How to Give Your Writing an Emotional Punch

How did you feel when reading your favorite book for the first time? Was your blood boiling when the antagonist challenged the main character? Were you sobbing inconsolably when someone close to the protagonist passed away? Did you throw the book across the room in a fury only to hustle after it, swipe off any dust, hug it close, and instantly return to reading?

Odds are, if you did any of the above, your favorite book has an inciting emotional punch. The author was able to convince you to like, get to know, and trust these characters along their journey. The author was able to make the journey as life-like as possible to make you feel as if you were a part of the story yourself. The author was able to weave in tiny intricate details into the characters’ story and manipulate those details into heart-wrenching plot twists.

This is the ultimate goal as an author, to make your readers emotional. Not that we want to make our readers cry or anything, but we want to make them feel. Think. Resonate with what our books offer.

Authors, are you up for the challenge of crafting an emotional roller coaster read? Let’s dive in to how we can craft palpable emotions in our stories that will leave readers fangirling for years on end.

1) Develop Your Characters

I cannot stress this enough. If your goal as an author is to take your readers on an emotional roller coaster, your story’s lens has to focus more on the intricacies of the characters more than the plot.

Think about it like this: you’re watching a movie on T.V. The screen continually displays a long, treacherous path. It reveals creatures lurking in the dark shadows. It captures the sound of howling wolves in the background. There are some glimpses of people walking along this path, but they are few and far between. The camera is forever focused on the path.

What emotions bubble up inside you from this imagery? Fear or anticipation, perhaps, based on the descriptions? Maybe so, but what about the characters? Can you relate to how they are feeling?

By the description, you most likely can’t. Why? Because we know absolutely nothing about the characters. We don’t know their names or appearances, let alone their hopes and fears. How are we supposed to root for characters that we know nothing about?

This is why character development is one of the most crucial aspects of writing. Readers can’t fangirl over your characters’ story if there is no real character arc (or journey) to fangirl over.

So, how can we create characters that our readers will fall head-over heels for?

Make Your Characters As Human as Possible

The best kept secret of great character development is that to create “perfect” characters for our books, we must make the characters as imperfect as possible.

No one can relate to a Miss or Mr. Perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone screws up. Everyone trips and falls. Want to craft believable characters? Let them do all of the above.

But, not only that. Making your character accident prone or incredibly socially awkward isn’t enough. There also has to be something within themselves–a goal, dream, or wish–that sets their heart on fire. Give them a purpose.

For example, in my next release, The Crush, Emery has two main desires:

1) To someday find a love of her own that is as sweet as her grandparents’ fifty year marriage

And

2) To pursue her dreams of writing and performing music despite the difficulties of her past

These two desires are introduced within the first few chapters, and the entirety of the book then follows Emery’s journey as she chases these desires head-on. The plot was crafted around these two distinct desires, and includes twists that were specifically written to cause Emery the most difficulty or joy (mostly difficulty, if I’m being honest). Which brings me to lesson 2:

2) Cater Plot Twists to Your Protagonist’s Unique Situation

This, perhaps, is where the best practices of character development are best implemented. We want to tell this unique character’s story, right? Well, let’s make sure that their story is crafted just for them in a way that it wouldn’t be the same story if it happened to anyone else.

We must crush our sweet little characters. We must rip their hearts out. We must then instill hope in them. All by playing on their hopes and fears.

Yeah, sometimes good writing means being good at inflicting torture on fictional people. But, it’s the price we must pay for epic storytelling.

For this example, I’ll use a well-known book that most of us have probably read or watched the film version of: A Walk to Remember.

Note: For even more of my ramblings about my favorite book, check out this post. I’ll try to keep this fangirling episode short in today’s post.

In A Walk to Remember, Landon Carter is your classic American boy who is semi-popular and hopes to attend the University of North Carolina after high school. He absolutely hates getting picked on, and just wants to live a normal life, until Jamie Sullivan makes waves. Jamie is a devout Christian, the local pastor’s daughter, and is considered the weirdest girl in school by her classmates (Landon included). Jamie’s greatest wish is to get married.

When Landon is forced to spend more time with Jamie due to his participation in the Christmas play, Jamie warns him to not fall in love with her. Landon laughs it off, convinced there was a fat chance of that ever happening. But then… the epic catered plot twist ensues… the more time Landon spends with Jamie, the more he falls for her. And right as Landon gives in to the idea of loving Jamie…. BOOM! She reveals she has cancer and doesn’t have much longer to live.

So, what happens? Landon is forced to make a decision: A. Choose his normal life, sans Jamie, or B. Fulfill her greatest wish and marry her while she’s still here.

Most of you probably know which decision he makes. And if his decision didn’t make you fangirl or cry buckets of tears, you may be heartless. 😛

You see, if any other girl at their school ended up dating Landon and was diagnosed with terminal cancer, would it have made as much of an emotional impact on us if her greatest wish was to sail across the ocean or to own a boutique before she died? I highly doubt it, because the decision Landon made in the end doesn’t correlate with their desires. Plus, if Landon did date either of those girls and granted their unique wishes, his development as a character wouldn’t be as strong as it was when he chose to fulfill Jamie’s wish despite it “hindering” his personal life.

Long story short:

1) Figure out what your characters want

2) Make it hard for them to achieve that desire

3) Have them accomplish said desire in a way that provides the most character development and thus emotional impact

3) Incorporate Powerful, Relevant Themes/Truths Subtly

The same way a lot of readers don’t like most Christian fiction books because they’re overly “preachy”, themes that pack an emotional punch in fiction are better incorporated more subtly. Remember, if you want someone to retain something, feed them a little at a time instead of trying to beat them over the head with it all at once.

Think of themes as hidden treasures: little gems that are sprinkled throughout the sandbox that you want your readers to pick up. You don’t want to ruin the surprise, right? So, we don’t really want to explicitly tell the reader: “Hey, the theme is friendship” at the beginning of the book and then have the characters singing the “I Love You” song from Barney and Friends throughout the remainder of the book with nothing else happening.

Going back to points one and two, emotional impact is best implemented through the use of developed characters and catered plot twists. If you do these two well, your theme should subtly but surely weave itself through, becoming the sturdy thread that holds the story together.

So, really, this section is more of a guideline on what to do less of rather than more of. If your theme correlates with your character development and catered twists, it should shine through to your readers without you having to make it glaringly obvious.

That’s it for today, Arrowheads. Let’s Recap!

To give your writing an emotional punch:

1) Develop your characters

2) Cater Plot Twists to Your Protagonist’s Unique Situation

3) Incorporate Powerful, Relevant Themes/Truths Subtly

Oh, and before you leave,

My next book is releasing on October 24th! Be sure to add The Crush to your Goodreads TBR by pressing the button below!

What early readers are saying:

Looking at the title, you may think that this is a fluffy read, just full of sparkles and glitter. That would be inaccurate. This book was so emotional, thought-provoking, and real.

Goodreads reviewer

The Crush gives an honest look at what it means to support someone with depression and stay true to God’s plan – and how to make music out of it all.

M. Liz Boyle, author of the off the itinerary series

Or, would you like to read The Crush now?

You still have a chance to be an early reviewer! Applications for my ARC Team are welcome until September 30th! Be sure to put your name down by clicking the button below! ❤

Talk to Me, Arrowheads!

Name a book that took you on an emotional journey and brought out your inner fangirl/fanboy! Drop your recommendations in the comments!

Aim high, stay strong, and always hit your mark.

-Allyson 😀

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As an author and blogger, my goal is to teach writers that there is a way to write realistic, thought-provoking, redemptive Christian fiction that honors God while not sugarcoating the realities of the world. 

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