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Evoking Emotions in Readers in a Masterful Way – Part 2

We’ve been delving into the challenge of the emotional concerns in fiction writing. It’s a twofold objective: showing characters who experience emotions, in order to make them believable in all their natural human behavior, and evoking emotion in our readers, which is, I believe, the harder of the two tasks.

However, to be a masterful writer, we must master both. It doesn’t take a lot of work to learn how to “show” emotion in our characters, though the tendency might be to drift into tropes and boring actions (her heart pounded in her chest; he clenched his fists and gritted his teeth). Granted, sometimes we are hard pressed to be masterfully original with every bit of emotional showing we do (though, as we saw in the posts on masterful description, “fresh” and “original” can be achieved with effort).

We’ve seen, to a limited extent, how characters can effectively “tell” their emotions, share what they are feeling, and that can be done quite masterfully as well.

And that leads to the issue we discussed in the last post on the subject: how to manipulate readers’ emotions.

To reiterate a key point: thoughts lead to feelings. For example: I start to think how I might have accidentally left the back door open, and that might have been why my toddler wandered out of the house and is now lost. That thought induces emotions of guilt and self-recrimination. A thought comes into my head, suggesting my boyfriend may have lied about where he was last night, and suddenly I am suspicious, doubting him, wondering if he is cheating on me, and that last thought detonates feelings of anger and betrayal. Continue Reading…

Evoking Emotions in Readers in a Masterful Way

In this series on masterful writing, we’re now looking at emotion. Masterful showing of emotion, masterful “telling” of emotion, and masterful evocation of emotion.

Perhaps the hardest thing for a writer to do well is to manipulate emotion. I say “manipulate” because one of the definitions of the word is “to operate in a skillful manner.” I am not using the word in its more negative connotations of insidiously controlling or affecting things or people for a harmful purpose.

We writers want to manipulate our characters and our readers. We want to masterfully evoke emotion in our readers because, as Donald Maass says in The Emotional Craft of Fiction, readers don’t just read; they respond.

Masterful writers don’t just show characters emoting and expect readers to feel the same feelings. Every writer should understand that just because a character is afraid or angry, it doesn’t make the reader afraid or angry.

Even if a writer adeptly shows a character feeling emotions, that doesn’t guarantee the reader will feel anything at all.

So it behooves writers to dig into this topic of evoking emotion, which is a slippery animal, to be sure. Continue Reading…

Masterful Telling of Emotion

Today’s guest post is by Nina Schuyler. It continues our look at masterful writing, introducing the element of emotional content in our novels. The craft of not only expressing emotion  in our characters but also evoking emotion in our readers is one of the most important things to master in fiction writing. In this post, Nina Schuyler shows us that telling about emotions can be just as powerful as showing those emotions in your characters.

Early on, when I was young and innocent and studying writing, it was vigorously pounded in my head that I must never ever tell a character’s emotion. T. S. Eliot’s “objective correlative” entered the conversation (events, objects, and actions must stand for or correlate to the desired emotion), along with fiction’s allure, which is to give readers an embodied experience—or as George Saunders tells storytellers, “Go forth and delight!”

But now, having read more, studied more, gotten older, I’ve encountered plenty of published works that tell the emotion. It’s right there, in big letters, winking at me—HE FELT. SHE FEELS—sad, happy, joyful, angry, embarrassed. And I do experience the told emotion. How is this possible? What’s going on?

The magic is in the way the telling is done. Continue Reading…