Apply emotions in your writings, if you want to have an excellent readership. Evoking emotions in your readers can make them feel more invested in your characters and the storey as a whole, whether you’re a novelist, blogger, or short storey writer. Here are some writing suggestions to help you write with emotion in mind.
What are emotions in writing?
Readers enjoy being moved by stories that touch them. They enjoy imagining themselves in worlds and situations that challenge them, allowing them to do and be things that are different from what they do or are in real life.
Fiction, whether in the form of a book, film, or video game, allows people to not only enter but also to experience other worlds. To accomplish what they couldn’t in a normal day. To experience emotions that are beyond their normal range.
What can writers do to make that experience authentic, to make the fictional world real for a few hours, because readers want to immerse themselves in other worlds and lives?
One technique a writer can use to make fiction seem more real is to elicit emotion in the reader, making them feel what the characters are feeling. Although both the writer and the reader are aware that the fictional events are not real, the emotion they evoke can be. Readers can experience fear, joy, excitement, and grief. They have the ability to laugh and cry, shiver and rage. All of this came about as a result of reading a storey.
But how does a writer go about doing this? How does a writer elicit emotion from his or her audience?
1. Write in scenes rather than paragraphs, and show rather than tell.
That is, don’t say that a character is scared, giddy, or sad. Character emotions should be reflected in the character’s actions. Demonstrate what fear, giddiness, or grief do to him. The character’s actions and reactions are a good place to start.
This is a crucial element in arousing the reader’s emotions. Nobody gets worked up over a report. They become emotional when they are able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and experience their feelings as if they were churning inside them.
Manisha was apprehensive about opening the basement door. She stood on the opposite side of the kitchen, pondering her options.
As she reached for the locked doorknob, Manisha’s hand trembled. Karan had warned her not to open the basement door when he wasn’t present, but what could go wrong now that he was on his way home? She bit her lower lip and clenched her fists around the icy knob. Her body shook with a shiver. She took a shallow breath and struggled to take another.
When the microwave beeped, letting her know her tea was hot, she nearly flew through the ceiling.
2. Make a sympathetic character so the reader can empathise with her.
If a reader can relate to a character’s dreams, habits, or choices, he can also relate to her feelings—pains, joys, and sorrows. (Because readers can identify with the shared human condition, a situation may strike a chord with them even before the character is involved.)
Before attempting to connect emotionally, make sure the reader knows/understands/identifies with the character. Because the reader has no ties to the character, the reader will not be affected by the character’s deep emotions on page one.
If you’ve put the reader in the shoes of the character by chapter three, whatever affects the character can affect the reader. By the novel’s conclusion, the reader should have identified with the protagonist to the point where his or her pain becomes the reader’s pain, and his or her triumphs become the reader’s triumphs. The reader may have a physical reaction—laughter, tears, or shivers—as if the reader had experienced what the character had experienced.
You’re well aware of how this manifests itself in your own life. When it’s a stranger who dies on the nightly news, it’s one thing; when it’s someone you know or a relative or someone you know, it’s quite another.
Assist your readers in getting to know your characters.
Make your character believable and sympathetic so that the reader wants to be him and experience everything he does for the duration of the storey.
3. Make a character unlikable so that the reader feels resentment or anger toward him.
A disliked character has already elicited an emotional response from your reader. This isn’t about caricature or stereotype. I’m referring to creating a character who is soulfully ugly, evil, or unfeeling, but who only belongs in one storey.
In another book, your unsympathetic character might be unimportant. His actions/words, however, are destructive to your protagonist or someone close to him in this storey.
Cruel characters doing cruel things—cruel in the protagonist’s or the reader’s eyes—can have an impact on the reader. The reader can react to the cruelty in the same way that the character does. Alternatively, if the reader feels something as a result of a cruel character’s actions, you’ve already piqued his interest.
If, on the other hand, your protagonist does not react to another character’s cruel actions, your readers may feel befuddled and cheated. Characters’ reactions/responses to another character’s actions should be shown. Characters must do more than contemplate another character’s evil. They must respond in some way, whether through action or dialogue.
4. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
You must write emotion-evoking scenes if you want to reach the reader’s emotions. If the reader has invested enough in the character, killing or injuring the character’s child, pet, or loved one can affect the reader.
Unless you’ve established a connection between Sarah and the readers, unless you’re prepared for the death ahead of time, showing Sarah’s love for her son, perhaps her fear for his life or her dreams for him, readers will not feel grief if Sarah receives a phone call informing her that her son has died, even if you show Sarah grieving.
If he’s never mentioned it before, and we don’t know how much he means to Sarah, a death announcement will have no emotional impact on the reader.
If, on the other hand, Sarah was concerned for his safety or sat by his hospital bedside, the reader is connected to both Sarah and her son, and his death can be upsetting.
Don’t be afraid to kill off someone important to your main characters or take away something else they value. If they are crushed, the reader is likely to be crushed as well. You’re not really hurting someone if you write them into a car accident in fiction.
Characters can be hurt in a variety of ways, not just by death or injury. Characters can be agitated by miscommunication, betrayal, and forced choices that harm their friends. Readers can become agitated when characters are agitated.
5. Tease the reader with hints about what will happen next.
The backward and forward dance between a couple just falling in love is seen in romantic comedies. The build-up, the wait, and the anticipation all contribute to a dramatic and satisfying payoff.
Anticipation heightens tension, which heightens the emotional impact of mysteries and suspense. When hell breaks loose, fear that has been drawn out to just the right degree gives a satisfying snap.
6. Recognize that word choice has a significant impact on the reader’s emotions.
Some words act as triggers in and of themselves and can be used to elicit a response from the reader.
A particularly nasty cuss word in the mouth of a character who doesn’t curse can startle the reader. It’s a clear indication that something is seriously wrong.
To instantly arouse the reader, use verbs or nouns that are socially despised or that remind readers of hated people or abhorrent practices. Of course, you can’t use this technique too frequently because the reader will feel manipulated and angry at you, the writer, rather than a character or the storey on the page. You can manipulate readers, but you shouldn’t make them aware of it.
Some words imply levity, wit, or passion. Other words have a lack of emotional nuance. Consider the impact of your words when choosing them.
Even everyday actions can be influenced by the words used. Do the characters shuffle, lope, or cross a room? Or does they race across town or simply navigate through the traffic? Do they make a demand or a request? Do they heave, lift, haul, or pick up something?
Understand the importance of word choice in evoking emotions. Use words to express your exact meaning throughout a scene to keep the scene cohesive and the emotion consistent. Unless it’s for effect, don’t mix light and fluffy words into a dark, heavy scene. That is, be aware of your word choices and what they can do to the scene and the overall tone of the story—increase tension with well-matched words or diffuse tension with poorly-matched words.
An Important note to Consider
Just because you want the words to create a tight scene with cohesion and consistency doesn’t mean that everyone in the scene has the same agenda or speaks to the same end. That is, you might have a character who is at odds with the other characters and the events taking place. It’s possible that your antagonist is unconcerned about the fact that he’s causing negative events in the protagonist’s life. He might not be remorseful or sorry for what he’s done. As a result, he may speak incongruently with other characters. This, of course, adds to the tension and can make the reader nervous.
7. Create an important, vital, or life-altering situation,if not life-threatening.
Make sure there’s something at stake for the character, that his actions reflect the importance of that something, and that he tries to change this intolerable situation. Instil in the reader both the emotion of the situation as well as the hope that the character will succeed.
8. Put your characters under time constraints to add tension.
force them to make decisions they wouldn’t normally make, and keep the reader on the edge of their seat.
9. Make your character choose between a bad option and an even worse option.
This type of situation draws the reader in whether or not he understands the reasons for the poor choices. The reader empathises with the character, who is forced to make poor decisions that both the character and the reader are aware will result in even more problems.
10. Move the plot forward.
Don’t linger on an event so long that the reader loses interest or the sense of urgency fades.
11. Create realistic scenes with realistic problems.
problems that the characters and world you’ve created can face. Your world’s events, characters, and setting must all make sense. Give your reader no reason to doubt the truth or viability of your storey or storey events. Don’t push them out of your imaginary world.
12. Take the storey in an unexpected direction to surprise the reader.
Keep the reader off-balance and unprepared so that he can be caught off guard and experience more unsettling emotions.
13. Include conflict in each scene. Character to character.
Character to himself, character to events, and character to setting can all cause conflict. An agitated character can infect the reader with his or her agitation.
14. Change the tempo to match the emotion you want to convey.
To encourage suspense and fear, use short sentences and paragraphs to speed up the pace. (When there is more white space on a page, readers read faster and feel the storey moves at a faster pace.) To create a sense of relaxation or calm, use longer phrases and paragraphs to slow the pace, to ease off the forward rush.
15. Choose your words carefully. For harsher emotions, use harsh or sharp words.
for gentler emotions, use soft-sounding and soft-meaning words. (Or, to add to the confusion, mix up your words and emotions.) But keep in mind that you want the reader to be as perplexed as to the characters, not unable to understand what you’re saying.)
16. Keep the focus on one emotion by removing unnecessary and unrelated detail.
Characters caught up in chases don’t notice the flowers or the Christmas-themed storefronts. In their first sex scene, lovers are far more interested in each other than in everything else in the room.
Stay in the moment and only draw the reader’s attention to what’s important for this particular moment, scene, and characters.
Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule. However, don’t dilute or distract the reader with unrelated details when you’re trying to elicit emotion. When it’s time to introduce your details, do so in other scenes.
Make use of details that will elicit an emotional response.
17. Use setting to sway the reader and elicit a stronger emotional response.
Paint your rooms, add sound to your outdoor spaces, and fill your attic with scents. Consider how the following elements might affect your readers: dark rooms, dark colours, enclosed spaces, echoing spaces, wide-open fields, silence, the living room of a house where someone was murdered, the living room of the lead character’s enemy, a courtroom, a boardroom, backstage during a concert, backstage three hours after the concert-goers have all gone home.
Play around with the setting to place your characters in the most appropriate location for each scene. Do you want to ratchet up the tension? Change the location to a deserted office late at night. Do you want to do something other than sitting by a comatose patient’s bedside? Take the action to the cafeteria of the hospital. Alternatively, a chapel. Alternatively, a business office.
18. Use sensory details to immerse readers in the scene’s reality.
What is the character’s sense of hearing and smell? does a sound change imply? What do the character and the reader get out of the lack of sound? Does the reader get goosebumps when a character reaches into a dark hole and feels something brittle? What if the character was wrapped in something silky and soft, like springy curls? Is the reader’s heart racing?
Play with all five senses to keep your audience engaged, if not off balance, but always curious about what’s next.
To elicit an emotional response from your reader, use all of these methods, not just one. Touch the reader frequently, remembering that each scene does not have to be more emotional than the one before it. (While emotions do arise during the climax, the rate of ascent isn’t constant, and emotional impact can vary; both the character and the readers require a range of intensity.) Ups and downs are equally important.)
Don’t be afraid to mix feelings.
A suspense thriller heroine can’t be terrified all of the time. Change the type of tension for her and the reader by using humour, lust, exasperation, anger, or joy. Take the reader on a journey that takes them up, down, and back up. Readers prefer ups and downs rather than a flat line with no emotion or affect. Make the reader feel something to keep her interested. Get your audience’s attention.
Use emotions to give your readers a satisfying read on all levels. It’s difficult to make readers feel something from our writing. It’s even more difficult to get them to feel complex emotions that you can’t quite put a name to. A great writer, on the other hand, will be able to do it. A great writer knows exactly how she wants her readers to feel and writes scenes to achieve that goal.
“Find what gave you the emotion,” Hemingway said. Then write it down, making it as clear as possible so that the reader can see it and feel the same way you did.”
Why does it work like this? Because, for the most part, all humans share the same emotional makeup. The same behaviour that frightens infuriates, humiliates, or alienates one person will frighten, infuriate, humiliate, or alienate others. You’ll never get 100 per cent of your readers to feel the same way you do, but if you’re an emotional master, you can get pretty close.
Take Notice of Your Own Feelings.
Hemingway’s advice is the first step toward understanding how to manipulate the emotions of readers. Pay attention to those times when you feel strongly while reading a novel, in addition to how you emotionally react to things you see around you or on TV.
Have you ever been moved to tears by a passage in a book? Have you sparked outrage? Is it true terror? I am frequently moved by passages in both fiction and nonfiction that I read. Even with random passages, master writers can elicit an emotional response from me.
Few writers can get readers to bond with their protagonist within the first couple of pages, as we’re told. Yes, we may pique readers’ interest in our characters’ personalities and actions in the first few scenes, but do we truly care about them? You might not want readers to care about your protagonist a lot, depending on your genre and storey (at the start).
We care more about characters as we grow attached to them while reading a great novel. As a result, emotion is more easily evoked in us. A writer must carefully manipulate readers’ emotions throughout the process in order to get them to feel what he wants them to feel.
Factor in Play
We go beyond showing and telling emotions in our characters when it comes to evoking emotion in readers. Action is a huge factor in evoking emotion in us. What characters do, how they act, the decisions they make, and the conversations they have can all be powerful emotional triggers for readers.
Readers are transported into a scene, as if they are there, living vicariously through the characters, when skilled writers show action in a cinematic way, with characters acting, reacting, and processing amid sensory details and vivid description. Readers are willing to suspend their disbelief and tear down their barriers, exposing themselves to a potentially powerful emotional experience.
Some people read for the thrill of the ride. They, like my husband and kids, eagerly climb into roller coaster seats—they’ll even wait two hours for a two-minute ride—only to be terrified out of their minds. Some readers are perfectly fine crying, feeling miserable, and aching in sympathy as they accompany a fictional character they adore on a difficult journey.
Why is it that so many people enjoy doing this? I’m not sure. Only I can speak for myself. Being made to feel deeply about something outside of my normal routine, my normal life, is wonderful, magical, and sublime. Stories that remind me of what it means to be human, what love, loyalty, hope, and victorious look like lift me, confirm my humanity, and give my own life a deeper meaning.
Don’t limit yourself to showing emotion in your characters when thinking about how to move your readers emotionally. Make sure to think about how you’re going to present your plot’s action in an emotional way. And that can be found right in the plot.
What good are sympathetic characters with deep inner conflict and moral dilemmas if all they do is sit around, drink coffee, text their friends, and obsess over what to wear?
Train Yourself for that Extra Push
Push yourself to put your characters in places and situations that will set the stage for high emotional content. Situations, settings, and sensory details have a lot of potentials to evoke emotion in readers.
How much more masterful would it be to delve deep into the many emotional nuances we experience when any given event occurs, rather than thinking, “I want my reader to feel sad.”
Follow Hemingway’s advice. When you have an emotion, write down what happened that caused you to emote. Then delve into your emotions to discover not only why you’re feeling this way, but also what you’re feeling.
What thoughts caused you to feel that way? If you can nail the thoughts (words), you can incorporate similar thoughts (words) into your storey and characters’ voices.
That’s the first step toward masterfully evoking emotion in readers.
This desire to become an emotional master will kick your butt if you consider yourself an unemotional person who isn’t used to tapping into emotional feelings. Several editing clients have told me that they have a hard time with this. “I’m just not the emotional, introspective type,” they claim. I am rarely in touch with my emotions.”
Let’s face it: readers read to be moved, so if you want to write a novel that will move them, you must first find those emotions within yourself.
One thing that could help is music.
An author friend gave me the idea to listen to movie soundtracks. He writes suspense, so when he’s writing, he listens to suspenseful “theme” music.
I don’t know about you, but music has had a huge impact on me. It has the ability to elicit strong emotions in me. That’s why movies have such an emotional impact on us: not only do they show scenes in which characters are expressing themselves, but they also have a soundtrack that is designed to elicit emotion. In comparison to books, movies have a huge advantage. Viewers are able to see the action, which is far more powerful than reading about it. The auditory enhances the visual—we hear voices, sounds, and textures that help to bring a scene to life. Music, on the other hand, is a different storey.
Who knows why some people cry when they hear certain musical scores. Or do you want to rejoice? When we listen to music, we can experience nostalgia, poignancy, love, peace, or awe. It’s difficult to put into words the feelings we have when we listen to music. Certain instruments may have an effect on us. YoYo Ma’s cello playing is one of my favourite things to listen to. Opera moves some people. Alternatively, a lovely folk song.
I was so happy when I first heard Pharelle Williams’ song “Happy” on YouTube that I started dancing around the house like everyone else in the music video. People all over the world became addicted to that song because it was so powerful. Pharelle even appeared on Oprah’s show to discuss that one song. (Take a minute to watch it if you haven’t already.) It depicts regular people of all ages, races, social classes, and stature dancing to the song in a variety of settings.) People all over the world were inspired to record themselves and others dancing to the song.
The Power of Music
Music has a lot of power. Dancing and music are universal. Everyone desires to experience joy. Emotion is contagious and powerful.
We also bring our past experiences to our musical responses. What were some of your favourite songs as a teen? Music evokes strong emotions. I’m instantly transported to specific times and places in my life when I hear certain songs. Not only that, but I can almost taste and feel as if I were fifteen or twenty years old again, thinking and feeling the same way.
Music jogs one’s memory. Emotion is sparked by memories. Emotions elicit more thoughts, memories, and feelings.
If you know you need your character to feel something but aren’t sure how to get there, look for music that will help you get there. Look for music that you’re already familiar with. It could be a song or the soundtrack to a movie.
When you hear a piece of movie music and recognise the scene it’s from, it can evoke strong emotions in you, especially if the scene has a strong emotional impact on you. I have hours of soundtrack music on my playlist. When I’m writing or plotting a scene in which I need to feel something specific, I often choose a specific piece to listen to. I may not be able to name the emotions, but I am aware of the sensations I seek.
Music has the ability to liberate you. Overcome your aversion to writing or writer’s block. If you’re writing a high-action scene and put on some exciting and stimulating music, it can help you get your creative juices flowing and drown out your inner editor.
It doesn’t take many words to evoke emotion—a few images, an ominous line or two, and carefully chosen verbs and adjectives. I strongly advise you to pay close attention to the small details, as they frequently have the greatest emotional impact.
And, whenever you’re moved by something you’re reading, ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” What was it that made me feel this way? How did the author manage to pull this off?
You’ll be well on your way to becoming a master of emotion in your fiction writing if you develop the habit of mining your feelings.
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