“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” —Maya Angelou
As a writer, this is a goal that I work on every day; making my reader feel. It’s not always easy for me as my writing is fast-paced, action-adventurey, with a large dollop of world mythology and fantasy creatures that I created. That makes for fun reading, but I have to remember that being on the edge of your seat isn’t the only emotion I’m hoping to evoke in my readers. I also want them to laugh and cry and sigh at the ending; a story well told about people they’ve come to care about. With luck, and some continued hard work on my part, the reader will want to continue reading my series through to the end.
But how do we go about accomplishing this you ask? I’m glad you asked!
One article I read by Beth Hill was titled, “Creating Emotion in the Reader”. In it she lays out several important points. This is just a partial list; you can find the article and the remainder of the list at: https://theeditorsblog.net/2011/01/30/creating-emotion-in-the-reader/
- Show your characters emotions, rather than tell them – put the reader in the characters head, make them feel just what the character is feeling.
- Make your character sympathetic – when the reader aches for the character, you’ve got them.
- Make a character unsympathetic – when the reader wants to wring their neck, you’ve got them.
- Don’t hold back – this falls under the category of “Make your protagonist suffer”.
- Tease the reader with the use of foreshadowing – drop subtle hints to build anticipation
- Word choice can be used to evoke emotion – remember to give your character a voice.
- Make sure the stakes are high enough – if the biggest conflict is your protagonist is craving Cadbury Cream Eggs and the stores are closed…mmm, not too angsty. Unless you’re addicted to CCE, then my heart bleeds.
- Time constraints – a ticking clock is a great way to build tension in your readers.
- Make your protagonist choose between bad and worse and watch the reader bite their nails.
Another article I like is How to Evoke Reader Emotions With “Surprisingness” by C. S. Lakin
In it, C.S. talks about that the element of “surprisingness” that drives readers to read the same story over and over because it evokes such unexpected emotions in them.
She quotes Donald Maass: “Artful fiction surprises readers with their own feelings.”
When done well, your reader will reread your books. Not because they’ll be surprised, but because they love the anticipation that builds knowing what’s about to happen. To do that in your work, follow Hemingway’s advice:
“Find what gave you the emotion . . . then write it down, making it clear so the reader will see it too and have the same feeling as you had.”
When a story is “believable, masterful and moving”, predictability won’t matter; your reader will be moved, and that’s what will keep them coming back for more.
Last, I love the book “The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface” by Donald Maass. He does a deep dive in how to dig into the emotional journey of your characters and bring your reader along for the ride. It’s a key part of my reference library!
Are you looking for ways to evoking emotions in your readers?
May your words flow freely,
The Zodiac Assassins series
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