Eliciting emotional responses from your readers isn’t as easy as it sounds, because the right emotive reaction from them is what makes novels and stories so appealing.
But to get that kind of response, the writing needs to be emotional, it needs to be arousing or moving etc - without being schmaltzy to the point where your reader might gag on the syrupy, soap-style sweetness of it all. Conversely, you don’t want the writing to lack that important emotional punch either. Little or no emotion in the narrative will produce a rather boring, flat read.
Emotion within the story creates a sense of immediacy with the reader, a unique closeness that makes the reader empathise, understand and care about the characters.
How to create emotion
Firstly, you need a character that the reader will identify with, one that is fully realised and rounded, one that the reader will recognise and care about from the outset. If you have a reader that does that, then it will be much easier to elicit emotional responses from them.
And a fully rounded character is much easier to work with because the character and the reader will share those emotional responses and sentiments.
Secondly, the quality of writing really does count. If the writing isn’t strong enough, then the narrative won’t be strong enough either and it will therefore lack that emotional punch. For emotion, the writer must always use the right exposition – in other words ‘show, don’t tell.’ This is so important. Showing strengthens a story. Telling weakens it.
If a writer resorts to ‘telling’ his or her way through a scene, then there will be zero immediacy, zero connection with the scene and therefore zero emotion.
Thirdly, if you want to create varied emotional impacts, your characters need to face adversity and danger, they need to face seemingly impossible obstacles, or they should go through physical and emotional trauma, because whatever they go through, the reader also goes through it with them.
The act of overcoming those obstacles, and facing those traumas and the adversity, creates different emotions – thrills, sadness, excitement, sympathy, dislike etc. And the situations within the story make for powerful emotional moments, the kind that the reader remembers; the kind that satisfies the reader’s need for an emotional connection to the story. Love and joy, death, pain and loss, deception and dishonesty, thrills and fear…they all thrive on emotion.
The best way to illustrate this concept is to think of soap operas – they always have emotive storylines, and we become involved with our favourite characters’ trials and tribulations, and that’s because we care about what happens to them, we have a connection, there is immediacy.
As writers we should always exploit those moments, for example, what if your main character discovers a secret letter that hints at betrayal? Or the main character’s wife/husband/son/daughter etc. is killed in an ‘accident’, or the main character is in such a dire situation he or she has to make a terrible decision that will affect them for the rest of their lives?
All these are very simple examples, but written well, they will draw out a multitude of emotions to build around the narrative. And of course, there could be many of these scene set ups within the novel to keep the reader’s emotions on a knife edge.
And of course, no story has emotion without that staple of all stories – conflict, especially when you have characters you love and characters you hate (the dynamic of protagonist and antagonist). Conflict creates an endless list of emotions.
The story themes might also create emotion, whatever the genre. Some themes in particular are very emotive – war, love or betrayal, for instance.
And no writer can write without looking inward. The most painful of memories, the joyous ones, the scary ones, the thrilling ones…our own bank of recollections can provide the catalyst of emotion to our writing, and sometimes it makes it easier to write, because we have experienced them. And because we have experienced them, we can also share them.
Writing is about exploring human nature. We’re social, emotional creatures, and things make us irritated, or angry, things makes us cry, some things hurt us, some makes us laugh, some fill us with happiness, some things scare us. Every day we experience them.
The fictional world is no different.
Creating emotion within the narrative:
- Excellent characterisation is essential – create immediacy and a connection to the reader.
- Show, don’t tell.
- Emotive themes make for emotional writing.
- Conflict & overcoming obstacles provides emotion.
- Quality of writing counts.
- Look inward for own experiences.
Thanks to everybody for stopping by throughout the year to read some of the articles and hopefully become better writers.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone.
AllWrite will return in the New Year.