How Important is Emotion in Writing?

If there is such a thing as a true magical ingredient for fiction writing, then emotion is one of them. Like conflict, it’s the one thing a story absolutely needs. Emotion doesn’t just make a story; it feeds it, sustains it and heightens it.
Emotion is essential. A story without emotion isn’t much of a story. That’s because every story relies on emotions we all feel, the kind we all understand and can all identify with. It may not seem like it, but everything in a story revolves around emotion and there are two distinct ways to work with emotion in fiction writing – showing it and eliciting it.
Show the Reader
Our characters convey all manner of emotions as the story unfolds. Scenes are often charged with emotion, be it anger, love, betrayal, pain or fear etc.  Characters act and react constantly to other characters, to different situations and to personal conflicts.  We put our characters in danger, we’re mean to them, we give them dilemmas, we kill off their loved ones, we raise the stakes and we force them into making all manner of decisions.  We throw everything at them. Each one of these creates not just conflict, but it also creates emotion, and plenty of it.
These are the emotions we show to the reader, so that the reader can understand exactly what the characters are feeling and can therefore identify with those sentiments.  And they will identify because the range of emotions we’ve all felt are a shared human condition. So take every opportunity to exploit this by showing the reader, rather than telling them.
Provoke the Reader
Showing the reader emotions through your characters and situations is one thing, but eliciting emotion from the reader isn’t as hard as it sounds, because if you create very real situations within the story, the kind that the reader will recognise, sympathise or empathise with, you’ll also be able to draw out deeper emotional responses from them. What person wouldn’t be moved by a main character losing a loved one, or a child?  We feel for the character that is in danger.  We’re swept along when a character falls in love. We’re angry when our protagonist is betrayed or ill-treated. We’re sad when something bad happens to them.
Realistic problems and dilemmas create real responses. If you show the reader the characters as they react to all these problems and dilemmas and show their vulnerability and their weakened sensibilities, then you’ll be able to tap into the reader’s feelings and change them, because to be a writer, you need to be a master manipulator. Not only do we show the reader emotions, but we also draw emotional reactions from them. We provoke such reactions. This is exactly how we manipulate them.
As writers, we don’t just stop there.  We escalate these emotions as the story progresses. We want them to feel what the main character feels, we want them completely immersed in the story and we want the reader to be right there for the whole journey, right up until the climax. And we do that through emotion.
A good story should leave the reader wanting to read it again, because you’ve not just showed them emotion, you’ve provoked a range of emotional responses that will leave them wanting more.
Next time: Avoid mistakes when editing your own work

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