Do you want to make your readers cry? Shout in frustration? Grin from ear to ear? You need to learn how to evoke emotion through your writing. These are some tips to help you evoke all kinds of emotions in your writing.
Simple or Elaborate?
“Write hard and clear about what hurts”-Ernest Hemingway. I couldn’t agree more. Simple and direct actions give stronger emotion to scenes. “Show don’t tell”. I also couldn’t agree more. Describing a character’s feelings well can really help readers to connect and empathize with the character. But, wait: isn’t that contradictory? How can I be simple and give in–depth descriptions at the same time? You have to know which parts should be simple, and which parts need in-depth description. I’ve found that to evoke the most emotion, it’s best to describe feelings with detail, but use simple and clear sentences for actions.
Feelings should be given deeper descriptions. For example, which description conveys more emotion: “I was scared” or “I could feel my heart pumping rapidly inside my chest, as fear coursed through my veins.”? The second description puts you inside the character’s mind and body, rather than simply telling you how they feel. It shows the reader what being that scared is like, or reminds them of fear they have felt, and allows them to be transported into the feeling.
Actions and (typically) wants are pretty much the opposite of feelings description-wise. They should be simple and clear. Don’t waste any time describing things you don’t have to. For example, what’s more effective: “I pulled the trigger.” or “I curled my long, dark finger around the small, metal trigger, pulling it.”? The second has unnecessary descriptions, and it distracts from the impact of what the character just did. The same is usually true for wants, unless it’s a want to feel something (then, it would be considered a feeling). For example, it would be better to use “She wanted to punch him in the face.” than “She wanted to rear back her right arm, and connect her closed fist with the soft skin of his cheek.”.
You may be struggling to describe the feeling you want to evoke at all. Maybe you can’t think of how that emotion feels off the top of your head. This is where method writing can be immensely helpful. I use method writing religiously, especially for angry or sad scenes. With method writing, you want to make yourself feel whatever emotion you are trying to write. You can read books, watch T.V. and movies, listen to music, and do whatever else that will help you feel the emotion you need. I have specific things I do for writing sad scenes (particularly deaths) that I talk about in my post: Killing Characters: The Imaginary Circle of Life. Music is great to get yourself in the mood for a scene, and I never write without it. If you’re writing a sad scene, listen to sad music. Happy scene, happy music. You can use a playlist, or just listen to one song on repeat, depending what you feel would be best. I used “One Step Closer” by Linkin Park on repeat while writing an angry scene, and it worked out quite well for me, but I generally use a playlist of a couple different songs.
This is the most important thing to you need in order to evoke emotion. If readers don’t care about your character, they won’t care what your character is feeling. There’s no way to draw emotion from readers if they aren’t invested in your characters. You need complex characters, with relatable (e.g.: they should have relationships, and goals outside the plot that the reader can relate to) aspects to them. I have posts on Character Creation & Development and Subplots that will help you out with making your characters more complex and relatable.
In short, to make your readers feel the emotions you want them to, you need characters they can connect to, as well as the knowledge of when to go easy on the details and when to elaborate. Make yourself and your readers feel the scene.
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With all of this in mind, go out and write your masterpiece!