Fiction writing is all about emotion. If you don’t feel anything, your characters won’t and your readers won’t. They’ll toss your book into the trash, or delete it from their Kindle, because they feel nothing — they’re not entertained.
Fiction writers are entertainers. They manipulate emotions. Of course, emotions can be dangerous. There’s no telling where an emotion like hatred or anger will lead. They start wars, not only between nations, but between individuals. Stories which have been read for centuries give us emotional highs, and lows — we read them to feel.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has been read and loved for 200 years. Consider the title — Jane Austen puts emotion right into the title.
The famous wit Oscar Wilde said:
“One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.”
The Old Curiosity Shop was published in 1840. It’s not one of Dickens’ most famous novels, but many thousands of people did weep at the death of little Nell. I have a little sniffle myself whenever I reread the book.
How to generate emotion
1. YOU need to feel something
Think about what makes you feel an emotion — an experience, and your thoughts about that experience.
The experience doesn’t have to be major. It can be something simple, like a ham sandwich.
Emotions and a ham sandwich
You’re having a ham sandwich for lunch. Emotion? Enjoyment, if you like ham. 🙂
What about a fictional character? Your character’s having a ham sandwich for lunch. His wife packed it for him. She knows he hates ham. Emotion? His emotions could be: anger, dismay, annoyance… His wife has sent him a message in the form of a ham sandwich.
Think about how your character shows this emotion. Does he go home and have a row with his wife? Maybe he decides that he’ll go and have a drink with friends after work: he won’t go home at all.
2. Your characters need to feel something
Your characters have GOALS. If they don’t have goals, you don’t have a story. They also need to be motivated to achieve their goals: no motivation, no story. And of course, your characters don’t get an easy ride. Their goals are hard to achieve.
This means that your novels and short stories need to be about something important — important, that is, to the characters — important enough to raise strong emotions.
This presents us with a challenge when we’re writing fiction.
As writers, we’re all about the words. But when you’re writing fiction, your words need to be transparent. (Much like copywriting, which is also all about emotion.)
If someone reads a short story, or your novel, and compliments you on your words, you’ve failed. Your reader has been dragged out of the story; he’s noticed the words.
In 5 Fiction Writing Tips: Emotion SELLS, we look at five tips, and gave you an exercise:
“Now your thoughts. Describe what you’re thinking. You want to get out of there – you’re watchful, as you gaze around for threats. Maybe you think about who’s waiting for you at the hotel. You’re late, your partner will worry.”
Try out the exercise. It will give you a feel (pardon the pun) for generating emotion. There’s nothing mysterious about generating emotion in your fiction.
Nothing is more important than emotion when you’re writing fiction. When you understand that, you’ll write excellent fiction, and it will sell. Have fun — writing fiction is entertaining. We entertain ourselves, and entertain readers too. 🙂
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