When I first started writing, I was told that if my character cries on the page, my reader was not going to be crying as she read that. If I wanted to bring tears to my reader’s eyes, my character’s eyes needed to be dry while they were completely torn up inside. As with every “Rule” of writing, I don’t think you can say that this is the case all the time. I imagine that there are times when a character can cry on the page and the reader will cry along with them. But how do you get your reader there—crying, or laughing, or screaming mad (at the events in the book, not the characters for being TSTL—too stupid to live)?

How do you bring out the emotion?

First, let’s discuss emotion for a moment and its role in fiction. There are a great many books in the world that do not elicit any emotion. They don’t mean to. They don’t necessarily want to.

A good mystery doesn’t have you crying over the dead body. An urban fantasy doesn’t necessarily have you laughing in hysterics at a vampire’s antics—because there usually aren’t any. Now if a book is deliberately meant to be funny, that’s another thing, and I sincerely hope that the author attained the laughs they meant to get. But for the most part, a good number of novels simply don’t try to bring their readers along on an emotional journey.

But should they?

I think they should.

I think the best books are the ones that make you FEEL. They’re the ones where you fall in love with the protagonist, scream, cry, or get angry when they fail, laugh, and do a little happy dance when they succeed.

Emotion is the life-blood of most human beings. We want to feel it in our everyday lives, so why wouldn’t we want to feel it when we’re reading?

But how do you, as a writer make your reader feel all those wonderful feelings? How do you bring out the emotion in your reader?

Number One answer: Deep POV. Sorry, but it’s true. In order to truly feel what your character is feeling, your reader needs to become your protagonist.

Number Two and Three: They need to identify with them and they need to feel empathy toward them.

If none of these things are there, there will be no feelings transferred.

I’ve written before about how to write in deep POV (hint: the key is method writing). The thing about getting your reader to feel what your character is feeling is for you, the author, to feel it as you’re writing it. If you’re not feeling it, the odds are your readers won’t either.

Now, what about this identifying with your characters? That one’s pretty easy. If your character is a well-fleshed-out human being with flaws as well as virtues, there’s a good chance that many readers will be able to identify with them. Because we are all human beings (yes, even the fairies and people from Mars) we all have the same basic desires. There’s a good chance that what your character desires (their internal goal) is going to be something your reader has desired at some point in their life. With that human connection, we can find some way to identify with your characters.

Empathy can be brought about by some very basic things. If your character is in trouble, or there is a threat of trouble, there’s a good possibility that we’ll empathize. If your character has a sense of humor, is kind, or is powerful in some way, we are more inclined to like the person and empathize.

But most of all, bring us inside of the character’s head. Allow us to see how they think, how they process what’s happening, how they understand the world around them. If we empathize, become one with their thoughts, ideas, and feelings, we will care. If we care, we’re more likely to feel what they feel.

In my opinion, emotion is essential to a really good book. And if you don’t believe me, just take a look at Tic-Tok these days and what’s called “Book Toc” where people make videos of themselves reacting emotionally to books. It’s incredibly popular and amazingly powerful.