Not to brag or anything, but people have finished reading my books sobbing. Happy tears, sad tears, all of it. And this is not because of the way the book ends, it's not because they're sad, heart-tearing books. But they impact the reader--at least, that's the goal.
This is every writer's dream, right? To make the reader cry, their hands trembling as they stare at the front cover, asking themselves where and how this story latched onto them so deeply.
We want our readers to remember our books. We want them to day-dream about our characters and their struggles, their love-interests, their successes, from the beginning, middle, end, and furthermore, just like we do. We want our readers to reflect back on our stories often, long after they've finished them.
I can't speak for every writer, but I'm certain that, to some degree, we all want the same thing. We want to evoke emotion in our stories. We want our readers to feel things they've never felt before.
But, how do we do this? How do we successfully evoke emotion in our writing?
First off, avoid killing your characters or putting your characters in distress for the sake of making your reader feel more invested. Yes, I have killed off my characters before (*lifts hands with fear in my eyes*), and I'm aware that this does impact a story, leading to deep emotions from your reader.
However, a lot of times, it just feels forced.
For example, I just finished reading Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman, (this will be a minor spoiler, so I apologize) and while it was one of the most wholesome, heart-warming books I've ever read, there was a death that was unexpected and didn't impact me as much as I'm sure the author had hoped. It felt forced and much too symbolic to make me cry.
And that is because I wasn't emotionally invested in that specific character. I was invested in the book, but the character, in my opinion, was solely there to make me cry.
I always suggest killing wisely, only doing it when absolutely necessary to further the plot. (Now, that's a sentence I never thought I'd write.)
So, while that's out of the way, let's talk about what will evoke true emotion in your writing, that's not just making your reader sad.
3 simple ways to evoke emotion in your writing
1. Get inside your protagonist's head
This one may seem a little ordinary, but by truly getting inside your protagonist's head, you reader will feel more connected to the character, and therefore will be more likely to feel what they feel. If your character is distant, living their own life apart from the reader, then the reader won't feel as sad, happy, or angry, when the character is feeling those particular things. If the reader is only observing the protagonist, then they are simply observing them feel feelings.
The television show, You, does this very well, by implementing internal dialogue and thought-processing that literally brings the audience into the mind of Joe, the show's protagonist (or antagonist?). We feel his feelings, think his thoughts, and find ourselves resonating with Joe in quite unsettling ways.
One may also do this by making the character real and vivid, as well as a blank slate. The reader must be able to connect with the main character, or rather be the main character. If the protagonist is too unique, too separate from others, then it may be difficult for the reader to get inside their head. And too blank is boring. Try to find a happy medium, a character who is interesting and yet represents the majority.
2. Never give the reader what they want
Wow, this seems a bit harsh. Well, it is. If you give the reader what they want, they will be bored. If every scene, every fight, every internal thought is easily solved, then there's no real fear or emotional pull to propel the story forward.
If you always give the reader what they want, then the readers will be mindlessly flipping through the pages.
A great example of this is Jim & Pam's relationship in The Office. The writers of the show never give us Jim & Pam together until the end of Season 3! They bring them together, then rip them apart, then repeat that over and over, which causes the viewers to sit on the edge of their seats, hoping, yearning, wanting.
When Jim & Pam get together (if this is a spoiler, I'm sorry!), they aren't as interesting. Yes, the viewers are still invested in their relationship, as they are beloved characters, but because they now have want they want, the relationship is no longer the main focus. The show shifts to different and new relationships, ones that are mere possibilities and therefore peak interest in the viewers.
If you give the reader what they want too early, then there's no real distress, and the emotional appeal may slip away. (*cough* The Rise of Skywalker *cough*)
Instead, try to avoid solving any issues until the very end of your story, so that the readers are interested all the way through.
And even then--Happily Ever After, or a cliff ending? That, my friend, is up to you. (*evil laugh*)
3. Create a side conflict (or two, or more)
When a story has more than one conflict, the reader will rarely be bored, and the writing will remain interesting throughout. A popular side conflict is a romance, an internal conflict, a family issue, or anything that draws the protagonist away from the plot for a bit.
This allows both the characters and the readers to breathe. And while the plot is cooking, there is another main focus that may encourage both the characters and the readers to continue. A side conflict is especially important for the wonky, middle section of a book or movie when nothing is really going on except the build to the climax.
An example of a great side conflict is in one of my favorite movies, Passengers. While Jim and Aurora grow romantically and then deal with the fact that Jim woke her up and practically killed her, the Starship Avalon is breaking down and is on the brink of destruction. Suddenly, their attention is ripped away from the main plot--their relationship--and now they are fixing the ship in hopes of staying alive and saving the lives of the other passengers.
Throughout the film, the viewers watch as the Starship Avalon slowly collapses, the protagonists remaining unaware of the situation. This creates an interesting, bubbling side conflict that keeps the viewers interested and invested, wondering what will happen next!
And, as Jim and Aurora work together, they (evidently) must grow closer, which creates a satisfying resolution at the end. I'll admit--I sobbed.
Honestly, the crazier and more exciting things are, the more the reader is going to enjoy themselves. Allow the writing to breathe with light dialogue or the description of a personal routine, but make sure the writing is always moving. This will evoke emotion in itself.
In the end, it's important to understand the intention of your writing and figure out how you can encourage your readers to feel and see what you do. These characters, this story... these are important to you. Make it important to the readers, too.
This post was honestly so fun to write! I haven't written about writing in quite some time, and honestly? I liked it.
I'm also a huge movie and tv and overall literary buff, so it was fun to break down things I've seen to use as examples.
Did you enjoy this post and this type of content? If so, message me for future requests, or comment below! Also, share this post with your writer friends, and give it a big like!
Also, did you agree with my 3 tips? Could I have included more, or was it the perfect amount? Let me know below--I love hearing from y'all!