Emotion: Making the Reader Feel It Too

What is the most vital job that you have as a writer?  To hook the reader and keep them reading.  To do this you need to emotionmake them care about what you are writing.

In fiction, this means making the reader care about and relate to the character.  One of the best ways to do this is with an emotional connection.  Even if the character is an alien, a sprite, or a yeti, you can help your reader connect by bridging the gap between reader-experience and character-experience using emotion.

First things first is identifying your character’s emotion.  It sounds a little goofy but there you have it.  So often when I am reading a manuscript from a newer writing, the character is moving from event to event without an identifiable emotion.  You might get the occasional jump when they are startled or “ouch” when they are hurt, but that’s about it.  So first things first, identify the character’s emotion at this point in st0ry-time.

Second, think about the emotion as it relates to this particular character.  How does it feel?  What does it mean?

It is way too easy to say, Chet was mad.  Amy was happy.  Bartholomew was confused.  Fantastic.  But how does it feel to these characters?

This is why I have such a love affair with The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.  Each entry lists a wide variety of reactions to each emotion.  What are the external responses?  What are the internal responses?  How does a character respond who is try to suppress this emotion?  How does this emotion change if it is felt over an extended period?

Let’s take anger.  My husband bites his bottom lip.  A friend of mine, if angry enough, literally sees red.  People clench their fists, grind their teeth, narrow their eyes and more.  One friend sounds extremely country when he’s trying his darndest not to throttle someone.  Each person has a different response.  Some are external, observable by anyone who cares to take note.  Others, like seeing red, are internal and only the person feeling this emotion may be aware.

Use some of these indicators in your writing to help your reader connect with a familiar emotion.  In this way, you will help them bridge the gap from their world to the world of your character.



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