(Craft) Touching the Emotions in Fiction Writing

Psychologists tell us that in most stressful situations, emotion will trump reason every time.  While this is not always the case, of course, it is a factor of the human psyche that must be taken into consideration when we write fiction.

Fiction is about emotion. The more you connect emotionally with your reader, the more your reader will stick with you until the end of your story. So how do you create emotion in your story?

Here are a few tips that work for me and for hundreds of other authors of fiction:

1) Show, don’t tell. This oft-repeated dictum of fiction writing means exactly what it says. When describing emotion, show the emotion in the form of physical responses and reactions. For example, if your character is in a rage, don’t just tell the reader she is in a rage; show the reader her rage by giving a physical response.  Here is the difference:

         –TELLING:   Marisa was in a rage.

         –SHOWING:  Marisa’s breath caught under her rib cage and lodged there, clamping her throat shut.  Her body tensed as her fists rose toward Eric’s chin and hit their target.  

 2) Feel what your character is feeling. While you may not have ever experienced what your character is experiencing, you have experienced the same emotion.  For example, fear is fear regardless of what causes it.  Fear incites a pounding heart, a dry mouth, an adrenaline rush, and a host of other physical responses that are similar in most fearful situations. Capitalize on this similarity of physical responses when you write your story.

 3) Live your story through your character’s perspective.  You do this by putting yourself inside your character’s head. See only what she sees. Hear only what she hears. Smell only what she smells. Touch only what she touches. Taste only what she tastes.  Limiting yourself to your character’s viewpoint will intensify that character’s emotions and deepen reader identification.

As you apply these steps to your fiction writing, you will discover that you are touching the heart of your readers in a profound way. And touching the heart is what fiction is all about.

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Copyright 2013 by MaryAnn Diorio, PhD. All Rights Reserved.

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2 thoughts on “(Craft) Touching the Emotions in Fiction Writing

  1. MaryAnn: this is the secret of good fiction and very difficult to attain, but I think the magic comes through emotion and the ability to create persona via voice/tone. Connectivity between reader and character is the very essence of writing and reading. Certain authors manage to maintain endless fans because they have mastered this art: Stephen King successfully establishes a distinct main character, often a victim of some tragic flaw, a physical impediment, or a hapless soul who has endlessly battled and suffered trials and tribulations many of us can relate to, which then sets of a bond. This is my writing stumbling block—telling and not showing.

    • Thanks for your comments, Skye. You are right that emotion is critical in writing good fiction. To help you do this through showing vs. telling, you may be interested in learning about deep POV.