Writing With Emotions
The Problem As I See It
I have often said that I want to be a writer who stuns his readers. I am at my happiest when my writing elicits tears from my readers, when my writing elicits gasps from my readers and when my writing creates “Holy Cow” reactions from my readers.
But wanting and doing are two different things.
How does a writer create emotions with words? That is the question we will attempt to answer today. How do we transfer our feelings to our audience, and how do we find a way to bring them inside of our hearts and feel our nerve endings as they respond to a stimulus?
It is not an easy thing to do, and some writers never achieve it, but when and if you do it is a moment unlike any other.
First, let’s take a look at the nature of emotions.
Do you use emotions in your writing?
What Causes Emotions?
There is no easy answer to this question. Even the experts are divided on the exact nature and cause of emotions. After a little research I have found the “experts” believe emotions to stem from one of the following:
- Somatics: human emotions are caused by the actions of individuals. For example, a person cries and others feel sad when witnessing it.
- Neurobiology: the brain causes responses that are triggered by serotonin and dopamine to name a few physical stimulants.
- Cognition: judgments and evaluation are the root causes.
- Perception: outside influences are meaningful in some way and that brings about an emotion.
- Affective events: we respond to events, past and present, and our response is an emotion.
Okay, so What Are Emotions?
From Dictionary.com we have this definition:
“an affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced, as distinguished from cognitive and volitional states of consciousness.”
Okay, that’s all well and good. So, Mr. Writer, how does a writer create an emotional attachment between the written word and the reader?
First, let me state that I am no expert. I have been told that I accomplish this in my personal essays. I have been told that some have wept, some have laughed, and some have gasped when reading my words, and I accept that to be true. I had to go back over some of my writings to gain an appreciation for why that is. In other words, what comes naturally for me in the flow of my everyday writing obviously triggers something in my readers, but how exactly do I do that?
As best as I can fathom, and based on a little research about this topic, the reactions I receive to my writings are because of one or more of the following.
TAKE ME BACK TO A TIME AND PLACE
It has always been my belief that we humans share many more commonalities than we do differences. No matter our race, creed or beliefs, we are all just humans, and as such we all share the same emotions. My job as a writer is to bring those emotions out through my words, and one way to do that is to relate events in my life that others have experienced.
The death of a loved one….the birth of a child….the joy of victory and the agony of defeat…these are things every single one of us can understand, and often times when we read about someone else’s trials or rewards we associate with them and emotions are triggered.
DESCRIBE AN EMOTION RATHER THAN JUST LABEL IT
Emotions are physical and psychological responses to stimuli. When we feel an emotion, things happen to us physically and mentally. What does that feel like? Does your heart rate increase when you are excited? Do you grow clammy to the touch when afraid? Do the hairs stand up on your neck when you sense danger?
A good writer does not say they were overjoyed. A good writer explains what it feels like to be overjoyed. A good writer does not say they were heartbroken. A good writer finds a way to explain what it feels like to have your heart shattered. There is a huge difference in these two approaches, and it makes a difference in the way your audience receives your words.
CHOOSE YOUR WORDS WISELY
How many words are there in the English language? Somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000, and that multitude of choices benefits me the writer.
Try to choose words that trigger the response that you seek. Harsh sounding words often signify anger or fear. Soft words signify love or serenity. You do not describe the joy of holding your baby using words with all consonants. It ends up sounding like a drill sergeant reciting a nursery rhyme. Conversely, you do not use soft-sounding words to describe a murder scene. There is nothing soft about murder, so don’t treat it as though it were.
The English language really is a marvel to behold for a writer. How about using it to your advantage?
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This relates to the first suggestion. In order for you to trigger emotions in your readers, it is first necessary to remember which emotions you felt in a similar situation.
It would be a disservice to my readers to tell them that I felt sad when my father died when I was nineteen years old. Heck, that would be an insult to the memory of my father as well. I felt like someone had knocked me flat with a pole ax. I felt like my nerve endings had been ripped out, one by one, leaving me almost catatonic. I felt like my world had been shattered and I was aimless and alone.
I felt sad? Please….we can all do better than that! Remember how you felt and then translate that into words. Trust me, your readers will relate.
Using pace refers to the rhythm of your writing, and using that rhythm properly can produce emotions.
Using short sentences and paragraphs creates a faster pace which is what you want to create if trying to relate fear, anger or suspense. Using longer sentences and paragraphs slows that pace down and creates a more relaxing atmosphere for your readers, which in turn is conducive to relating love, beauty and peace of mind.
In essence, what you are doing is using the flow of words to match the flow of an emotion. When we are fearful or angry, our heartbeats increase and time moves quickly; when we are relaxed and at ease, the reverse is true. Use sentence structure and rhythm to achieve this phenomenon.
USE SETTING TO INFLUENCE EMOTIONS
In other words, paint the scene. You are the director of your motion picture, and it is your job to tell the readers what your scene looks like. If you do that effectively you will stimulate emotions.
If I am describing a murder, I do not simply tell my readers that I entered a house and a dead person was there. I tell them that when I opened the door I smelled a strong, coppery scent mixed with an overpowering sense of rotting. I tell them that the blood splatter led to the back bedroom, and as the smell grew stronger my own heartbeat quickened to the point that I could actually hear my heart pounding against my chest. By the time I get to the body my readers should be ready to hide under the covers. J
THE USE OF VOICE
So much has been written about a writer’s voice, and nowhere is it more important than in emotional writing.
Emotions are painfully and joyfully human. To use a stilted, robotic, or technical voice in writing an emotional scene is akin to going to your wedding in cut-offs and a muscle shirt.
Find your emotional voice and use it. Dig down deep and remember your own emotions in similar situations, and use those emotions to grab your readers.
One of the greatest challenges I have daily is shifting from the technical, SEO content voice I have for customers to the personal, emotional voice I have for readers of my blog and articles. Imagine test-driving a Prius and then test-driving a Porsche. The same thing happens when you contact your personal writer’s voice and relay it to the reader.
One Final Note
I find it practically impossible to write in a stilted manner. Even when I am writing articles and blogs for customers, my personal side shows itself. I want my voice to be relaxed and sound like an actual human being rather than some computer-generated voice. I think readers relate much better to that approach.
I want to take a moment and thank a friend of mine for giving me the inspiration to write this article. Her name on HubPages is Grandmapearl and you can find her here. Thank you, Connie, and I hope this has helped you and others.
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”