Take the following example:
Julie is upset because she and her boyfriend Mark have gone to a party and after the first half hour he seems to have disappeared and left her while he goes off and socialises. When she gets caught up in feeling angry with him, she will absorb only information that meshes with what she is feeling – Mark is laughing with his friends and he has no time for her at all… He hasn’t even thought to see if she wanted a drink in the last fifteen minutes… He hasn’t bothered to introduce her to anyone…
Mark’s starting to sound like a real jerk, right? But maybe he isn’t. Because other information is also coming Julie’s way, but because it doesn’t fit with her upset and angry state, she’s rejecting it without realising it:
She’s forgotten that he warned her he hadn’t seen his college buddies for ten years and that he might get swept up in greeting people when he first arrived. Mark has glanced her way a number of times, but she’s ignored him, too annoyed with him to catch his eye and smile. And when he tried to bring her a drink she refused it, saying he ought to know she didn’t like it and then got crosser with him for not remembering her preferences, feeding into her anger further.
For a writer there are two big benefits in understanding and utilising this emotional refractory state:
For example, Julie from the example above seems a bit high-maintenance at the moment, doesn’t she? But what if she’s felt like the wallflower her whole life? What if she thinks Mark is much better looking than her, that she doesn’t really deserve him and that one day he’ll wake up, realise it too, and dump her? Then we’ll understand that her anger is rooted in fear and lack of self-confidence, and a party full of popular attractive people where she feels she doesn’t fit in is going to push all her emotional buttons. While we still won’t think she’s being fair to Mark, we’ll understand it, which is the important thing when it comes to keeping readers engaged with our characters.
Fiona's latest book, The Guy To Be Seen With, is part of Harlequin's brand new line, KISS, and is out now.
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