A Made-Up Story That Explains Something That People Do Understand Adding Emotion to Your Non-Fiction Writing: I Do It and You Can Do It

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Adding Emotion to Your Non-Fiction Writing: I Do It and You Can Do It

I am a non-fiction writer. Whether I write for young children, teenagers or adults, all my books contain emotion. Sometimes my emotions are detailed in descriptive paragraphs. Other times I express them through dialogue. Writing with emotion takes effort and my manuscripts go faster if I cut out the emotion. But then my writing would not be my writing.

Why bother adding emotion to non-fiction articles or books? There are many reasons and these are the main ones.

Emotion connects the writer and the reader. Emotions make us uniquely human, says Rob Parnell, on his website Easy Ways to Write, “How to Write About Emotions.” Life isn’t just about what happens, he continues, “it’s how we react to events and people and what they say that defines our experience of the world.” I agree with his observation.

All my books contain emotion. In fact, I write them because of emotions. My recent work focuses on loss, grief, and grief recovery. I wrote these books to identify my passions, track them and grow from them. Readers will see my journey in my words and some of the results of my sad journey.

Emotion acts as a “hook”. According to author Mary Jacksh, dialogue is a way to hook the reader. He expands on this topic in his Write to Don website article, “3 Things You Need to Know About Using Dialogue in Nonfiction.” What makes dialogue a hook? Jacques says it works “because it creates a story out of mere facts.” So many newspaper articles open with a quote.

Decades of writing experience have taught me to simplify emotions. You can’t just slap dialogue in the middle of a page and consider yourself done. I usually cite a resource from my bibliography, explain my response to this information, say why I didn’t use it or how I did use it. I try to make emotions and my life real to the reader.

Emotion moves the reader. Readers have told me my books make them cry and laugh. If they tell the truth I have done my job. Steve Jausmer explains how a writer can move a reader in the “Writer’s Digest” article, “Evoke Emotions in Your Readers,” which appeared in the November 2009 issue. According to Zousmer, it is a mistake to rank many biographers and memoirists. But the success of such writing depends on the author’s ability to see his own story as a sequence of events.

His comment got me thinking about my own writing. My oldest daughter and father-in-law died on the same weekend. A week later, I sat down at the computer and began to pour my soul into words. I wrote a series of short, 500-word articles and many were posted on the Internet and specialized websites. These articles eventually became a book. Despite the shock I was feeling (two more family members had died), I had the sense to arrange my articles in chronological order and avoided chronological traps.

Emotion helps the reader remember events. Psychologists and therapists like my younger daughter know that people remember emotions more easily than facts. When I add emotion to my non-fiction writing I need to sound sincere, believable and stable. I’ve written about chemical dependency, caregiving, Alzheimer’s disease, grief recovery, and many other non-fiction topics — topics peppered with truth. Adding emotion helps the reader remember the information I quoted.

Emotion turns dry information into memorable information that the reader can apply to life, and we’re all in this together.

Copyright 2011 by Harriet Hodgson

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