agent experts.

For how long? Classes generally meet 10 times (eight on weeknights and two on Saturday) for three hours each session. Each session has around 20-30 students.

The curriculum? Fascinating!

  • Practical problems involving evidence collection and preservation.
  • FBI jurisdiction and congressional oversight.
  • Structure and operation of FBI field offices and resident agencies.
  • Fingerprint, forensic, technology, training, and other services
  • Policies and issues: ethics, discipline, communications, civil rights, and criminal trends.
  • Firearms training.

To find out more about Citizens’ Academies, contact your local field office.

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