Emotions Belong To Readers
When it comes to using emotion in a story, the person whose emotions should be most important to you are the reader’s.
An emotionally invested reader is more likely to go wherever the story leads, and also more likely to make allowances for parts of the story they aren’t too sure about.
You can still keep readers engaged through intellectual curiosity or general drama and action, but grabbing them emotionally is always going to be the most intense experience for them.
The simplest way to do this is to mirror emotions. The character in the story feel happy or angry or scared and the reader feels the same.
But you can also create scenarios that induce different emotions in reader and character. A killer taking great pleasure in his kill won’t engender the same in the reader. A daughter pretending she doesn’t know her own mother in front of her cools friends can make the reader weep while the characters on the page all behave with barely any emotion at all.
The ability to juxtapose characters in such a way as to spontaneously combust into emotion for the reader is a tricky thing to achieve but can be a very powerful an experience for the reader.
The cause of emotion rather than the display is where to focus. In order to do that effectively, you need to understand how actions create emotions.
This can be difficult since in real life we just feel what we feel and ascribe blame retroactively. I feel angry at Jack, therefore what Jack did must be worth getting mad about.
But that isn’t necessarily true. I could just be an over-sensitive whiner who likes to fly off the handle whenever challenged by a reasonable person. Judging actions by the emotions they create within you personally is not the best barometer.
You have to be able to step outside of your own personal feelings and view things objectively, see where the emotion is coming from (or isn’t) and adjust accordingly.
If a girl sees a snail on the way to school every day, and one day the snail is dead and the girl is upset, will the reader be upset too?
If the girl is bullied at school and ignored by busy parents, and uses the snail to confide in, telling it her fears and worries, even though the snail doesn’t respond in any way, when it dies will her anguish be felt by the reader now?
If the snail is killed by the school bully who drops a brick on it, can I switch sadness into rage?
If she takes the snail home and the mother is disgusted and throws it over the garden wall, and the girl retaliates by taking the mother’s pearl necklace and flushing it down the toilet, can I create sympathy for the girl? The mother? The snail?
Any given situation can be turned in any given direction emotionally if you understand the link between what people do and what they feel. How well it works is a matter of skill, but the emotion in the reader is waiting to be turned on. You just have to decide which switch you want to flick.
Find more great posts on writing at The Funnily Enough
Check out my latest stories for free on Wattpad.
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