Writing Emotions – Don’t tell, Don’t Simply Show… Allow The Reader To Experience


Image result for pinterest ernest hemingway

Perhaps one of the most brilliant insights from Ernest Hemingway concerns the process of making an emotion. Using this technique allows us as writers to evolve from simply telling a tale, to having our readers become immersed in our story.

Close observation of life is critical to good writing, said Hemingway. The key is to not only watch and listen closely to external events, but to also notice any emotion stirred in you by the events and then trace back and identify precisely what it was that caused the emotion. If you can identify the concrete action or sensation that caused the emotion and present it accurately and fully rounded in your story, your readers should feel the same emotion. In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway writes about his early struggle to master this:

I was trying to write then and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced. In writing for a newspaper you told what happened and, with one trick and another, you communicated the emotion aided by the element of timeliness which gives a certain emotion to any account of something that has happened on that day; but the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always, was beyond me and I was working very hard to get it.

I have recently begun to incorporate the above in my writing. The below sentence originally read…

“… panic sets in.”

Now reads…

“Heart racing, pulsations banging against my ribs. Breathing shallow and rapid. Air dwindling, muscles screaming for oxygen.”

The goal is to not have the reader told an emotion, but to have the reader, through the story, experience the emotion. It need not be wordy, it just needs to convey the emotion. In changing three words to eight, I didn’t simply say panic, I took, what I believe to be the key components of panic and utilized them. There are many more words I could have used, and may use at different points, but at the juncture of the story, I felt best to go with heart rate and breathing.


“Who the hell am I?”20190630_1305207795170130459536580.jpg

I am an independent, self-published teller of tales,
an author, as of yet, scarcely any renown.
However, as a storyteller, I know who I am,
and with that persona, I am both confident and comfortable. I invite you to please visit my website,


and/or Amazon Author Pages

Joe Leonardi              Scono Sciuto

if you are so inclined please
purchase a copy and leave a review.

I write of the damaged and broken, because that is the norm. For each person who overcomes their demons, there are hundreds, if not thousands, who do not.

It is their stories I tell. 

Thank you,


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4 thoughts on “Writing Emotions – Don’t tell, Don’t Simply Show… Allow The Reader To Experience

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