Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader – not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.- E. L. Doctorow
Have you ever read a book that was so captivating that you felt like you were inside the story?
Not only did you understand what was going on in the narration, you felt it in the depths of your soul.
Psychologists Timothy Brock and Melanie Green did a study that shows the more a reader is transported into a story through imagery, the more significant effect that narrative has on the reader’s beliefs.
So when we feel like we are part of the story on a heart level, we start to think the way the narrative leads us on a head level.
The phenomenon is also supported by an article published several years ago in Scientific American. Researchers in New York City found that literary fiction could increase psychological awareness of others. According to the report:
This psychological awareness carries over into the real world, which is full of complicated individuals whose inner lives are usually difficult to fathom.
…the characters disrupt reader expectations, undermining prejudices and stereotypes. They support and teach us values about social behavior, such as the importance of understanding those who are different from ourselves.
In other words, like Agatha Christie’s classic Miss Marple character, we can understand the workings and motivations of others, and even predict their actions and reactions, when we submerge ourselves in their point of view. When we feel what they are feeling.
Before you start thinking this doesn’t apply to you, (I’m talking to you, non-fiction writers, bloggers, and journalists.) you have to realize that all good writing is storytelling.
Writing has power.
What Does “Write From The Heart” Mean?
In journalism, you’re supposed to answer “The Five Ws and One H.” (Who, what, when, where, why, how) When I would do stories on local businesses, people often thought the most important question to answer was the “what.”
What does the business do? What does the company sell?
When I came into the interview, I would tell the business owner, “I’m not so much interested in your ‘what.’ There are millions of other people across America that do what you do. What I’m interested in is your ‘why.’”
I would find out their “why”; then I would write that story from the heart. I would give details and imagery about the business that would evoke emotions in the reader. I knew that if they connected with that business’s “why” on a heart level, then it would become memorable to them.
But practically speaking, how do you write descriptive, heartfelt text and not sound overly dramatic? It’s a fine line.
Don’t Make It All About You
The most important thing to remember is: Don’t make it all about you.
If you’re writing a paper or article, that’s not as hard to pull off. Most likely the story is about someone else, anyway. Write that person’s story in a way that appeals to the human condition.
If you’re doing personal blogging or an editorial, this can be difficult.
Let’s say your story is about why you believe a local green space should be kept pristine and undeveloped. (ie. Don’t pave paradise and put up a parking lot.)
Going into great detail about your personal feelings may come across as a rant. Plenty descriptive, but annoying.
Going into great detail about the beauty of the current landscape and the contrasting aspects of the new development plan will catch your reader’s imagination and draw them in.
Oversharing personal information about a private argument you had with your husband about the decisions of the local City Planning Board isn’t “full-disclosure”- it’s tacky.
Describing the electric feeling that ran through the room at the local board meeting is good narrative.
Treat your reader like a friend, not a therapist.
Use Specific Details With Universal Appeal
Whether you are writing about yourself, or someone else, your writing needs to resonate with your audience. And putting your heart into the story is what makes it relatable.
The article from Scientific American mentions that the reason literary fiction has such an impact is that while it has extensive imagery, it doesn’t share the specifics of the characters’ minds.
Characters’ relationships to others and their environment are described in great detail, but then readers are given the space to put themselves inside the character’s mind to imagine what they are going through.
And when a reader starts imagining what someone else is thinking or feeling while immersed in a description of their environment, what emerges are the genuine feelings and thoughts that the reader would have under those circumstances.
Real connection is made.
So Choose Your Words Carefully
Knowing this, you should choose your words carefully. Writing from the heart doesn’t mean being dramatic. It doesn’t mean sensationalizing an issue.
Writing from the heart means selecting the most accurate descriptors you can find. It means deciding what details to put in and what details to leave out.
We often hear the term “world-building” in relation to fiction novel writers. World-building has to do with the part of the process where the author works to create the details of their fictional world in a way that’s so believable it transports the reader to an alternative reality.
But non-fiction writers world-build as well. No matter what your angle, you are plucking your reader from their chair and placing them into the world you’ve built around this story.
And if you do a good enough job, they’ll stay enveloped there for the duration of the piece, as a living, breathing part of the landscape. They obtain a personal experience rather than just head knowledge.
And when they come away, they will be forever changed.
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