Triggering Human Emotions



Alan’s mother died.

Lara walks her daughter, Lucy, to class on the first day of kindergarten.

Sharon and Scott celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

Events of our lives trigger human emotions.

They are the stuff stories are made of, and it is up to authors to use the right words, phrases, descriptions so that our readers will experience these events with all of the emotion as if they were right there, encountering them firsthand. 

Authors do this in many different ways:

  1. By providing appropriate settings- Perhaps using darker lighting, wind/rain, eerie sounds in instances of sadness such as death, defeat/loss of some sort, suspense, and so on. Light, sunshine, puffy clouds, a gentle breeze for scenes of romance, birth, success, etc.
  1. By providing appropriate sounds- Such as laughter, wind chimes, birds singing for happier scenes; screams, heavy breathing, howling for more suspenseful ones.
  1. By providing describing appropriate ‘touch’- Gripping, pounding, scraping are more emotionally charged for suspense; soft touch, patting, tender reassurances for more restful scenes.
  1. By using certain colors- Light pastels are more restful; red, orange, black are often used for scenes with more action… tenseness.

5.  Other things that can be varied, depending upon the purpose of a scene are:    smell, facial expression, voice, vocabulary, description of the characters’ bodies (tense shoulders…) Even teeth—and especially eye descriptions—add  add to the overall emotional feelings of each scene.

Emotions are all about the senses, so everything you would feel, see, hear—and the resulting tastes/sounds/smells (and I’m not talking about popcorn) on a movie screen is fair game for authors.

A quickened pulse or heartbeat… a churning stomach…

A good book to get you started toward creating an emotional journey for your reader is:  The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.


When Less Is More



Have you heard the phrase “Less Is More”?

This expression is often associated with the architect and furniture designer Ludwig Van Der Rohe (1886-1969), who noted that clarity and simplicity lead to good design.

It refers to a minimalist approach, noting that when there are less items on a display shelf, they don’t have to compete for our attention and, thus, we can focus on them, individually, and enjoy each one for its own special qualities.

So, less decoration, properly employed, has more impact than a lot.

What implication does this have for writers?

I think it can have several:

1) For the most part, writing that is less complicated is often better understood than that which is more complicated or complex. This  works well for non-fiction and even most fiction books. However, readers of mysteries thrive on untangling clues and figuring out motives, so making them simpler would just water them down and kill all of the excitement of the hunt.

2)   Brevity of communication is more effective. I am reminded that we live in a world of emails and texting. Short, choppy, sentences and phrases are the way we communicate with each other. So, it stands to reason that readers want to see more white space on a page.

Long past are the days of flowery language and lengthy descriptive paragraphs. Readers want writers to be more to the point than ever before.

To carry this idea forward for a moment, authors are seeing more sales of books in a series, rather than books with a healthy 500 pages to plow through. So, authors, you can make more money by putting those hefty books in 250-300 page “installments.”

3) Finally, there is a fine line between just the right amount and far too much description. Readers want authors to give them some description of the characters and setting, and then allow the readers to visualize the rest for themselves.

(I recently stopped reading a book at page four because the author was still describing the character’s physical attributes, educational background, family relationships, and idiosyncrasies. With no action—no story, yet— I just couldn’t take it any longer!)

Like spices, sprinkling this throughout the book in small phrases keeps the story much more interesting. The less we tell and the more we guide the reader, they will feel more involved in the process…more a part of the reading experience. 

It’s important to note that over the years trends change. Writers, just like those employed in any other industry, must be willing to adjust to what our reading public tells us they want.

Until then, give them less and they’ll want more!