The Function of a Scene: To Evoke Emotion

NOTE: One of our very own sisters in Christ and fellow writers, Pam Halter, has written a very moving, inspiring, and life-changing article about her autistic daughter. Please take the time to read this magnificent piece:  http://www.gloryandstrength.com/
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This week we will discuss another function of a scene: to evoke emotion. Emotion is at the crux of writing powerful fiction because the primary goal of fiction is to entertain.  Readers read to enter new worlds and to engage in new experiences.  Emotion helps to ground them in this new world and to experience it fully.

Let’s start with defining emotion. One dictionary defines emotion as “any strong agitation of the feelings. . . usually accompanied by certain physiological changes, as increased heartbeat or respiration, and often overt manifestation, as crying or shaking.” <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/emotion

When writing fiction, a key point to keep in mind is that emotion is expressed on the written page through the description of physical responses.

So, what are some ways to use a scene to evoke emotion? 

1) Word choice.  The words we choose in creating a scene are critical in evoking emotion.   We could write: Jana was afraid or we could write Jana’s heart thundered in her chest.  Which one elicits a stronger response from you?  

2) Physical senses. We saw above that using the physical senses increases emotion.  Which of the following evokes emotion:   Todd hit the wall in anger or Todd slammed his fist against the brick wall and flinched at the sound of cracking bones.

3) Observing others. Watch how other people express their emotions. Each of us expresses emotion in unique ways.  Some people express anger by shouting; others, by withdrawing. Some people express fear by talking constantly; others, by breaking out in cold sweats.  Interestingly, readers will often identify with the character who expresses emotion in the same way the reader does.

4) Drawing on your own experiences.  Observe yourself.  How do you respond physically to fear, anger, embarrassment?  Use those reactions in evoking emotion in your scene.

5) Reading the works of other writers.  Analyze how successful authors evoke emotion in a scene. Do they use dialogue? What about their sentence structure?  What about their pacing?  All of these elements contribute to creating powerful emotion in a scene.

As an exercise, take a story you’re currently working on and edit it for emotion.  Check your word choices. Analyze the physical responses to the situations in your scene.  Are there places where you can ratchet up your emotion? 

Increasing emotion in your scene will automatically increase emotion in your entire story.  Don’t be afraid to have your characters express strong emotions.  Your readers will love you for it! 🙂

Next week, we’ll conclude our series on the functions of a scene with a discussion of conflict.
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2 thoughts on “The Function of a Scene: To Evoke Emotion

  1. Thanks for the encouragement, MaryAnn!

    I like to make my characters respond differently then the reader might expect. For example, when my villianess is victorious in an evil act, you would think she would exult proudly and victoriously. Especially with what we know about her so far in the novel. BUT … I simply have her smirk, smile and walk away. I think it’s more powerful.

    Sometimes, less is more.

    February 10, 2011 at 4:06 PM