Make Us Feel It! 3 Practical Tools to Amp Up the Emotion in Your Writing
Updated: Jul 14, 2019
Most of us would agree that one of the big reasons we read—and write, for that matter—is to *FEEL* something powerful. We crave that gasp-inducing ending, that fulfilling character arc, that book hangover that we can’t shake for a week. Emotion is an integral and inseparable part of the storytelling experience. Even still, evoking the right or intended emotion in the reader can be difficult.
As a corporate marketer, I deal with this challenge every day. Emotional marketing is not a new concept, but it’s increasingly important in today’s competitive business ecosystem. It refers to a brand’s efforts to appeal to the consumer’s feelings in order to elicit a positive response, such as a purchase or a social share. But today’s consumers, like today’s readers, are a savvy bunch. You can’t just serve them a sappy storyline and expect them to bite.
Your content must be thoughtful and authentic.
Your message must not be didactic.
You must convince the buyer (reader/agent/publisher) that they should even care.
Wheel of Emotions
1. Robert Plutchik’s “wheel of emotions” is a useful resource to help you explore the emotional decisions of your characters.
While there’s a degree of gut instinct involved in this process, here are a few tools that can help you to draw out the emotion in your story.
In his model, psychologist and professor Plutchik identified eight primary emotion dimensions: anger, anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness and disgust. As you move into the center of the wheel, the intensity of the emotion increases, illustrating what could happen when it is either quashed or encouraged.
I like to plot my characters on this wheel to help me establish inclinations, arcs, and themes. Emotional responses and resulting feelings will change over the course of your book, of course, but understanding which major emotion is driving your character at each plot point could help you navigate their actions and further their development.
Ex. The dark prince is annoyed that the rebels are after his crown. When they ambush him in the woods and steal his powers, his anger makes him vow to defeat them. But when they abduct his love, he flies into a rage and commits an irreversible act that puts him and his entire kingdom in danger.
Note: The most intense emotions all converge in the center, in what I like to call the enemy-to-lovers zone (one of my fave tropes!) When we’re at our most emotional, our feelings become unstable and we can more easily slip into other segments—like being so scared you start to laugh, or so in love that you become terrified to lose it. Once you get your characters into this zone, they’ll likely experience a lot of emotionally-charged, self-questioning behavior that will help to push your story through its climax.