CRAFT MATTERS: The Compelling Book–Subtext Creates Conflict that Produces Micro-Tension

Secret SisterEmelle Gamble’s new release Secret Sister is this week’s highlight in Craft Matters. The author’s skilled use of conflict creates a micro-tension that grabs the reader immediately and continues to drive the story forward. Secret Sister is a cross-genre novel that hopscotch’s back and forth over the lines of women’s fiction, romance, and light paranormal.
At its core, this is a story of rediscovery and second chances. The self-exploration the heroine undergoes–that sense of being a foreigner in a strange land–takes the reader on an emotionally heart-wrenching journey with lots of bumps in the road. Bumps that we’re willing to take because we’re holding out for the payoff that we’re sure will come. And it does.
Gamble builds micro-tension by creating a tug-of-war between what is known and what is unknown from the very beginning pages. As readers, we worry and wonder and guess and backtrack on what we know and what we believe to be true just like the main character.Tug of War - 123RF And this creates a tension in the reader to know, to find out, which keeps us reading. We’re on a journey of discovery as well. Even in those first pages, we’re trying to figure out the dynamics of the friendship between Roxanne and Cathy, what’s going on beneath . . . what’s the subtext.
My best friend and I should have been relaxed and chatty, but we hadn’t been either lately. There was tension between us. She was distracted and distressed by calamity in her personal life and I felt at a loss to help.
Gamble uses this delicate maneuvering between text and subtext to create a micro-tension for the reader. We’re pulled by the conflict. The character goes on to explain that Roxanne has just been through a breakup. However, it’s because of the subtext that’s implied by Cathy that we know something more, something darker, might be going on. We keep reading to find out what that something more might be. Gamble continues to use this conflict between what’s said and what’s left unsaid throughout the opening chapters of Secret Sisters. The subtext causes us to question what’s real, what’s truth, who is sleeping with whom, who’s betrayed whom, and who is friend or foe, but most of all, it keeps us reading.
Another craft strength this author employs is emotional authenticity. Her characters’ responses feel authentic. They give us a glimpse into those dark recesses where we often don’t want to go, but, when seen and experienced, really expose what it means to be human. Readers can relate to the real relationships and emotional responses of her characters. There’s a truth that resonates with them. Let’s look at an example in Chapter 8. In this scene, Nick who’s dealing badly with his wife Cathy’s death, lashes out against Betty, the mother (who is also a psychologist) of his dead wife’s best friend. During this whole interaction, Gamble builds the tension with Betty’s every conversational interaction with Nick. But the emotional resonance, the kernel truth explodes on to the scene with Nick’s final response to her.
Betty squeezed my arm. “It would also be helpful, Nick, … to get some counseling. Grief counseling is very specialized art. I can give you the name of some of my colleagues, if you want. To help you move on.”
“I don’t want to move on, Betty,” I blurted out. “If anything, I want to move back in time. To July 9. I want to go back to that day and pull Roxanne’s head out of her ass and tell her to grow up and stop dragging my wife around like a fucking security blanket. If she didn’t care about her own life, fine, but she should have been careful not to kill my wife!”
Betty Haverty went white, her arms rigid at her side. 
Zoe clutched her backpack. “Nick, don’t …”
“So tell Roxanne I don’t care to meet with her.” My voice got louder. “And tell her when she can remember her life, to remember that Cathy was the best person she ever knew, and the best goddamned friend she ever had. And that she’s lost that friend now because she’s a careless, selfish, boneheaded bitch who never thinks about anyone but herself.”
While this is a hard scene to read, it’s a highly emotional one because the author doesn’t back down. Doesn’t settle for the smaller emotion here. She allows her character to go big and feel what someone experiencing this kind of grief might experience. It rings true to us as readers. There’s an authenticity that makes us sit up and take notice and more importantly, it moves us to tears and makes us experience this man’s heartbreak. It’s scenes like this one throughout the book that will draw readers in and keep them coming back for more.
Gamble’s expertise in developing sexual tension between her characters, even in the flashback to a forbidden relationship, will also capture romance readers from the early chapters of this book. But it’s the main character’s search for her true love that will keep them reading until she finds her happy-ever-after.
In the end, Secret Sister is a book about the search for true identity. Who are we when all else is stripped away and we’ve forgotten who we are? Then the story pushes a little harder and asks: Will our true love be able to find us if our identity changes–or worse, will they still love us, if they do find us changed? Go buy Emelle Gamble’s Secret Sister to find out. I highly recommend it!
You can find Emelle chatting about The Long Winding Road to Brand New this week at You’ll find her online at:, @EmelleGamble, and
So who are some of your favorite authors who use subtext to create conflict & micro-tension that compels you to find out . . . the rest of the story?

CRAFT MATTERS: Emotional Echoes That Pack A Punch

Image by Peter Vrabel

Image by Peter Vrabel

Emotional tension is one of the biggest factors that will keep me reading a story or watching a movie, even if it’s not quite my cup of tea. Last night I watched Identity Theft. I’m not much of a slapstick comedy kind of girl. So the movie was a stretch for me, however, it was the emotional impact and echoes of pain I saw rippling through the two main characters in that movie that kept me watching and, in the end, gave me the satisfaction I needed. This got me thinking about why I love certain books I’ve read recently. Since I’m a romance writer, I don’t love heavy, overly-dramatic sagas. And I don’t love tragedy for the sake of tragedy. But I love story and emotion when it’s authentic and well executed. So today in CRAFT MATTERS, we’ll look at Girl With Guitar by Caisey Quinn, a new adult romance that’s a great example of a book where an author who uses emotional impact and emotional echoes to take the reader on a journey worth traveling. In any good story, the emotion–as in real life–ebbs and flows; it has its highs and lows. What I’m finding, though, is that the most effective use of emotion is those little echoes throughout the story that remind me of a character’s wound or pain.Girl With Guitar Full Size

Girl With Guitar is one of my favorite recent reads for a lot of reasons, but first and foremost is the awesome emotional journey Caisey Quinn took me on as a reader. Throughout the book, I worried and laughed and cried and fell in love and bristled and had my heart broken and forgave and kept on loving. And I knew, just knew, even though this was a romance that these two main characters would never get it together enough to be together. How is that even possible? This is a romance for Pete’s sake. Of course the hero and the heroine get together. Hello? But, no. There were several times I was convinced this wouldn’t work out. This is the hallmark of a great emotional story-teller–a great romance writer. I can certainly see why Caisey Quinn is one of Amazon’s bestselling authors. She gets a lot right–the glimpse into the country music industry, the characterization, the hot sexual tension, and the emotion.

Image by syaraku

The craft area I’m going to focus on today is the emotional echoes. Quinn is a master at emotional authenticity, but she keeps reminding the reader of those big emotional moments with echoes of the moment afterwards. Here are two good examples.

In the opening scene of the book, Kiley Ryans is talking to the temporary marker at her dad’s grave. She’s been kicked out of the house by her step-mom because her step-mom’s boyfriend paid too much attention to her. She’s got no family and no money. And in this opening scene, we see her vow to her dead Daddy that she’s going to make it in Nashville and she’s going to make enough money to buy him a real headstone. This is a highly charged emotional scene. Along the way, we find out how much she loved her father and how influential he was in her life and to her music.

So in Chapter Eight when Kiley performs for the first time in a paid venue, she’s finally booed off stage–despite a great performance–because she’s trying to buy time for Trace Corbin, the country star everyone paid the big bucks to come see, but who’s late. Trace never shows. When he does finally appear on the bus at three in the morning, needless to say, Kiley and Trace have a big confrontation. It’s emotional in and of itself; however, Quinn uses an emotional echo from earlier–Kiley’s dad’s death–to give the scene the extra punch and emotional twist it needs to end the chapter.

In this scene, Kiley and Trace have been fighting. He’s struggling with a drinking problem and she’s called him on the carpet for pissing away his talent and his career and for ruining her chance to make it big as a country music artist. She’s just told him that she’s glad she’s not a fan of his because there’s no one else he treats worse than her or his manager than his fans or his band mates, who choose to ride behind them in a Winnebago instead of sharing a bus with him.

“Really waitress, that the best you got? If I’m so pathetic, why don’t you just run home to Daddy now?” He cocked his head and folded his arms across his chest.

Tears stung the backs of Kylie’s eyes, but no way was she going to let this guy cut her any deeper. Snapping back as if he’d slapped her, she tried to keep her tone light. “You know, I would, but he’s been dead for seven months. And it’s a good thing for you because if he was alive to see you destroying everything I’ve worked for, you’d be in a world of pain.”

“Shit, I didn’t know–” Trace interrupted himself to scrub a hand over his face.

Masterful emotional echo. As well as a good example of the hero poking at the heroine’s wound without even realizing it.

And, again, in Chapter Fourteen, we get another one of those emotional echoes that reminds us of the stakes for the heroine. It’s merely a ripple, but we feel it to our core because it reminds us of everything Kiley has to lose.

Danny gave her a sympathetic smile and offered a few pointers about checking instead of upping the ante. “Sometimes it’s better to fold. Doesn’t mean anything. Just means you were dealt some sorry cards.”

Story of my life, Kylie thought to herself.

Isn’t that the truth? Again, this is a masterful use of emotional tension. It shows the big impact a micro-echo of emotion can have on a scene.

These are just two quick examples of Quinn’s mastery of using emotional echoes to give a one-two emotional punch. The book is filled with them. I recommend you read Girl With Guitar. You won’t be disappointed. The story is satisfying and the emotional journey will surprise and delight you. Pick it up. You won’t put it down until you’re finished and you’ll want Quinn’s next story. ASAP!