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Hi SEers! Denise here to talk about emotions and writing.

Last month was National Poetry Month, and I celebrated it by reading poems. Most of the poetry books I read evoked emotions from me. Those that did not, I stopped reading. I didn’t feel wonder, anger, amusement, fear, curiousity, sadness, or hope. It left me with nothing because I wasn’t emotionally invested.

With poetry, there are a limited number of words to capture the reader’s attention. A poet has the hard task of doing this immediately. When I’m reading, I must feel something, even uncomfortable, and it has to be within the first couple of lines.

This got me thinking about fictional writing. Do these same emotions pull me into the story? They do. Like any good relationship with people, I have to care about the poem or story. Otherwise, I move on.

Of course, I’m more drawn to certain types of feelings, but if an author can make me hate a character or feel their heartbreak, I will not put that book down.

Let’s explore what evokes those emotions and what doesn’t.

Unrecognizable Woman Walking a Black Dog in the Park created in Cavna, FreeSplash Getty Images.

1. Example of what doesn’t work in a Senryu Poem.

Walking my old dog

We stepped into the crosswalk

When the light turned green.

My first response would be—And or so? I’ve read poems that had the same effect on me. See why I stopped reading?

What about this one?

My ex spotted me

Thankfully, the green light flashed

I took up jogging.

Here I felt the person’s embarrassment, and then I smiled at the solution. This poem worked for me.

Redlight created in Canva, Lesser.

2. What if a story started like this? 

I walked down the sidewalk with my old black dog, Sadie, leading the way. It was a nice day, and I didn’t mind waiting at the stoplight to cross the street. I noticed my ex-boyfriend getting out of his red truck. We waved to each other as he entered the hardware store. Then, the light turned green, and Sadie and I followed an old couple holding hands as they crossed the street.

I enjoyed the rest of my walk home on a beautiful spring day, knowing I had a delicious chicken dinner cooking in my new crock-pot. Maybe I’d read that new book I’d bought. I broke into a jog for the last block to give Sadie a bit more exercise.

This passage wouldn’t have held my interest or touched any emotions, even though there was a dog. I would have stopped reading before finding out what the woman’s story might be. Was she about to be a murder victim, meet the man of her dreams, or lose everything? I was out of the story before anything happened that made me care.

How about this version?

I let my old black mutt, Sadie, tug me down the pollen-covered sidewalk. I glanced at my cell phone for the fourth time in the past ten minutes. Nothing. I hoped my former fiancé, Steve, would realize his mistake when he broke off things last week with the standard it’s me, not you. I sighed and shoved the phone into my pocket when we got to the crosswalk. Waiting for the light to turn green, Sadie suddenly let out a high-pitched yip and tried to bolt. My grasp tightened on the red leash as I almost lost my balance before wrangling her under control.

I scanned behind me, expecting to see a squirrel in one of the oak trees. Instead, a couple was bearing down on me, Steve and his beautiful, blonde office assistant. The woman was wrapped around him like a fluffy blue blanket on a snowy day. My chest tightened. Was I having a heart attack? I took a deep breath, forced myself to appear calm while the pain in my heart subsided. Red-faced, I spun around, ready to jaywalk right when the light turned green. I made a quick decision that it was time to take up jogging.

I could feel her pain when she saw her ex, Steve, with another woman and they were walking toward her. That made me curious as well as her response to run. I would keep reading to learn more.

Characters in a book, like words in a poem, need to awaken my emotions. This can’t be accomplished by just crossing the street or taking a pleasant walk. Like a good poem or story, I have to feel, see, and take that walk with them inside and out. It may be a beautiful day, but I want to know the character’s flaws and secrets. Those details would encourage me to turn to the next page to find out what happens next.

What emotions draw you into a story? How do you apply that to what you write?


58 thoughts on “WRITING AND EMOTIONS

  1. Great post, Denise, and the examples say it all. I too am more invested in writing that has some emotional layers. Books fall flat for me where characters are emotionally flat regardless of the quality of the plot. And there’s nothing worse than a mentally healthy character who has no emotional response to things that would leave the rest of us reeling. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Diana 🙂 Yes, the more emotional layers the better in most stories. It can be a great plot but be unsatisfying if the reader can’t get involved for sure. Good point if the character is capable of normal responses that we would feel and don’t offer that it’s disappointing. I found this more often in sci-fi stories.
      Have a great week!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a fabulous post explaining how important emotion is in a poem or a story. You show it so well. And that’s the point that I explain to my writing students – we need to show not tell. In your first example of the poem and the story that had no emotion, the writer is just telling the reader what’s going on. And the second examples the writer is showing how the character is feeling and what is going on. Thank you for this so much Denise!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Pam:) I’ve been guilty of telling and not showing especially in the first drafts. It sure makes a huge difference and really pulls me into a story if I feel I am there with the character. That’s a wonderful lesson to pass on to your students!

      Liked by 1 person

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  4. Total agreement, Denise! But I honestly needed some time to see the differences. If I have recognized it correctly, then you have to have a story with emotions in your memory, in order to then “evaporate” them into a poem of a few lines. 😉 Thank you, and have a nice day! Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi,
    I so agree with your view of writing with emotion. I personally believe that many writers don’t include emotion because they have neglected to do character profiles. You have to know your characters if you want the reader to invest in them. And getting to know your characters is a part of getting to know who you are. If you can’t feel what your character is going through emotionally, then your readers won’t either.
    Excellent examples and and outstanding article.
    Thank you.
    Shalom aleichem

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Pat:) You make a good point about the characters being well-rounded and having backgrounds. Then we can understand them and feel what they are going through. We don’t need to include all of that but it sure helps when writing. Glad you enjoyed the examples, they were fun to write.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Sandra:) I’m so happy you enjoy the poems, and I really love expresding myself through them! Emotion really is important in fiction for both a reader and writer. Xo

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As a reader and a writer, I need to feel the emotions of characters. Without that connection I’m not interested in the story. But I never considered how emotions play into poetry. You’re so right! Thanks for the insight, Denise.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are right if there isn’t a connection it’s hard to read or write. I’ve put down books and stopped writing stories when I couldn’t find that. Poetry has a direct line to my emotions whether I’m seeing it or just feeling it. Thanks, Sue:)

      Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, it has to continue throughout the entire story. I think of it as looking through their eyes when I’m reading. I had fun with those examples, and had a hard time proof reading the ones without emotion…lol

      Liked by 2 people

  7. This is such a good post and such a big subject, Denise. In the very first creative writing class I took, the professor opened the class by asking one question: “What is the one thing everyone has in common?” Of course, the answers that followed included, food, water, shelter, air to breathe etc. But his answer was “Feeling.” Everyone wants to FEEL something whether it be good, bad, or ugly. If I pick up a book that is lacking emotion, I cannot continue with it. I have to feel the characters’ dilemma, pain, joy, etc, or else I put it down. I strive to convey emotion in all of my writing. That’s always my goal with any story. What a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Jan 🙂 Sounds like you had a great creative writing teacher! What a great opening to a class. I’ve felt my way through life and when I read I want to feel that too. My favorite part of writing is being able to get inside the characters head and feel their journey, good or bad. Like you, I try to get all those emotions in my words, and if I feel it, my hope is others do too.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Craig 🙂 For me, that opening paragraph will be re-edited more than any other part of the book. That first chapter is an important one though, I agree.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Great post, Denise! Your examples are excellent. I’m not big on descriptive passages…I want my character to express his or her emotions on the page, so the reader feels a connection. When my character makes me cry, I know I’ve done my job.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Jill 🙂 I like to know what the character is doing or where they are, but most importantly I want to know what they are feeling. There have been many times I’ve had to take very long walks after writing to release some of those built up emotions. Yes, if the character has you in tears, they will definitely touch the readers heart.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Wonderful examples, Denise. I ‘m a character-driven writer, and reader. I need to be invested emotionally when I read a book. And as a writer, I’m always examining the feelings of my characters.
    What you said about poetry was an eye-opener. I never stopped to consider the need for poets to accomplish what fiction authors do in so few words. That takes a lot of skill!
    Great post, today!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Mae 🙂 I have always had to care about a character to keep reading or writing since I was a young girl. I once had a doctor tell me my body couldn’t tell the difference between what I was feeling through writing and what was real. That I needed to put up a barrier between me and my characters, but I didn’t. It may have been well intended advice but realized feeling what I was writing and reading was what was needed. I didn’t go back to that doctor either…lol. Poetry really is a great way to explore more in those limited words, and I feel like I’m just getting started.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I definitely have empathic abilities:) As a little girl I could feel people’s pain and wonder why they were smiling. It was confusing but now I understand. I wonder how many writers are empaths? Thank you xo


    • Thank you, Gwen:) I spend more time going over the beginning of a book than any other part of it. I was once told to apply my poetry to my books, and I realized that meant bringing not only images, but feelings into my words. It was good advice.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post, Denise! I also can’t keep reading a poetry book if I feel no connection to the poems. I lose myself in books that express the emotions of the characters. It doesn’t have to be overly done, but I need to be able to immerse myself in the life of the characters, and that means I need to know how they think and feel. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, Yvette:) Poetry really has to make the reader connected quickly, and like you I want to feel that connection no matter how many images are offered. I have always loved getting into a characters head reading or writing. I’ve had to work on showing what they are doing.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Excellent post with wonderful examples, Denise. Like you, while I don’t like white-room syndrome in writing, I also hate too much description about the externals without also seeing inside the characters. Even if the story begins with us seeing them in a settled life before it all goes belly up, I need some emotion (good or bad) to pull me in and engage me. In that last example, I adored how you used the dog’s reaction to show the approach of the ex 🙂

    Reblogged this on: https://harmonykent.co.uk/writing-and-emotions/

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    • Thank you, Harmony:) I want to at least see where they are at, but over description I will skip over. A lot of classic books I’ve read has that over description, I’ve noticed. I don’t mind the happy set up if I can feel it along with them:) Glad you liked the dog showing the man approach, that made me smile thinking about how uncomplicated a dog’s love is.

      Liked by 2 people

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  13. You have just motivated me to read the first paragraph of every book I’ve published! The impact varies as sometimes it’s necessary to read the first page, but I’ll be giving that some thought. Any comments on the one I feel is the best would be much appreciated.

    Evie Taylor sat shivering on the cold stone floor of a dank dark cellar that still smelt of coal even though it had been abandoned for years. She had a little boy in her lap, tucked inside her jacket for warmth, and she daren’t remove the adhesive strip used as a gag in case he cried out. Their only light came from her mobile phone, and it revealed terrified eyes and grubby cheeks streaked with tears.

    Liked by 7 people

    • I need to go back and go over my older work too, Sarah. I will usually give a book a couple of chapters to win me over.
      This passage pulled me right in. I was immediately concerned for the little boy and wondered why he couldn’t make any noise. I felt the chill and bleakness of where they were and wanted to know more about the woman. Great example of what evokes emotions. Thanks for sharing this!


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