Writers of all sorts are constantly on a quest to craft a story that encourages readers to invest in their writing. Whether it be a news story, a report, or a novel, writers are always in a battle to gain and maintain a reader’s attention while they present the tale they want to tell. There are many methods to attract a reader, but one of the most important is emotional writing.
No matter how relatable your characters are, take the next step and encourage your reader to make an emotional investment in your story by spinning a tale filled with misfortune, suspense, and stunning detail.
Outline scenes centered around emotion
As early as your first outline, begin brainstorming the emotions you want to showcase in each scene you write.
No matter your outline method, label your scenes with the feelings you want your protagonists and readers to experience. Your characters and your audience don’t have to experience the same emotions either. Your protagonist can feel empowered and confident, but your reader can experience fear and uncertainty, unsure if the main character is making the right decisions.
Tag moments with phrases like “optimistic” or “sorrowful” to capture the mood you’re going for. Tack on labels that include both a broad emotion (sadness, joy, anger) then add some specific descriptors of that emotion. Sadness can be tied to a number of things, like loss, disappointment, depression, etc. Adding descriptors to your emotions will give your scene added depth.
By centering scenes around a specific emotional goals, you can bring unity to an otherwise busy landscape. Characters will always have different personal tasks, but joining those tasks into one overarching mood will give your reader a better idea of the big picture.
If everything always goes right for your protagonist, there’s a chance your story will emotionally flatline. There isn’t much to fear or anything to be broken-hearted over because everything always works out well in the end.
To avoid an uninteresting plot spoiled by ubiquitous positivity, embrace the negative. Make an obstacle insurmountable, resulting in moments of desperation and depression. Kill a beloved character off, as heart-wrenching as it may be. If murdering one of your favorite protagonists is too much, instead try taking away a resource or important object, forcing your characters to make do with what they have.
Remember that you’re the writer. You can design scenes with a bleak outlook and still help your characters make it out alive. The book doesn’t have to end on a negative note just because of a single hopeless scene. Write in those depressing events to trick your reader into thinking there’s no way out, even if you know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Throw Your Characters in a Pressure Cooker
Stressful decisions do two important things for your story. Situations filled with tension and decision can bring out a flurry of emotions in your characters while simultaneously forcing them to reveal previously unseen aspects of their personality.
There will always be an overarching conflict at play, but include a variety of difficult decisions along the way. Continuous pressure on the main characters forces them to perform in a multitude of scenarios, all with different consequences. Under stress, emotions may take over their decision-making process and force them to reveal what matters most to them.
When forcing your characters to make decisions, the two options don’t have be clear-cut right and wrong. The most emotional decisions are often the ones where characters must choose between two bad options, both with grave consequences. They can’t choose the right option, they can only choose the better one.
Tricky decisions are a great way to lead your characters into misfortune and compel them to express their innermost feelings.
Set the Stage for an Emotional Moment
Emotional moments aren’t solely about a character’s actions. The actors in the story are important, yes, but by designing your settings with mood in mind, you can create a dramatic stage primed for a dramatic scene.
When writing an emotional scene, begin by selecting a location that has some significance. Consider a place with meaning, like a spot where one character proposed, or perhaps the last spot a character’s loved one was seen alive. By tying a significant emotional event to a place, you can already set the mood for your scene without too much effort.
Once you’ve chosen a spot, ask yourself why the main character is here now. Are they looking to gain strength by reliving a past moment? Maybe they’re seeking guidance from the spirit of a loved one. Connect the feelings of the current situation to those that character felt when visiting the spot in the past.
After setting your location, consider sound. What is the character hearing as they experience this moment, and how does it affect them? If they’re in a place seeking guidance and relaxation, maybe this setting provides gentle background noise, like the sound of cars on a highway below, or running water. If this moment is tense, highlight what sounds the character is experiencing, and how they affect the mood.
As you design your setting around the emotional scene, be wary of clichés. When designing a scene to showcase a certain feeling, it can be easy to fall into the trap of using every overdone cliché in the book.
Consider a character that has just been broken up with. They may be completely torn up emotionally, their life may be in a shambles, and it may send them into depression. That is all very real. However, just because the character is brokenhearted doesn’t mean it has to rain during their every walk home. The radio shouldn’t play only sad songs, and all the flowers in their garden don’t need to die.
Your setting should push your readers to feel emotion, but not at the cost of depriving them of realism as well.
Include Thorough Detail
Sentimental scenes should not be rushed, but when writing them it can be easy to get caught up in the action.
Slow yourself down by including thorough detail in these pivotal moments. To tug at your reader’s heartstrings, you need to immerse them in the moment. Include small details about your characters’ faces and mannerisms, things that could only be seen from an up close and personal perspective.
One method to injecting your book with detail is attempting to describe your characters’ feelings through physical appearances and actions only. If you were standing across the room from the person, how would you know what they were feeling without getting inside their brain? Consider their facial expressions, the coloring of their cheeks, small movements in their hands.
If you struggle to picture your character as they progress through these feelings, inspire yourself by watching a few scenes from movies and television with the same emotional tension. Observe how the actors portray their reaction to events without a narrator assisting them. Find some body language and facial expressions that you like and thoroughly describe them on paper.
Can’t find a video clip that suits your needs? Become the actor you need and test your skills in the mirror. See if you can use your own expressions to illustrate the mood you intend to express. Once you find something you like, describe it in your writing and compare it to the rest of your scene. Detailed facial expressions and small motions can convey much of what the character is going through without too much omniscient narration.
Create a few Inspiring Word Lists
Sometimes the right words aren’t there when you need them. The stage is set perfectly, your mind has an ideal picture of how things will play out, but the words that hit the page are dull compared to your the image in your brain.
Give yourself a leg up on writer’s block by compiling a list of emotional words for later use. After you’ve outlined your scenes, begin digging through the dictionary for those terms that pack a better punch.
Make a list of words to describe anger, like peeved, irate, vindictive, and affronted. A wide range of emotional words is like increasing the amount of shades on your color palette. You’ve been able to paint with red hot anger for a while, but now you can add vermillion, burgundy, and scarlet to your repertoire.
Growing your emotional dictionary not only gives you the ability to describe one emotion in different ways, but lets you describe various intensities of that emotion. Now the emotional roller coaster your readers are on has many more bumps and turns to keep the reader experiencing a whole rainbow of feelings.
Convincing your reader to develop an emotional attachment to your novel can be an arduous task. You may even dread writing emotional scenes, worried that your final product may seem cliché or clunky. Don’t shy away from those moody moments! Dive in head first with these tips at hand and write some juicy scenes that keep your reader coming back for more.