Elicit emotions in your readers

Either you are writing fiction or nonfiction, your readers’ emotions affect the way your creations are received. As you may know, language is an efficient tool to arouse people’s emotions, and thoughtful use of it will let you have better control over this. In the case of fiction, emotions are evidently important, since there usually is a plot and characters designed to create identification or repulsion to the reader. Emotions are also the main point of fiction. On the other hand, nonfiction is usually more formal, therefore almost devoid of emotions. However, the smart use of language will elicit the correct ones in a very subtle way, making the reader eager to continue reading.

Everybody can have different emotions, however, some are universal and are learned through cultural codes. Language is one of those codes. Structures and vocabulary, as well as tone, description and characterization are ways to manipulate the code to our advantage. Since this topic is considerably wide, we are going to divide it into two main areas: fiction and nonfiction.


Before deciding the words to tell your story, in fiction it is necessary to have a clear idea of what the story will be, and also, how the actions will take place. This is a really important step since emotions in fiction are mainly created through action. In this case, emotions are created by the actions themselves as well as the reactions of the characters. They can exhibit surprise, disgust, fear, happiness, etc, which is not necessarily obvious to the reader by what is described in the scene.

Show don’t tell
Regarding the scene itself, a good storyteller would show a preference towards showing rather than telling. As Chekhov stated: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.” This means adding details that allow us to inhabit the place and the feelings that arise from a scene. Instead of “Carlos didn’t like cats”, choose “As the cat leaped on the couch, Carlos jumped away. He smirked at the miniature beast who dared to ruin his furniture with its nasty fur”.

Keep in mind that the emotions of the protagonist or the characters we root for are more likely to be transmitted directly to the audience. In order to achieve that, don’t forget to make your characters sympathetic by their actions, decisions or ethics. On the other hand,
consider making some characters unsympathetic, so that they seem repulsive to your audience.

Don’t hold back (or hold back only when necessary)
Whenever there is no word limit, holding back is not the best option. This means to describe, use details, develop the characters’ thoughts, etc. Ambiguity should be avoided unless it is your deliberate intention. If you let the reader complete the gaps they may add their own interpretation or personal emotions to a situation, therefore the emotions you are going for may not be achieved. On the other hand, ambiguity may serve your purpose if you want the reader’s imagination to drive them into an unexpected place. This is useful, especially in horror and mystery.

This is important for keeping the reader’s interest and anticipate important events or actions. Foreshadowing makes the reader anxious to know what will happen and read more eagerly. It will also be useful in nonfiction as you may anticipate an important point that will be mentioned later. This may have a positive effect on the reader who will greedily devour your pages.

Word choice
This may be the most important part of both fiction and nonfiction. We tend to stick to the same group of nouns, adjectives, and verbs when we write. However, leaving our comfort zone can (and most certainly will) give us better results. Exploring a diverse lexicon will let us use more precise and/or expressive words suitable for our communicative purposes. When describing a dark room we may replace “dark” with “shadowy” or “somber”. A thesaurus, or better yet, Write Better’s suggestions and its dictionary will come in handy.


There are some important details to be noticed when writing nonfiction that may not be so important in fiction. First of all, define your relationship with readers. This will automatically set the tone of the written piece and limit the emotions that may be awakened. Therefore,
you should ask yourself: What is the purpose of this text? Is it academic, a review or any other format? Am I going to address the reader directly, am I going to be their friend, a close teacher or a distant lecturer? Once the tone is defined you should stick to it in order to stay consistent.

In some formats, the vocabulary must be accurate rather than expressive. Therefore, it is important to stay within the limits of your format. However, you may also explore the licenses you may take. Remember that even in the most serious pieces of writing, you can make the reader feel more comfortable and interested.

With these suggestions in mind, you must be better prepared to enter your readers’ minds and touch the right buttons.

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