Laurence O’Bryan on Writing with Emotional Hooks | Resources | The Art of Description

Laurence O'Bryan

Making an emotional connection with readers is critically important whatever type of fiction you are writing. If you don’t, readers can easily stop reading. That’s the last thing we want. Without emotion, what we write can become dull. If we add emotion, the reader’s engagement pulls them forward.

We are all familiar with emotions. They are, typically, what makes us have a great day or a bad one. But how can a writer use emotion to connect with readers?

One of the most basic emotions is desire. If your characters are motivated, if they have desire, if only for a glass of water, then readers will feel more connected to that character. And the more they want something, the more interesting your story becomes, as the reader is left wondering what the character will do to achieve their goal.

Desire is the basic emotion which keeps us involved in a story. If your main character wants something badly enough, you are, according to the logic of story, obliged to put obstacles in their way too. Why? Because obstacles create conflict and difficulties. And conflict will inspire an emotional response in your reader and keep them turning the pages.

In The Istanbul Puzzle, my mystery novel released by Harper Collins worldwide earlier this year, my main character, Sean Ryan, wants to find out what happened to a good friend who has been murdered. He feels responsible. This mixes both desire and danger into the story early on.

Some other ways to build an emotion connection with the reader are:

  • Creating embarrassment for a character. By making the reader feel that embarrassment you will build a connection with them.
  • Having a character abused in some way. Natural sympathy will be evoked if you do something terrible to a character we have come to know. I use this technique quite a lot in The Istanbul Puzzle.
  • Placing opposing characters in the same situation. There’s a natural tension when opposing characters meet. Your readers will feel it if the opposing characters views have been shown to them. The climax of The Istanbul Puzzle features two deeply opposed characters.
  •  Fear creates tension in the reader too. If we know the murderer is coming up the stairs, and the woman is having a shower, we fear the outcome. In The Istanbul Puzzle, Sean and his friend Isabel, get trapped in water filled underground tunnels filled with giant eels!
  • Anticipation. If you foreshadow, occasionally, without explaining exactly what is going to happen, readers will anticipate something happening. I use a very occasional piece of strategic foreshadowing to heighten tension.
  •  Surprise readers. Readers will enjoy your writing if something surprising happens. They won’t have any idea what is going to happen next. I try to make my stories as surprising as possible with something unexpected happening regularly.
  • Excitement is a powerful writing tool. You can move the plot fast, anticipate, and spell out what might happen, and then keep the reader waiting. All the above methods combined will produce excitement in your reader.

One of the hardest parts for a writer is in creating authentic emotional scenes.

The ability to understand how it feels to be in a deeply emotional situation and to express that feeling in a genuine and new way, without resorting to cliche or to simply naming how characters feels, is vital to creating truly engaging emotional writing.

People look for writing that truly explains how it feels to be in a given situation. And they can tell if you haven’t represented the reality in a way that’s believable.

I wish you well with this. It is one of the hardest challenges of becoming a good writer.

This post is the first in an expanded series of posts on getting your writing noticed, which I have created specifically for They will be published over the next four weeks in the run up to the lunch of The Jerusalem Puzzle on ebook Dec 3 and in paperback Jan 3.

Next week I will cover how you can use pace to enhance your work.


About the author

(c) LPO’Bryan

Laurence  went to school in south Dublin, drank way too much, studied business, then IT. While a student, he worked as a kitchen porter and lived a rollercoaster existence.

After that he spent ten years working in London. He met his wife there. Soon after their daughter was born they came back to Dublin.

That was in the year 2000. He worked in IT marketing for many years and was made redundant last year, just in time for the publication of The Istanbul Puzzle. That novel has now been shortlisted for Ireland AM Irish Crime Novel of 2012.

The Istanbul Puzzle is his first novel to be published. The Jerusalem Puzzle, his second, is coming out January 3rd in paperback and Dec 3rd 2012 in ebook.

In 2007 he won the Outstanding Novel award at the Southern California writer’s conference. That winning novel, on which he worked for six years, became The Istanbul Puzzle. He is a member of the UK Crime Writer’s Association, the Irish Writing Centre, two “live” writing groups in Dublin and online writing communities including His research takes him all over the world and he still thoroughly enjoys looking at the stars and listening to the stories of strangers.

His website/blog is:

His Twitter name: @LPOBryan

Read also Laurence recommendations for the 7 most useful books when writing fiction, and how he had 133 rejections before getting published!


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