• Packing an Emotional Punch in Your Writing

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Inspiration     Comments 19 comments

    Discussion questions: Who are some writers whose work elicits a strong emotional response from you? Is that a feeling you enjoy? What types of emotions, if any, do you hope for when you read a book? And as a writer, do you aim to elicit similar emotional responses from your readers? Let us know in the comments.


    My pal Aaron Block, in an episode of our books podcast Yak Babies, credits Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago and Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus as two books that inspire him as a writer, not (only) because of the beautiful prose and plots, but because of the strong emotions they elicit from him:

    “If I could make someone feel the way I felt when reading [those books],” Aaron says, “then I would feel accomplished. That was always what guided me as a writer. I didn’t care about anything except for emotional responses; that’s what I wanted to get out of readers.

    “I wanted them to feel something that I was trying to make them feel.”


    I’ve written about and talked about — over and over and over — how The Coast of Chicago taps into some deep-down emotions, every single time I read it. (Unfortunately, Goodbye, Columbus landed with a thud for me.)

    What I’ve realized only recently, however, is that I’m trying to deliver Coast of Chicago-like emotional responses in my own novel. It’s not that I’m conscious of Dybek’s book while I’m writing. I’m not actively mimicking the plots or the language. Or even the setting, despite some similarities.

    But I think what’s happening is that somewhere just below the surface of my consciousness, that book is always simmering.


    So the question I have for you this week is, what books are always simmering just below your own surface? What books or authors deliver to you a strong emotional response? And what are those emotional responses?

    And do you seek, in your own writing, to deliver similar emotional responses to your readers? For that purpose, how directly do you draw from those books and writers that give you the emotional knockout punch? Let us know below.


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2019 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”


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    stephen Glick

    I have read two books that have brought me to tears both by Stehen King. Bag of bones and THE cELL I WAS SO INVESTED IN THE CHARECTARS THAT I WEPT WHEN ALICE AND ? WAS KILLED. I MY WRITING I use the emotion of my father passing away and all his brothers and sisters to draw on for the first two chapters of my soon to be done book. yes, Justine I have altered the first two chapters yet again today.How I wish in real life that my father would have called us all near for one last talk… Read more »


    In a good read, I hope for an immersive experience that will lead to a culminating feeling of enlightenment, triumph, confirmation (of love, evil, spiritual, etc), etc. It’s most powerful, to me, when the experience is built gradually and hits me at the end, pulling together the leading threads. A lot of stories have struck me like this and they make up my list of favorite books. I found The Lord of the Rings to be so moving, and Lord of the Flies, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. My favorite of all time, though, is Lost Horizon by James… Read more »


    Actually, it took me three readings, and some spiritual growth, to really appreciate Lost Horizon. If I find some such emotional impact in my own work, it is most always in the writing process, though it might be during revision. It’s like, when the words are in place, pulling the right threads together, I spot it (or feel it). Yes, the same applies to humor. I seldom go for humor in a scene, but it fairly often develops, just as it develops in human relationships. For me, this is the “art” part of writing.

    Hans De Léo

    In answer to your question, I would have to say that Andre Norton is one author that elicits a strong emotional response. She was my favorite sci-fi author back in the day (and still is my favorite author). She had a way of pulling me into the story such that I rooted for the protagonist(s) and wanted to see the antagonist(s) fail. Miserably. In any book I read that’s the kind of thing I want. It doesn’t matter what I feel as long as I feel something. Make me happy, sad, angry, afraid, hopeful, nostalgic, whatever, just get the message… Read more »

    adrienne leslie

    I hope my readers can’t put their finger on exactly what made them love my work. I guess, I’d like them to taste umami–the certain unique something that doesn’t come from a combination of skills or dependent on best practices but has its own specific universal receptor.


    I don’t know what umami is, but nonetheless I think I do sorta now! You just said something very true and very beautifully.

    adrienne leslie

    Thanks so much, I ll give you a short definition. It s Japanese for pleasant savory taste, but it’s known as the 5th taste after salty sweet, sour, bitter. I think of writing as finding a new taste. Have a wonderful holiday..and again thanks for your reply


    Is it okay to respond two weeks late? I’m behind in my email. I can think of three things I read recently that made me very emotional: One was my uncle’s (forbidden) journal from WWII, from D Day and into the Battle of the Bulge. Because I knew how awful that war was and that it left him with shell shock, when he wrote of spending the night in an old shack with enemy shells falling on them all night, he wrote, “Okay. Enough of the rough stuff.” Such a simple plea. The contrast to the horrors of WWII was… Read more »

    adrien leslie

    Super last lines! Brava


    My Dad told me that it was forbidden in general to keep a diary or journal during combat. They also edited and censored soldiers’ letters–not sure if they read all of them or if it was random. I imagine it was a fear they had of combat positions or battle strategies falling into the wrong hands or something. I’m not really sure But to hide his diary my Uncle wrote it all in a very small address book in tiny handwriting and kept it in his boot.


    Hmmmm…. never thought about it before, but synapses are firing… thanks!

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