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Emotive, Emotion and Feelings

To write is to persuade. To persuade is to make a connection and if you want to motivate then that connection will have to be an emotional connection. If the goal of your persuasion is to keep the reader turning pages, the path is the same.
How is the question often fired out from the back of the room. First we need to have clarity.

feelings, noun : emotional or moral sensitivity (especially in relation to personal principles or dignity)
 : any strong feeling
emotive, adjective : characterized by emotion
Syn: ↑affectional, ↑affective
Similar to: ↑emotional
Derivationally related forms: ↑emote, ↑affect
(for: ↑affective), ↑affect (for: ↑affectional)

If your first thought was that these aren’t quite accurate, or perhaps not exhaustive, you’re correct on both counts. What I feel with my fingers isn’t an emotion. Perhaps emotions are extra-strength feelings, but there’s quite a bit missing in that definition. To ‘emote‘ is a stage direction — (especially of an actor) portray emotion in a theatrical manner. But at least the emotive definitions are closer to something useful. If we are to effect our reader on an emotional level we are required to select the target emotion, and then use two tools: emotives which are a glossary of words, and the Objective Correlative T.S. Elliot popularized in the essay Hamlet and his Problems.

Elliot refers to the concept as the only way to express an emotion through art — to find “a set of objects, a situation, [or] a chain of events” that will, when read or performed, evoke a specific sensory experience in the audience. This sensory experience is meant to help the reader understand the mental or emotional state of a character.

Elliot would likely disagree with his high water mark of the method remaining the ‘only‘ way, but used with emotive vocabulary, the scenes and story structure of the Objective Correlative becomes powerful and fulfilling for the reader.

It is odd to me that Elliot of all people, placed so little value on simple words alone being enough to produce the sensory experience.

Writers use words as tools, as keys, even as a mode of travel — but even the masters, such as Elliot are guilty of offering only lip service to phrases such as ‘words have power’. This phrase brings to mind the 70s and early 80s affirmations — promised by the myriad of pop-psychologists from the rows of self-help paperbacks covers to be magical, and able to change your life, to affect you physically if practiced over several years.

Awkward that even these snake oil salesman were selling the real medicine and could not believe it themselves. Yet, here we are, Gods — each and everyone of us, just as God said in Psalms*, with the ability to created with a word, to alter the physical with a breath. Take for example the word yawn. Yawn is short, and basic. Yawn is not a command, and thus benign. Yawn is even a common word. We hear the word yawn all the time. When someone yawns, however, other people yawn. There is a strange connection between yawning people, yawning. I’m sure there have been studies on yawning, explaining why when I yawn, you will yawn too. In fact, you don’t even need to see me yawn do you? No. You don’t. You just have to read the word yawn, a few times, and your mind will react just like the word yawn was a real yawn, instead of just a word on the page.
The image is of Ogmios, an ancient
Celtic and Gaul god. He created
the Celtic Ogham alphabet. His
strongest divine power was his persuasion.
You’ll notice that the image depicts
chains attached from his tongue to his
follower’s ears.

And there in a paragraph a Middle English verb within simple text — childish even — has forced a physical reaction. By the third or fourth use of the word, you figured it out, saw the trap perhaps, and set your will to refuse the reaction, and still, it happened.

Already your mind is minimizing the event. It was just a yawn. It was a trick. It was a set up. Just as Elliot and thousands like him. More surprising still is just how far back we have relearned, forgotten, relearned and re-forgotten these powers of creation and destruction and persuasion.

Over the next few posts then, I’m going to explore this area, or rather areas — the Emotives, and the Objective Correlative. The only area I’ve found challenging is to create an effective OC in the opening scenes of a novel or story. By nature it seems OCs are environments built over a couple of chapters or at the very least one chapter. Their goal is focused. An emotion. The Emotives are the same, a voice colored, toned and tuned to an emotion.

If you have other methods which allow them to be used without the build up I believe they need I would love to hear your experiences.

*…They do not know nor do they understand; They walk about in darkness; All the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, “You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High.  Psalm 82:6: 


  1. My ambitions in writing are to create an intense emotional moment that takes complete control of the reader through what i would call "trigger words and phrases" that connect those of us with similar cultural upbringing..
    You interest me..

    1. Hi Jaycee, and if that be the case I might have a small present for you...
      This link leads to a spreadsheet of 13k+ words measured through several studies for levels of valence, arousal and dominance. The cell A1 has a comment which will link you to the study itself, in pdf format so you can download it free.
      Also, if you are serious about getting into the deep nuts and bolts of the emotional passage, look into the psychology of Persuasion and Influence. You can find a short and exploratory paper on this subject as it pertains to the fiction writer here :


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