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Getting an Emotional Commitment

Rather than go on about all the rules of grammar and spelling and punctuation and syntax and all the rest -there are plenty of other people out there who can do that, and much more specific advice of that nature is available through this website - remember that your readers are looking to enjoy and appreciate what you’ve written.

All the time readers are seeking very specific things -patterns, rhythms, well-constructed surprises and much more. They are very intent on finding these things, just as you are when you read.

Never underestimate your readers.

Being a writer is about all kinds of things -rules about subject/verb agreement, punctuation, grammar, spelling- which you did actually absorb during school but perhaps didn’t assign much importance to. More importantly, though, it’s about how you feel about your own work. When you begin to really feel that what YOU have to say is actually worth something, all else will follow. And that’s the foundation upon which great masterpieces are built, believe it or not.

You can hardly expect to produce an emotional effect if you can’t feel it yourself. However, even if you really feel what you’re writing, you can miss the mark in creating that feeling for your readers.

So how do you do get an emotional commitment from your readers?

The first thing is NOT to do what you’re probably (if you’re like hundreds of thousands of other writers) tempted to do: get over-emotional with your language and style.

The best way of creating an emotional effect is to avoid emotionalism.

Maintain a cool-headed, objective approach. Even when you strongly disagree with an idea, or passionately want to convey a feeling, avoid getting "emotional" in your expression. Avoid seeming angry, or overly passionate. Keep calm and remain aloof; be a dispassionate observer, one who is objectively assessing the situation.

Why does this work?

Readers are looking for an emptiness. Emotional language and style have two main effects: readers are hypnotically “drawn in” and lose awareness of what is actually occurring, or they are repelled and feel they have to see through a “fog” of unnecessary emotion. In either case, they lose the sense of emptiness which is what they really want. A dispassionate author who simply lays out the scene as a tapestry of emptinesses actually heightens the emotional effect.

Ernest Hemingway was a master at this - his novels are so dry, so free of outward emotional entanglement or linguistic emotional techniques, yet he is hailed as a major influence on writing in the twentieth century because his writing ends up conveying such powerful feelings.

But apart from not being overtly emotional, what are the main tools for transmitting emotion to your readers?

The main tools are perhaps obvious, but the extent to which their usefulness is really known is limited to only the great authors or writers who know this secret:

The primary communicators of human emotion are carefully-crafted characters.

If, as has been described elsewhere, a book or story (or, in a different way, an essay) are attention-capturing devices, then the main mechanism in them that is used for capturing attention is the characters.

There are seven main character archetypes in successful fiction. There’s still plenty of room for you to add in whatever details or quirks you wish, but the secret to effective characters is having them be consistent in all their attitudes, dialogue, behaviour and every aspect of how they appear to the reader. Revealing apparently inconsistent personality traits which later turn out to be consistent is a mainstay of successful literature and a very successful way of surprising your reader.

Well-crafted characters are one of your chief instruments for vastly improving your writing. And for getting the emotional commitment you need from readers.


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