(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

“Describe a barn as seen by a man whose son has just been killed in a war. Do not mention the son, or war, or death. Do not mention the man who does the seeing. If the writer works hard, and if he has the talent to be a writer, the result of his work should be a powerful and disturbing image, a faithful description of some apparently real barn but one from which the reader gets a sense of the father’s emotion.” John Gardner

“Because the fictional process selects those fit for it, and because a requirement of that process is strong empathetic emotion, it turns out that the true writer’s fundamental concern—his reason for finding a subject interesting in the first place—is likely to be humane. He sees injustice or misunderstanding in the world around him, and he cannot keep it out of his story.” John Gardner

“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” William Wordsworth

“Readers want to know how characters feel about what is happening—and they don’t want the writer to just tell them. They want the writer to show them,  to let the characters act out their emotions. This means that the writer must show a character’s feelings by describing how he walks, talks, and acts.” Othello Bach

“Before you can write convincingly about emotions, you need to seriously consider how people act in different moods and situations.” Othello Bach

“When you take the time to show a character’s emotions, the character ‘comes alive.’ The reader can see and feel what the character is feeling.” Othello Bach

“In the final analysis it seems unlikely that an essentially intellectual structure can have the same power and aesthetic validity, all other things being equal, as a structure that appeals simultaneously to our intellect and to subtler faculties, our deepest emotions (sympathy and empathy) and our intuition of reality’s process.” John Gardner

“One cannot convey an emotion as such; one can convey it only through that which produced it, or through a conclusion drawn from the emotion. Here the author does try to project an emotion as such—and what is the result? ‘Blossoms of nocturnal radiance,’ which is neither emotion, thought, nor description, but merely words.” Ayn Rand

“The primary subject of fiction is and has always been human emotion, values and beliefs.” John Gardner

“The feeling of injustice is one of the first and most potent emotions we feel in childhood and carry into maturity.” Barnaby Conrad

“People read fiction for emotion, not information.” Sinclair Lewis

“That is what fiction writing is all about: to arouse emotion in the reader.” Barnaby Conrad

“It’s up to you to touch that emotion. Conflict. Aim for the heart.” Barnaby Conrad

“The very essence of art which is emotional affirmation.” John Gardner

“The feeling of low-level wind shear in the heart we call loss.” Diane Ackerman

“The goal of the tragic poet is to rob us of our emotional freedom, to turn our intellectual and spiritual activity in one direction, to concentrate them there.” Schiller

“Remember back until you see exactly what the action was that gave you the emotion. Whether it was the rising of the line from the water and the way it tightened like a fiddle string until drops started from it, or the way he smashed and threw water when he jumped. Remember what the noises were and what was said. Find what gave you the emotion; what the action was that gave you the excitement. Then write it down making it clear so the reader will see it too and have the same feeling that you had.” Ernest Hemingway

 “The long prose forms use memory in a complex way. The words are meant to trigger associations from the reader’s own life—to act as emotional cues. . . . When the prose is working, the reader recalls the parallel experience unconsciously and instantaneously in response to the cue.” Philip Gerard

“The writer is after emotional congruence—trying to provoke the reader’s participation in the story.” Philip Gerard

“Of course, the writer can have no idea which actual details the reader’s memory will supply, but if the emotion is truly universal, he can count on the reader’s having some experience that parallels the one in the story in at least a passing way, though often the story takes on the extreme case.” Philip Gerard

“The typical reader’s . . . emotional equipment is the same as that of princesses and heroes. The writer taps into that congruence of emotions. The reader can feel the emotional truth of extraordinary action. Through the words on the page, the reader can participate emotionally in the experience.” Philip Gerard [My italics—UW]