Patrice Sarath on balancing action & emotion in writing

Quite some talented authors have reacted to my request on Twitter for guestposts on writing-related topics. This is already number 3 this week and of equal high quality. I’m grateful for your offer to adorn my blog with your masterly contributions.

Patrice Sarath is a seasoned author and editor from Austin, Texas, who writes books in different genres. Check out her impressive record of service on her website Patrice Sarath. Yes, published by no less than Penguin Berkley in the US,  she loves to give writing advice to struggling scribes. I’m thrilled she let me repost her blog on the right balance between action and emotion in writing. IMHO this workshop-in-a-nutshell is of priceless value and can be adopted right away in every new paragraph you write. The original post can be read at

Bad author, no cookie!

One of the dangers  if you will of showing rather than telling, is that you can become mired in the action catalog. This is sentence after sentence that detail, often excruciatingly, what the protagonist is doing second by second.

Miranda hit the snooze button and went back to sleep. Ten minutes later the alarm clock went off again. She fumbled at it to turn it off, silencing the buzzer mid-voice. She lay back in the darkness. Then she groaned, pushed back the warm cocoon-like comforter, swung her feet to the cold floor, and stood. She got her robe and went to the bathroom.

Sure, this is showing. Boy, we get to see every inch of her progress from the bed to the bathroom. I can keep this up forever, talking about how she pees, takes a shower and shaves her legs, goes into the kitchen and makes herself toast, and stop stop stop stop it doesn’t matter!
How do we make this matter? How do I get you to care about Miranda? Setting aside the fact that you should probably never start a novel with the character waking up (let’s pretend this is in Chapter 7, okay?), how do we rework this simple paragraph so that it imparts plot and character and setting?

We do it by adding emotional context.

Miranda hit the snooze button, silencing the buzzer mid-voice. She stared at the ceiling in her dim bedroom, gray winter light trickling in through the blinds. She didn’t want to get out of bed. If she got out of bed, everything that happened last night became real. Everything she did last night became real. The buzzer screeched again, making her heart jump. She fumbled to turn off the alarm clock and summoning up her courage, she pushed back the comforter and swung her feet to the cold floor. Miranda winced, but the sensation was nothing to the stinging scratches on her face and back, the deep cuts on her hands. She stank of blood and sweat and fear.

Context — in this case her emotional and physical state — gives us two extra layers in a scene and (I hope) makes it more interesting. Now, sometimes an affectless recounting of action can be extremely powerful. It depends. But almost always you want action to take place with emotional underpinnings (and vice versa — no wallowing in emotion without providing action to give it more oomph).

I don’t know what Miranda did last night (damn shapeshifters are at it again, or something),  but I don’t care about the first Miranda nearly as much as I do about the second one.


Patrice Sarath is an American author who writes fantasy and romance. Her fantasy series, The Books of the Gordath, includes Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and the current novel, The Crow God’s Girl. Her fantasy novels are filled with romance, magic, and adventure in a dangerous alternative world. Gordath Wood was a 2008 Reviewer’s Top Pick from Paranormal Romance Review.

She is also the author of The Unexpected Miss Bennet, a sequel to Pride & Prejudice that features Mary Bennet, the plain middle sister.  The Unexpected Miss Bennet was named one of the best Jane Austen sequels in 2011.

For more information about Patrice’s books, please visit her website and blog at

Here are the links to excerpts of all the books:

Gordath Wood

Red Gold Bridge

The Crow God’s Girl

The Unexpected Miss Bennet

Thanks, so much Patrice!

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