Celebrating East African Writing!

Writing Emotion vs Writing Sentimentally

Just before we get started, a reminder:

This month is the red month; today is Valentine’s Day, love and romance. Unfortunately not all of us have rosy red lovey-dovey dates on Valentine’s Day or any other day for that matter. Do you have a Worst Date Ever story that you would like to share with us?

Send it to as a Word 97-2003 attachment.


The word limit is 600-1600 words.


The Deadline is 17th February 2012.


It shall be entered into the Worst Date Ever! Short Story Contest and the winner will get Dr.Chris Hart’s book, Single and Searching and Kshs. 1000 worth of airtime.

Corny is just a step away from brilliant

So… why do you want to write in emotion into your story? To connect with your reader. Good writing requires creative and effective use, not overuse, of emotion.

Preparing fiction, whether in a short story or novel, without emotion results in telling rather showing. Writing, showing emotion, without resorting to sentimentality is a major component in writing vivid, powerful stories that readers can visualize. So it is very important to differentiate writing emotion from writing sentimentally.

The secret is restraint at every level. Whatever moved you, artfully conveyed, will move your readers. Writing emotion is not just putting in “She cried” or “He screamed.” Telling a story may provide the readers with necessary information, but showing allows the reader to “see” the events, actions, and plot unfold.

What do we mean by ‘writing emotion’? Writing emotion involves using words and word pictures to draw in your reader into a state where they not only sympathise with your characters, they empathise; they want to cry or laugh too, they want to take action on behalf of your characters.

So how do you do it?

  1. Describe the common reactions to emotion.

“He was afraid” can become:

Terror. Wholly unwarranted and unprecedented terror.  It flooded his system like a broken dam, invading until he could feel it manifest in his heart, spreading to his spine and limbs, up to his neck, as if he was being slowly immersed in a pool of frigid cold water. Time seemed to slow as if to perpetuate the situation. His thoughts were jumbled, cresting like machine gun bursts as the water breached his head and cut off the air supply…

See? This writer focused on describing the physical symptoms of absolute fear, and you can ‘almost’ imagine experiencing that kind of terror.

Now the description above may be a little over the top, but it’s a lot better than ‘He was afraid.”

  1. Use concrete descriptions.

“She was sad” can become:

She walked with a hunch to her back that speaks of agonies piled on him like bricks.

Again, over the top. But a lot more visualisable than “She was sad.”

  1. Narrate the drama.

Because writers worry about emotion, we tend to find sources to talk about it, and we end up with their doing a lot of telling, and our doing very little showing. What people say is also a telling detail, and needs the same rigorous selection and omission.

Narrative conveys emotion best because it involves detail and speech and action. As V.S. Naipal puts it, “Great subjects are illuminated best by small dramas.”

So, focus on action, captured by strong verbs.

The man loves his wife who is pregnant with their first son. Don’t tell me that. Show me how ‘ he kept checking on her, patting her bulge, driving her completely crazy with his ‘Do you need anything, Sheila?’ every half minute.’

Describe the surroundings in a way that helps convey emotion.

If the dead body of a relative in a mortuary table is involved in a story about accepting death, it will evoke more emotion if it is ‘lying on the cold stainless steel table.’

Don’t tell us what the character feels. If you must, have your character tell another character all about it in dialogue.

There’s a whole lot more you can do to avoid writing sentimental rubbish and pull of writing compelling narratives. Do some research, reread the last really good book you loved, and then try writing it out.

Speaking of emotion, have you sent in your ‘Worst Horror Date’ story for the Single & Searching Short Story Contest?



This entry was posted on February 14, 2012 by in Writer's Blog.
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