Creating Emotions in Fiction

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For many authors, one of the most important goals of writing a story is creating an emotional response in the reader.  It covers the entire range from anger to relief to happiness.  I’m sure most avid readers have had a moment with a really good book where they had to put it down.  Not because it was bad, but they became too sad or anger in regards to a big event.  There’s the full intention of going back, but you simply need that break to compose yourself.  So, how do you make this connection?

Well, it differs from genre to genre and author to author.  The first thing to realize is that there is one rule that truly does go across the board.  You will NEVER get the same reaction out of every reader.  For example, you have people who love LOTR and have no reaction Boromir’s death.  You also have those who love LOTR and tear up when they reach that part.  Others laugh because they think he deserved it, a fourth group gets angry, and you could have a fifth for something else entirely.  All of these are legitimate reactions to a story event and demonstrates that we’re writing to individuals instead of a hive mentality.

With such a variety of emotions, all an author can really do is try their best to create the reaction they want.  You can do it through building up, painting the scene with tension, or whatever tricks work for that scene.  In the end, it really does come down to the reader opening themselves to the characters.  That whole ‘lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink with a straw’ thing.  This okay though because imagine how boring it would be if you could do this perfectly or there was one magical note to hit that would make humanity as a whole react the way you want.  Guess there are some out there who would love this shortcut.  Still, that’s not how the world works, which means we can only try our best and hope the readers meet us halfway.  Possibly even a quarter of the way since they’re aren’t in the planning, writing, and editing stages, but my point is that you can’t force a person to be angry if they don’t feel it.

This is where I should put a tip about pulling this off, but I’m actually at a loss because of the variety.  There have been a few deaths and disasters that have caused people to teasingly tell me that I owe them tissues.  Yet, I don’t think I did anything out of the ordinary to draw out that emotion.  Not on purpose anyway.  All I remember is that I got emotional when writing the scenes, so maybe that’s a sign that you’re going in the right direction.  It does seem to be harder as the series progresses for some reason.  Either people are jumping into the middle or we naturally brace for disaster as a long series moves along.  Thank you to all those authors who set the standard of killing off characters the instant the become relatable or beloved.

So, it might be better to open the floor to other authors and readers.  What do you do to pass emotion through your works?  What do you look for to gain emotion from what you read?  Do you think this is a two person job instead of it being solely on one side of the equation?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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51 Responses to Creating Emotions in Fiction

  1. Sue Vincent says:

    Definitely a two-way relationship I think, Charles…and unique for everybook and reader. Regardless of the story though, I think it shows when the writer has poured their heart into something rather than pulling the puppet strings of sentimentality… and readers respond to that honest emotion.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve found when I add factors that have affected my life to my stories the emotion must show through because I get positive reactions from my readers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great topic today. It’s a mind game with the reader, which means the reader is a big part of the equation. Get readers invested in the character early on, it seems to help more. Emotions run the gamut too, it isn’t all about death and loss. Sometimes it’s humor or joy. Admitting that everyone won’t get it is also important. I even try to think about the emotional moments in advance so I can take advantage of plants and payoffs. That part is still a work in progress.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Entertaining Stories and commented:
    Charles has a great topic for authors and readers today. Stop by and join in the comments.


  5. L. Marie says:

    Great post! Writing scenes with emotional content is very challenging. One piece of advice someone gave me is to avoid having your characters cry a lot, even in an emotional scene. Some readers feel nothing if a character bursts into tears a lot. Let those tears really be earned. If you want the reader to feel the character’s pain, use gestures and other body language.

    I highly recommend Donald Maass’s book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction. He gives great advice on emotional content.


  6. I agree with what you said. I have found the scenes I write and am emotional are the ones the readers find emotional as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. N. N. Light says:

    Great topic, Charles! I love reading a story that has honest, sometimes raw, emotion layered throughout but it has to be organic. A character has to gradually go through emotions and I have to connect with the character to even give a damn.

    Writing emotional fiction is draining on me. I think it’s because I sprinkle in real life moments to all my stories. Readers tend to respond more when I have bared my soul through my characters. To get it right, I lean on my beta readers and editors to make sure I’m on the right track and it doesn’t come across as fake emotions.


  8. Soooz says:

    What an endlessly fascinating topic, Charles! If I may share my own observations as a writer that has written both intensely personal memoirs, and rather brutal thrillers. I have been so very fortunate to have had my memoirs hit a nerve with the reading public, having just received review number 391 for ‘Empty Chairs’, the overwhelming response has been that the readers needed to see me survive.They all walked a mile in my shoes. During the writing of my memoirs I needed an outlet to remove me from the pain of writing them, I utilized that pain and anger and translated that into characters that my subconscious wanted to see suffer. Much cheaper than therapy, my friend. … lol. Plus the added benefit was of course that I could kill off these folks and do no jail time.


  9. Soooz says:

    It’s a strange thing, Charles. Because my memoirs caused me to have paralyzing Flashbacks I held myself in check whilst writing them, else the anger would have overridden the message I needed to send. I found the freedom of writing my thrillers and Paranormal books far more liberating emotionally, yet I was able to maintain a healthier detachment.


  10. I think it’s a two person thing, and that the reader is more likely to get emotional during a scene where the author put their own emotions in to it in the first place.


  11. Sue Coletta says:

    As a writer, I pour my heart and soul into my characters by pulling from my past experiences. If I can’t relate to my character’s predicament, then I put myself into the same position (safely) in order to “feel” the scene, sort of like a method actor would do. As a reader, I can tell when the author is invested, when real emotion pours on to the page. We can’t fake it or it will show in our work. I can only speak from my experience, of course. Perhaps others feel differently. Great post, Charles!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this great post from the Legends of Windemere blog on creating emotions in fiction.


  13. Jennie says:

    I find that when I’m pounding the keys, writing with emotion, readers respond and relate. If I am emotional, they are, too.


  14. Alas, poor Boromir! He stumbled and fell, but just as he got back on his feet…


  15. rijanjks says:

    Charles, you hit the nail on the head when you said that YOU, the author, gets emotional in a scene. I have literally had tears streaming down my face while my fingers pecked away on the keyboard, or laughed out loud. I think that’s the key. If it evokes emotion is us, then it most likely will do so for our readers. Great post!


  16. I like to method-write a bit for emotional scenes. Music helps a lot, so do books and T.V.. 🙂


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