Evoking Reader Emotions
Welcome to the first-ever Write Better, Right Now article all about getting you understanding deeper writing strategies to take your stories to the next level. For writers looking for open pitch calls, writing jobs, and challenges to grow their career and craft, check out last week’s 1-2-3 Publish post!
Here’s a heads up on Write Better, Right Now’s topics for January:
- Evoking Strong Emotions (1/10)
- Replacing Sense Words (1/17)
- Describing Body Language (1/24)
- Original Metaphors and Similes (1/31)
This first week, we’ll be going over how to evoke strong emotions in our readers. Many writers fall back on basic or overused techniques that drain their prose of any emotion by simply stating emotional responses:
“He clenched his hands, flaring his nostrils.”
Or by trying to force the reader to feel something through overdramatic action beats:
“With the last ounce of patience he had, his fists grew into oversized boulders wanting nothing more than to strike out like the flaring bull he was.”
But what we need is an in-between, a mixture of both, and padding around the emotion to really evoke strong emotions in our readers.
After all of our possessions are crammed into a moving truck, Kessa and I stare out at the city from our high-rise one last time. I was going to wait until we’d settled into our new home, but she leans into the window, bracing a palm against the glass for a better view of the street below. The setting sun frames her in honey-gold. Without thinking, I get down on one knee behind her, pull the ring box from my jacket’s inner pocket, and hold it up. She takes so long to notice my arm starts shaking. I clear my throat.
Kess turns around and gasps. Then she throws herself at me before I can even ask the question.Kel Coleman’s ‘I Wear My Spiders in Remembrance of Myself’
Let’s get into it more below!
Evoking emotions in your reader is one of the greatest tools in your writing toolkit, but how do you go about making readers feel what your characters are feeling? Better yet, how do you go about making readers feel specific emotions that may not be attached to your characters?
When it comes down to it, there isn’t one true way to this. You’ll have to use a series of techniques to bring out reader emotions. Like the first couple of examples above, using just one technique leaves the prose lacking a rounder feel. While each steers away from telling and use evocative language to supercharge the reader, neither of them is anything to write home about.
To control and evoke reader emotions, you will need to:
- Create dynamic scenes that show the changes happening in your story and for your characters
- Design characters worthy of reader’s attention and attachment
- Choose EACH of your words and sentence constructions carefully
- Give your story stakes that matter and will change something major for the character, world, or story
- Use pacing to control the flow of action, emotion, and story progress
- Use scene framing to set the stage for the reader
- Use dramatic irony
- Incorporate sharp, specific sensory details to bring the scene to life
- Describe the emotional states in both literal and metaphorical ways
- Pinpoint which emotions you want both your character and reader to feel
- Trim away filter words to create a deep POV
- In fiction, use sequence or reflection scenes
- Describe body language
Skilled writers are able to use all of these techniques at once without thinking about it too much. They understand on an intuitive level how to employ these techniques. For a writer like you who wants to write both intuitively and deliberately to create the specific effects in your writing, you’ll need to use deliberate practice strategies on each one of these techniques.
Write a short story of up to 2,000-words focusing on the emotion of fright for the character but joy for the reader. As you write, employ the above techniques, using this story prompt:
A mentor bent on upstaging their pupil convinces the young upstart to commit a crime against the neighboring village where the pupil’s best friend lives.
- How to Evoke Emotions in Characters and Readers Part One and Part Two
- Evoking Emotions in Readers in a Masterful Way
- Easy Strategies to Evoke Emotion in Your Writing
- Using Setting to Evoke Emotion
- List of Filter Words to Filter Out
- Using Dramatic Irony in Your Writing
- Sequel Scenes