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How to Write Emotion: 5 Ways to Make Your Readers Feel Emotion

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Feb 13, 2020 • 3 min read

One of the most powerful writing skills an author can have is the ability to tease emotions out of the reader. Many readers turn to novels to be transported to a world of intense emotion, whether it’s the grief of a loved one’s passing or the euphoria of falling in love for the first time.



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How to Evoke Emotion in Your Writing

Whether you’re a novelist, blogger, or writer of short stories, evoking emotions in your readers can make them feel more invested in your characters and the story as a whole. Here are some writing tips to help you write and evoke emotion:

  1. Be specific with word choice. When writing your first novel, it’s easy to fall into cliché when writing emotions. Even bestselling authors can fall into this trap. How many times have you read the phrase “a single tear fell down her cheek” or “his heart skipped a beat”? These clichés are such common ways to show emotion that they are almost meaningless. When describing character emotions, be as specific as possible in your word choice and body language. Go through your first draft by yourself or with a writing coach and eliminate phrases or descriptions that feel overused.
  2. Make sure readers identify with the protagonist. Readers experience emotions through the eyes of the characters. That’s why it’s essential that your protagonist or main character be relatable and sympathetic. The more invested readers are in the character development, backstory, and plot points involving the protagonist, the more they’ll be able to identify with their own emotional experiences. That’s why writing your big emotional scene on page one isn’t as effective as waiting for the climax—the reader needs time to build a relationship with the main character.
  3. Vary your descriptions. When it comes to emotional writing, it’s not enough to simply relay the character’s emotions. Readers need to see the effect of the character’s emotions through their body language, facial expressions, and actions. In other words: show, don’t tell. Rather than simply telling us that a character is scared, illustrate the way their body tenses up with fear. Instead of stating that a character is sad, describe their trembling lips and watery eyes. By showing rather than telling, writers are better able to trigger readers’ emotions by allowing them to feel as though they are experiencing what the character is feeling.
  4. Build up to intense emotions for greater impact. In fiction writing, just like in real life, deep emotions are more memorable than shallow emotions. Unbridled joy is more impactful than fleeting happiness. Aching grief is more intense than minor disappointment. Readers are more likely to share in your main character’s emotional state if those feelings are strong and passionate. Fiction writers should strive to create scenarios in which their character feels an intense range of emotions.
  5. Try journaling. The most vivid and relatable character emotions often mirror real-life experiences. That’s why keeping a journal can be such a great resource. A journal can help you document your own daily emotional experiences, whether it’s anger, sadness, or joy. Attempt to write down the exact circumstances that led to your emotional response, and be as specific as possible when describing your own emotions. When it’s time to describe your character’s feelings in your creative writing, refer back to your journal. Try to transfer your own past emotional state into your fiction writing. The more specific your character’s thoughts and point of view, the greater the emotional impact.

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