Christine’s note: This is a guest post by Kaitlin Hillerich from InkandQuills.com.
Why do you love your favorite book? Yes, it probably has realistic characters and a fabulous plot. Maybe it’s set in a magical world or a country you love. Maybe it’s packed with action or has a mind-bending mystery.
But what made it stick with you long after you had turned the final page? Maybe you can’t quite place your finger on it. Chances are, though, I’m willing to bet you felt something when you read it. You had an emotional connection. And that’s what makes a story endearing.
The Magic of Emotion
What a lot of beginning writers tend to overlook is that reading is not just an intellectual activity, but also an emotional one. One of the very reasons we read is to feel. Through the hero, we want to experience love, sorrow, pain, joy, and fear.
There’s a reason why people love romance and horror genres! And there’s a reason why there’s something satisfying about a book that makes us cry, as strange as it might sound.
Whether we realize it or not, when we pick up a book we are seeking an emotional experience.
A book that fails to make you feel is not only empty, but forgettable. If you want to write a story that will stick in your readers’ memory, you need to engage them emotionally.
Now, I’m not talking about simply killing off a character or having your hero’s dog get hit by a car. Though these would certainly stir up some feels, you need to go beyond having a handful of emotional scenes scattered throughout your story.
To really make your story hit readers in the heart (or gut), your idea itself must be emotionally appealing in some aspect.
So what does an emotionally appealing idea look like? Let’s analyze some best-selling novels and find out.
An Emotional Break Down
1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
- Premise: A young boy leaves his horrible aunt and uncle to attend a magical school for wizards.
- Emotional appeal: We sympathize for Harry and his situation—he’s an orphan living with relatives who mistreat him. The idea of a school where one can learn magic also fills us with a sense of wonder and excitement. Plus, who hasn’t dreamed of escaping something, whether it’s school, work, or a bad situation, and going far away?
2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
- Premise: Two teens meet in a cancer support group and fall in love.
- Emotional appeal: This idea tugs at our hearts—two young people in love like any normal teens, except one is a cancer survivor and the other is slowly dying. We immediately sympathize with these characters. It’s obvious from the beginning that this romance won’t have a happy ending, but we can’t resist the conflicting elements of love and death, the hope for happiness and the promise of despair.
3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- Premise: Twenty-four teens are forced to fight to the death in a televised event.
- Emotional appeal: If that isn’t emotional, then I don’t know what is. It’s bad enough that teens are being forced to fight to the death, but for it to be broadcast as entertainment? That twists our gut. It’s very, very wrong and sick. Yet it’s something we can’t tear our gaze away from.
4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- Premise: Death narrates the story of a foster child who steals books during WWII.
- Emotional appeal: The idea of a story told from the perspective of death is very chilling, not to mention startling and unexpected. Especially when death is watching a child. Pair that with the fact that the story is set in WWII and we are filled with dread over what this child’s fate might be.
5. Divergent by Veronica Roth
- Premise: Tris must choose which faction in her society she will join for the rest of her life.
- Emotional appeal: This idea is very easy to identify with. Who hasn’t struggled with a life-changing decision, especially when it comes to what to do with your life? (Choosing a college major, anyone?) The fact that Tris’ decision is permanent and one she must live with her whole life adds to the pressure and plays into our own fears of making the wrong choice.
Techniques for Creating Emotional Appeal
So how do you create an emotionally appealing idea that delivers? From the examples above, we can see that there are several different techniques we can use:
- Create an idea people can identify with.
- Create sympathy for the hero.
- Use something shocking or thought-provoking.
- Reveal something morally wrong with the hero’s world.
- Play into our fears and desires as human beings.
- Have high stakes that will affect the hero personally.
- Combine conflicting or contradictory emotions or elements (ex: innocence & death, entertainment & killing).
- Present a situation that tugs at our hearts, gives us shivers, or punches us in the gut.
You could use any one of these, or a combination. Whichever you choose, emotion should be the heartbeat of your story. Pay attention to what stirs you, because chances are it will do the same for others.
Create an idea that’s emotionally compelling, and it will be easy to infuse your story with emotion that will make your readers feel all the feels.
And they won’t soon forget it.
A big thanks to Kaitlin Hillerich from InkandQuills.com for stopping by!