Fiction Should Evoke Emotion

The most important thing a piece of fiction can to do is evoke emotion in the reader. This is the goal of all art, isn’t it? To evoke emotion? The question is, how do the great writers do it? I’ve been digging around on this subject quite a bit lately and I have to say, I’m not finding much. It surprises me. I’d expect to see every craft book devoting entire chapters to the topic. I would expect to see entire books devoted to it.

I’m just starting to explore the idea of emotion, so expect more entries on this topic. For now, let me just share a few resources with you that may be helpful.

In the Sept 2007 issue of The Writer, Kathy Bricetti wrote “10 Ways to Evoke Emotion in Prose.” Her list: Pacing, Setting scene with sensory images, detail, voice and tone, dialogue, physical expression and gesture, metaphor and symbol, character development, and relationships between characters. Read the article for more on each of these points. It more or less scratches the surface of the more common literary techniques and gives a an overview on how to use each craft element to evoke emotion.

Use specific emotional and tactile words that help the reader understand how the feelings in play registered at the level of the body.

For a more thorough understanding, read these two posts from author Kim Davis, who also teaches the craft of writing. In Lessons in Lingering: Getting the “Inner Life” on the Page, she advises the writer to slow down and linger on key moments. She gives an example of two characters, Mary and Judy. Judy suggests that Mary date Judy’s old boyfriend, a notion that offends Mary. Davis writes, “If being offended by Judy trying to fix her up with her old boyfriend is a big part of Mary’s inner emotional life, just mentioning her irritation in a single clause or in a gesture buried in a long paragraph isn’t going to communicate what’s really going on. The narrator may need to provide, for example, a little dialogue where Mary resists being fixed up, along with perhaps some aggravated gestures.”

In “The Eloquent Narrator: On Nuance, Physicality and Riffing,” Davis suggests we, “use specific emotional and tactile words that help the reader understand how the feelings in play registered at the level of the body.”

And lastly, I offer this piece of advice,” Writing For Emotional Impact,” from Nanci Panuccio, who writes the blog, Emerging Writers Studio. She says, “Bring your characters’ emotions out of the analytical, away from the general, beyond the abstract. Slip inside your characters’ consciousness and render a world for them to inhabit. A world full of textures, colors, odors, sights, sounds.”

Expect much more on the topic of emotion, as I think the single most important aspect of great literary writing.

Related Post: An Emotion ‘Tasting’ Chart

Photo: Pink Sherbet Photography / Flickr Creative Commons

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One Comment on “Fiction Should Evoke Emotion

  1. Pingback: Emotion Is Not Always What, But Where | Text Heavy | Tracy Staedter

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