In fiction and poetry, one of the greatest skills that a writer can possess is the ability to make the reader feel. If you can engage readers on an emotional level, you’ll have them hooked.
Think about it. Most of the books, poems, movies, and TV shows that you love best are the ones with which you forged an emotional connection. You felt like the characters were your friends, so you felt for them. You felt with them.
Sounds easy, but emotionally effective writing can be a complex and difficult endeavor. Let’s look at a few simple guidelines you can use to produce emotionally compelling creative writing.
Rules of the Road
To engage a reader, we have to create scenes that are so vivid they seem real, even if they are not. Through scenes, imagery, and dialogue, writers can emotionally engage readers with what’s happening on the page:
Show, Don’t Tell
The best writing shows readers what’s going on instead of telling them. If a character is sad, you don’t write, Kate was sad. You write, Kate lowered her eyes and swallowed hard, choking back a sob and blinking away the tears that were welling up in her eyes.
Using imagery goes hand in hand with showing rather than telling. Instead of writing something like Jack’s heart was broken, use a compelling image to show the reader that Jack has a broken heart: Jack stood in the street with his hands clenched at his sides, and he watched her walk away. She didn’t care anymore. His entire body shook as tears streamed down his face. She had betrayed him and now he was all alone. It was over.
Feelings can be revealed through dialogue, and dialogue can also incorporate imagery. When you use imagery and dialogue together to show (rather than tell) the reader what is happening and to reveal the emotional aspect of the situation, the reader visualizes the action and becomes a part of it, often experiencing the characters’ emotions right along with them:
“Jack, stop talking. I’m not going with you,” Kate said.
“What do you mean you’re not going with me? We’re supposed to go together.”
“We’re not together, Jack. We were, but not anymore.”
Jack couldn’t believe his ears. “You’re leaving me?” he asked.
“That’s right,” she said. “You and me — it would never work.” She started to turn and paused briefly. Jack thought she had changed her mind. He saw her hand flicker, and for an instant, he knew she was about to reach for him, but then she pulled her hand back, turned on her heels, and walked off.
“That’s it? You’re just going to walk away?” he screamed. She didn’t stop, didn’t even flinch. Jack hung his head. “You’re just going to walk away,” he whispered.
It’s a lot easier to tell readers what’s happening. Kate’s sad. Jack has a broken heart because Kate left him. But when you show readers what’s happening through imagery and dialogue, they can enter the scene and become part of it. This makes reading an experience, and it helps readers connect on an emotional level.
Readers who are emotionally invested in a piece of writing are more likely to keep turning pages, to tell their friends about it, and to read more of your work. It doesn’t matter which emotions you engage; make readers feel something — anything — and they will reward you, because the experience you gave them was rewarded.
Do you incorporate emotions into your writing? Do you use imagery and dialogue to do it? What techniques and methods have you used to help readers connect emotionally with your work? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing.
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