Easy Strategies to Evoke Emotion in Your Writing

 

Easy Strategies to Evoke Emotion in Your Writing

Easy Strategies to Evoke Emotion in Your Writing

Think about the best novel you’ve ever read. The best movie. Best vacation. Best game. Likely, all of these things have something in common. They evoked some kind of emotional response inside you that caused you to love them so much.

Maybe you remember laughing through the entire movie. Or the time you almost ripped your friend’s arm off because your favorite team was down one point at the bottom of the ninth. Or maybe you went through a whole box of tissues reading that favorite book.

The best writers are masters at evoking an emotional response from their readers.

Good Writing Evokes Sensation in the Reader

In my last blog post On Writing Emotion: Avoid These Common Pitfalls, I discussed the reasons explicitly stating emotions weakens your writing. I also promised to write a blog post using the same examples I used then but to show alternatives for writing character emotion. This is the promised blog post! (Make sure you follow me to get even more tips later!)

This post will discuss a few strategies to imply emotions with the goal of eliciting an emotional response from your reader.

To remind you, here are my examples of weak writing from my previous blog post: (Focusing on four emotions – Sadness, Anger, Love, & Fear):

Example 1 – Sadness

(Third Person Past)

Example 2 – Anger

(First Person Past)

Example 3 – Love

(Third Person Present)

Example 4 – Fear

(First Person Present)

Esperanza was sad. I was angry. Jamile loves her. I am scared.

(Note: I prefer to use third person past in my own writing, but for the sake of being more inclusive, I will also include first person past, third person present, and first person present.)

(In case you missed it – Read what’s wrong with the examples above here.)

So here we go! Here are five strategies you could try when trying to do better than just explicitly stating an emotion. As you are writing, try to focus on writing to elicit an emotional response from your reader. What would make your reader feel – sadness, anger, love, fear, etc. – ?

1. Imply emotion through body language. So much of our communication is not through the spoken word, but through body language. Think of a time when you knew someone was angry, or perhaps sad. Did they need to specifically tell you, “I’m mad” or “I’m sad”? Maybe, but more likely you knew so because of their body language. Becoming a master observer of people, and how they display their emotions will help you become a better storyteller.

Everyone does not use the same body language, so using body language appropriately is a great chance for the writer to reveal character. Where one character might react to bad news by falling to the floor sobbing, another might react to the same news by dropping his head in silence.

Interspersing body language into a scene through dialogue beats is a great way to enhance your story. Be careful not to get too carried away, and watch out for too much repetition of the same body movement throughout your story. Writers tend to have favorite words that they go back to over and over again without realizing it. Try seeking out a body language guide to help give you more variety. (Critique partners are also great tools to use to call out repetition you might not notice yourself!)

Some Resources:

I love this cheat sheet by Amanda Patterson giving some possible body language for different emotions. You could also check out THE EMOTION THESAURUS by Angela Ackerman which discusses 75 different emotions by including body language, thoughts, and visceral responses for each.

 

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression by [Ackerman, Angela, Puglisi,Becca]

So back to our Examples – Let’s try rewriting them with this tip.

Implying Emotions through Body Language:

Example 1 – Sadness

(Third Person Past)

Example 2 – Anger

(First Person Past)

Example 3 – Love

(Third Person Present)

Example 4 – Fear

(First Person Present)

A single tear streamed down Esperanza’s cheek as she sank against the oak tree. My face flushed, and I balled up my fists against my sides. Jamile leans across the table and tucks a strand of Rowanda’s black hair behind her ear. I shrink back into the shadows and tighten my grip on the flashlight.

2. Imply Emotion through Actions. Similar to body language, what your characters do can show us what they are feeling inside. A person who is sad may stop eating. An angry person may destruct personal property. Use your own experiences to help you brainstorm. What do you do when you’re sad, angry, scared, etc. ? And don’t just stop there. What do you observe other people doing when feeling those same emotions?

REMINDER! – All of your characters should not exhibit the same emotions in the same way. If every character who is angry is punching walls, your novel will lack believability as well as interesting characters.

So back to our Examples – Let’s try rewriting them with this tip.

Implying Emotions through Actions:

Example 1 – Sadness

(Third Person Past)

Example 2 – Anger

(First Person Past)

Example 3 – Love

(Third Person Present)

Example 4 – Fear

(First Person Present)

Esperanza pushed the untouched plate of sirloin away and retreated to her room. I yanked the glass bottle off the table and slammed it into the waste bin. Jamile plants a kiss on top of Rowanda’s mess of curls and pulls her head against his chest. I tear down the path, flipping up sharp wood chips as I run. My legs throb, but I run faster.

3. Imply Emotion through Internal dialogue. Getting inside your character’s mind is a perfect opportunity to reveal character and to evoke emotion. When a character is scared, what would they think about? They’re probably not thinking, Wow, I’m scared. More likely they’re thinking about the source of their fear (ie. the man who just broke into the house and is now creeping down the hallway) and how to get out of the situation.

So back to our Examples – Let’s try rewriting them with this tip.

Implying Emotions through indirect/direct Internal Dialogue:

Example 1 – Sadness

(Third Person Past)

Example 2 – Anger

(First Person Past)

Example 3 – Love

(Third Person Present)

Example 4 – Fear

(First Person Present)

She would never hear Melina’s voice again. Hold her hand. Watch her dance. If he touched her like that again, he’d be sorry he ever taught me how to fight. She’s waited up every night this week. Half-past midnight, but she’s still serving the most savory soup in these parts. Don’t look down. Don’t look down. Don’t you dare look down.

4. Imply Emotion through Spoken Dialogue. How many times have you thought everything was hunky-dory, and then someone said something that caused a change in your emotions?

Maybe you’re sitting with your best friend having a cup of coffee and scrolling Pinterest, and then she says, “I’m planning to leave Jake tonight. I’ve already bought my plane ticket out of this place.”

And now, you’re a blubbering mess of emotions. I could probably guess a few of them – Shock from living in oblivion to your friend’s tumultuous relationship, anger at her for not telling you sooner, sadness for your friend’s failed marriage, and/or fear of the emptiness you’ll experience without your best friend next door.

Dialogue can be powerful in evoking emotion in your reader. Use it in the right way and you can make your reader laugh and cry all in the same story.

So back to our Examples – Let’s try rewriting them with this tip.

Implying Emotions through Spoken Dialogue:

Example 1 – Sadness

(Third Person Past)

Example 2 – Anger

(First Person Past)

Example 3 – Love

(Third Person Present)

Example 4 – Fear

(First Person Present)

“I dreamed about her last night. Her smile as real as you standing there now.” Esmeralda paused. “But I opened my eyes. And she was gone.” “Leave her alone,” I said. “What’s wrong with you?” “There’s only one girl in Leguna who can set a net faster than two men. That’s the girl I want in my boat.” “He had quite the collection of photographs on his wall. Most were of the missing girls. But one – One was yours. Anybody staying with you here tonight?”

5. Imply Emotion through distinct description that shows. Writers are tasked with limited word counts. Use your description in a dual way – to not only describe but to also evoke emotion into your scene.

Your POV character’s observations about the world around them should reflect their emotions. If your character is sad, he is more likely to notice the crumbling rock piles than the bubbling brook. If she is happy, she is more likely to notice that spanking new tractor than the peeling paint on the barn door.

Helpful tip! – Try to get a certain frame of mind when you’re writing a scene. I try to feel the emotions of my characters when I’m writing to make the scene more genuine. Think about the things that make you sad, happy, angry, scared, etc. right before you write a scene. For example, when I’m writing to evoke sadness, I think of images that make me feel sad. For me, that’s things like – crumbling homes, impoverished children, sickly animals, unmarked gravestones – get the idea?

“The principles of true art is to not portray but to evoke.” - Jerzy Kosinski

So back to our Examples – Let’s try rewriting them with this tip.

Implying Emotions through Distinct Description that shows:

Example 1 – Sadness

(Third Person Past)

Example 2 – Anger

(First Person Past)

Example 3 – Love

(Third Person Present)

Example 4 – Fear

(First Person Present)

Melina’s tiny ballet shoes dangled from the tree branch. The tattered ribbons danced about in the spring breeze. Jed yanked my dog’s collar and dragged her across the room. Bandit’s front legs pawed the air, and she let out a yelp as Jed pulled her outside. Rowanda hunches at the table, her fingers untangling Jamile’s fishing nets while he lies in bed. The clock on the wall reads 1 am. He catches her eye, and she flashes him a smile. Hot water streams down my back. Something slams against the shower door sliding down the steamy glass. A hand.

I’ve tried to show several different types of examples to give you several ideas to try. Mix these up and use them all together to give your readers a vivid experience packed with emotion!

Any likes make me smile and any shares make my day!

EXERCISE: Want to try rewriting my original examples? Eliciting an emotional response from your readers is truly an art, and the more you practice, the more powerful your writing will become. Pick an emotion and have at it! I’d love to see what you come up with in the comments below!

Let’s Chat!: Have any other strategies for evoking emotion in your writing? Leave those in the comments below!


You may also enjoy these posts:

A Few Easy Strategies to Remove Those Pesky Filter Words that Fog Up Your Writing         7 Wellness Strategies for Creative Minds 10 Signs you might be a Writer with Young Children          6 Tips to Write Your Novel in the Vibrant Way Your Brain Imagined It

On Writing Emotion_Title


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