Mar 5, 2013

On Cracking Open Pandora's Box

Today we have with us the lovely Toni Noel. She talking to us about adding emotional layers to your scenes. Welcome, Toni!


After hearing a manuscript passage read aloud describing a character spreading paste on a craft project, a critique partner confessed she'd tasted paste in her mouth.

That's one example of an author opening Pandora's Box a crack simply with words. No need for the writer to say whether the paste was lumpy or smooth. She let the reader make her own connection. We all have memories of spreading paste, some good, some bad, whether the paste was store bought or the sticky homemade stuff, and the author was counting on those recollections to draw the reader in.

In Decisive Moments, I wrote about a precocious five-year-old. Sifting through my memories, I found plenty of child-rearing experiences to share. Like Marta, the winsome kindergartner in my novel, when she was turning five, my firstborn invited every stranger she met to her birthday party. The mantra write what you know was my motto throughout the writing of that book.

Parenting provides an author a myriad of things to write about, and each event has the very real potential of opening Pandora's Box for your readers. Just think about the emotional rollercoaster a parent rides while teaching a teen to drive. My husband took our coming of age daughter out one quiet Sunday afternoon in his Volkswagen Beatle for her first lesson. On their return, I heard the screech of tires that left black skid marks still visible on our driveway after over thirty years. And I heard in my head their raised voices and the slamming of car doors as I wrote the driving-lesson scene in Fragile Bonds.

Once he'd cooled off, my husband informed me he'd decided I would be the one to teach our reckless daughter with an apparent death wish how to drive. That's why I had such fun writing the driving-lesson-scene in Fragile Bonds, a secret baby story Desert Breeze Publishing recently released. I had bitten my tongue till it bled while teaching our daughters to become skilled drivers, and knew just how torn Dawn felt. Every time I reread the manuscript during edits, I mentally cringed, remembering the numerous times the Volkswagen's mistreated gears complained as my inexperienced drivers shifted, and the stench of burning rubber caused by panic stops. On that long ago Sunday our first inexperienced student luckily managed to stomp the brake pedal in time to avoid driving right through the closed garage door. In my novel, Kelly is equally lucky.

We didn't buy a car with automatic shift until after the last hopeful driver had earned her license, so we suffered through eight long years of griping that all their friends were learning to drive in cars with automatic shifts. For years Driver's Ed teachers brought their students to our quiet street to practice turns. Now Sears' Driving School has become the preferred source of private instruction, but every time I see a car labeled Student Driver, I'm reminded of the way my fearless teens recklessly drove through empty church parking lots and circled the deserted stadium at speeds that made my heart race. Once Pandora opens her box and the memories come flooding back, it's hard to stuff those memories back inside. Your readers aren't likely to try.

While writing Fragile Bonds I poured the memories of my first high school sweetheart onto the page -- the tears and heartbreak, the angst, the fear no one would invite me to the holiday dance. Raising her daughter Kelly brings back Dawn's memories of high school, too, painful memories she'd rather forget. Through events mostly beyond her control, when almost sixteen, Dawn was forced into Witness Protection with her parents, and not allowed to tell her high school boyfriend she'd conceived and given birth to his baby.  Now, she fears their teenager will make life-changing choices, too.

I included a gut-wrenching runaway scene in Fragile Bonds, too. What parent hasn't awakened to discover their teen's bed has not been slept in? Or frantically called their offspring's friends late at night hoping to learn the whereabouts of a dependable son or daughter who has missed curfew?

An author doesn't need to give many details to trigger a memory. In fact it's best not to. Just mentioning sailing or cinnamon rolls baking in your story and the lid on Pandora's box cracks opens in your reader's mind.

My current WIP is about a lawyer whose boyfriend sweeps her away from the courthouse on the back of a Harley. I have no idea why I decided to write about legal matters or motorcycles, as I don't know doodly-squat about either one.

Toni Noel's published novels are available for download here:
or from Amazon and B&N.

And to read more about Toni go to her website:


While growing up in the South and completing seventh grade Toni Noel, writing under another name, laboriously typed each copy of the newspaper she published and circulated at church.

When she was fourteen Toni began an autobiography, but after only three chapters realized she had not lived long enough to give her life story an arc. She ended that effort in the fourth chapter by giving her heroine an incurable disease.

She edited her high school and one of her editorials earned her membership in Quill and Scroll. She also wrote a weekly fishing column, perhaps her first published work of fiction, for at that time she had never held a fishing pole.

For two of those high school years a weekly column about the happenings of her school friends earned Toni a byline in a Scripps-Howard daily newspaper and a neighborhood weekly, the first income earned from her writing, money her father faithfully set aside for her to attend college.

Toni thrived on spending time in the library, loved to do research and write term papers. She would finish her theme well ahead of the due date so she could type the papers of classmates, a lucrative way to add to her college fund.

She met her husband of sixty-one years her first week on campus and at the end of her freshman year gave up her dream of teaching to marry the first-year teacher who had captured her heart. 
The couple later moved to San Diego, where Toni actively worked to secure a library for her neighborhood and earning an Honorary Membership in the PTA.

When her last child left for college, Toni resumed her college education, earning a business degree with special emphasis in System Analysis. Hired by a government contractor specializing in research and development of underwater vehicles, she supervised the accounting department software and payroll until the company closed and she retired to write romance.

Toni continues to hone her writing skills by attending Romance Writers of America national conferences and local RWA-SD meetings. She loves to take on-line classes and reads every book she can get her hands on, regardless of genre, now enjoying them on her NOOK. Currently Toni devotes her time to writing stories like the novels she loves best, and currently has eight books available for download about searches for safe havens for the heart.

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