How to Create a Strong Emotional Response in Your Readers

Today’s guest post is by writer and blogger Jackie Johansen:

You are writing your book, and you are excited thinking of others reading it. You understand what your characters are feeling, and you understand what you want your readers to feel.

You know what it is like to feel something from a book. The books that stirred you stick in your mind—they mean the most to you, and they often changed your thinking about ourselves or the world.

You want this for your readers. You want this for yourself.

Often the books that end up on best-seller lists carry a heavy emotional punch. Books that lack emotionality fall flat. When that emotionality isn’t infused in our work, our characters fall flat. The work as a whole can fall flat, and unfortunately the result will be an unmemorable novel.

Luckily, creating a strong emotional response in your audience is easy to do.

First, you have to keep in mind that emotions are just energy in motion. They have the ability move from you and transfer to the words on the page, then come alive in your readers. If you approach your writing feeling uninspired or doubtful about what you are saying, your words wont have the strong emotional impact you intend.

For example, we have all had moments of anger, sadness, and joy. When immersed in big feelings, we might write in our journal or write a letter to process what is going on inside us. If we reread what we wrote, we are taken back to that feeling. It is captured there on the page.

The most powerful writing comes from a writer really feeling something.

Connecting to the emotionality of your experience and writing from this place allows you to be in your creative power. In this state the words will flow effortlessly from your fingers because the energy of the emotion is propelling the work forward.

Prep yourself first: get into a writing mind

Doubt, resistance, distraction, and feeling ungrounded can negatively affect your writing. To help, pump yourself up before approaching your writing practice.

Plan to let your words flow no matter what. Give yourself a pep talk, make a commitment to write, and create with confidence and beautiful vulnerability.

Pull forward the creativity, wisdom, and aliveness that are innate in you. Feel the expansion of your emotional capacity, mirrored in your rising chest, as you take a deep breath and dive into your work.

When you want your writing to have more emotional depth, you need to feel what you want your readers to feel.

If you want readers to experience joy and elation, pull up a memory that makes you feel these emotions. Feel them in your body. Feel them running through you. Write from this state.

If you want to create a feeling of sadness, or elicit tears from your readers, take some time and get to a space when you are writing from a sadness that is palpable for you. Let this experience pour onto the page.

We have access to a wide array of emotions because we are emotional beings.

Often the various feelings that you want to bring to your work are ones you already experience at some time during your day.

When away from your writing desk, notice when various feelings pop up, and allow yourself to feel them. They are always in movement. You don’t have to dwell in them, but rather, experience them for what they are, and allow them to pass through you.

The more you tenderly notice your emotional states during the times you are not writing, the more gracefully you will bring depth to your work and readers’ experience.

There are many emotions captured in written language, but we are most familiar with only a small handful of them.

Don’t limit yourself or your writing. Google a list of “emotion” words to help bring awareness to various emotional states. Notice the nuances of the common feelings (anger, sadness, joy, etc.). Notice the subtleties and the similarities of different emotional experiences.

When you want to bring more of these feelings into your writing, tap into the wisdom of your body.

We have all experienced how our bodies change when we are feeling sad versus happy or confident. Our bodies and emotions are connected. We can use our bodies to shift our emotional state.

When writing, take on the posture of what you want your readers to feel. This quickly shifts your emotional state, your writing, and your thinking. Be present with the felt experience of what you want translated onto the page.

Trust the knowing that emotions are a universal human experience.

What you’re feeling will translate into your work. What you are feeling will resonate in the hearts of those receiving your words.

When you are open to experiencing different emotional states, you and your work will take on a powerful creative momentum. You will have taken control over your work in a new way. By surrendering to the feelings coming up for you, and the feelings you want your readers to feel, your work becomes more solid and alive.

Jackie Johansen headshotJackie Johansen is a writer and soul seeker. She writes at Finally Writing, where she combines personal development with actionable writing strategies to help you write the words that will inspire the world. If you are ready to unleash your inner writer and get writing from the inside out, start the free 21-Day Writing Challenge.

Feature Photo Credit: danorbit. via Compfight cc


Want to master the emotional craft of fiction?

Dive into the online course Emotional Mastery for Fiction Writers!

In this course, you’ll be given tools to show emotions in your characters. You’ll be given techniques to help spark emotional response in your readers. What is going to bring it all together for you is practice. Study and practice. And you’ll have exercises in this course to help you put into practice what you learn.

There are two facets of emotion in fiction: conveying what your character is feeling and evoking emotion in your reader. We’ll look at these two facets separately and in depth. Yet, they are intrinsically connected.

Emotional mastery requires writers to set up the dynamics of a scene in such a visual, textural way that readers can’t help but feel what they are meant to feel. Understanding that emotional mastery requires a twofold approachthe emotional landscape of both the character and the reader—is the first step.

Want to learn how to become a masterful wielder of emotion in your fiction? Enroll in my new online video course, Emotional Mastery for Fiction Writers.

You’ll get lifetime access to all the videos and more than three dozen downloadable assignments. And with a 30-day money-back guarantee, you have NOTHING to lose by jumping in. Sign up NOW.

This course will challenge you to become an “emotion master.” Are you ready and willing to go on this journey deep into emotional territory? If you want your characters to move your readers, take the plunge!

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  1. This is really helpful, especially adopting the posture we hold when going through a certain emotion. I will definitely use it in the future.

    I would also recommend the Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman, which I used when writing my latest book (which I am querying right now). While I sometimes thought the book didn’t provide exactly what I was looking for, it was a good crutch and a stepping stone for developing emotional responses.

    1. I use and recommend that book a lot, along with the other two books in that collection. They really are tremendously helpful in understanding how to show emotions.

  2. Thanks for sharing this great advice.

    I’m at a point in my story where I need to write a funeral scene and I keep procrastinating! I have written other scenes, switched to other projects, even exercised to avoid it! hahaha I guess I just don’t want to go to a funeral today.

    Now that I’ve realized why I’m procrastinating though, I have decided to just get it over with. Maybe I can reward myself with a happier scene when I’m done.

    1. Sibilant, I love your thoughts an insight on the process of writing difficult scenes. I think you are smart to reward yourself with something more uplifting 🙂 Both scenes will inform the other and will hold aliveness and potency as you dive in. You’ve got this!

  3. This resonates with me. Reading through the article, I was thinking about the portions of my current book project I am most pleased with and realized each of them came when I was tied more emotionally with my character’s experiences (I’m writing a friend’s life story). I intend to use these tips to help me tap into that mindset more frequently. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Lisa, I am so glad the article was valuable to you! I love what you bring up: writing with joy and ease is connected to having an emotional connection to our work. This is a lovely truth and insight.

  4. It is always beneficial to have these lessons reinforced. I enjoyed the post but was distracted by errors. Seems especially important when discussing writing to edit thoroughly before posting. Good information for everyone however.

    1. Jude, I am so sorry you were distracted by errors! I definitely apologize that some slipped through the cracks. I am glad that you found benefit in the lessons. I appreciate that you took the time to write. Much love to you.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree. If you haven’t laughed out loud or cried (where appropriate) while writing, you can never expect your readers to do so.
    Reading is an emotional pastime, so it only makes sense that writing should be too.

  6. Great post, Jackie. What you say about recording impressions and feelings in a writing journal is good advice. I keep a journal and hoard details – small, striking impressions from the day or any impactful event – and transmute these into something more creative when an idea suggests itself. I find indexing journal by subject/mood/place etc. to be very useful.

  7. Thank you for the above post. I think we all struggle with this and you gave some practical suggestions to get us to the emotional place we need to be. What I’ve found helpful recently is that when I come across a phrase or unusual sentence while reading, I pause, sometimes write it down, and then know I can come back to it to evoke the emotion. It’s helped me.

  8. Thank you, Jackie! It was pleasing to me to be reminded of the importance of really getting at emotions in an honest, substantial way. What particularly caught my attention was your overall sense of the writer trusting his emotions: letting the words flow, trusting his inner wisdom, listening to his body, understanding that the emotions he feels are universal. That is great advice that, if followed, can eliminate writer’s block. I will make sure I remember them today and everyday I write.


  9. Thanks for your helpful posts. As a perpetual writing student, I never stop learning and studying the craft. 🙂

  10. Hmmm . . . as a writer and editor, I appreciate your theory Jackie, but I think you are missing a huge point. In the hands of an inexperienced writer, too much drawing-from-your-own-experience-within can result in melodramatic writing that feels amateurish and manipulative to readers, in much the way that a cheesy film does. Being about to draw upon inner resources needs to be combines with practiced skill in putting it on paper in a nuanced fashion using original language – that is often the bigger challenge for a writer, in my opinion and judging by the experience of the dozens of newer writers I’ve worked with.

  11. Indeed, humans are emotional beings. I really appreciate the post. Readers will always try to read about characters who experienced the same situations in life as they did. People usually look for something that is close to their hearts. I also recommend to read how Jane Friedman writes about inner mode, outer mode and other mode.

    1. Emotionality is definitely a word. The authority for the book publishing industry after CMOS is Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate 11th ed., which, in addition to numerous other dictionaries, lists it as a word. Maybe some writers don’t know that. That’s what a dictionary is for.

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