Using Emotion in Storytelling

Editorial

Have you ever read an article that was timely, factual, and well written, but yet somehow still felt flat and uninteresting? This is likely because the writer neglected to factor in the importance of emotion, or “pathos,” to any successful piece. Without emotion, readers have to work harder to become invested in and connect to a story. It’s the difference between a dry list of the potential benefits of a surgery and a grateful patient account of the better quality of life they experience post-surgery.

Using emotion in your publication will make it more relevant to your readers and lead to strong ROI. A 2009 study of viral online content by the University of Pennsylvania determined that people are more like to share content when an emotional response is invoked. A piece that results in strong feelings for the reader is more likely to be shared, reread, and remembered.

But how do you infuse nonfiction articles with pathos? There are several approaches you can take:

Work With a Narrative

Remember that surgical patient? Their account transforms what might otherwise have been a technical story into one flush with human feeling. First person narratives make stories less hypothetical to the layperson and give them focus and structure. Necessary facts can be dispersed within more emotionally driven information, leading to a well-balanced and compelling final piece.

Consider Linguistics

The power of language is not to be underestimated; carefully choosing your words can lead to a more emotive story. Because of the connotations words carry in our collective consciousness, it’s important to use powerful language to help drive your story home. Adding an adjective at the right point in a sentence can completely change the reader’s reaction.

Figure Out Your Angle

Most every story has an underlying emotion; you just need to identify it! What do you want the reader to feel after reading the article? Knowing your goal with the piece can help with structure and language. For instance, if you want to enrage your readers, you might open the story with a dismaying statistic. If you want to leave them feeling good, maybe you need to inject more humor and playfulness into your writing.

Have you ever read an article that was timely, factual, and well-written, but somehow still felt flat and uninteresting? The writer likely neglected to factor in the importance of emotion, or pathos, to any successful piece. An article that lacks emotion forces readers to work harder to become invested in and connected to the story. It’s the difference between dryly listing the potential benefits of a particular surgery, versus providing a grateful patient’s account of the better quality of life she has experienced post surgery.

Using emotion in your publication will make it more relevant to your readers and lead to strong ROI. A 2009 study of viral online content by the University of Pennsylvania determined that people are more likely to share content when they have an emotional response to it. A piece that invokes strong feelings for the reader is more likely to be shared, reread, and remembered.

But how do you infuse nonfiction articles with pathos? You can take several approaches:

Work With a Narrative

Remember that surgical patient? Her account transforms what might otherwise have been a technical story into one flush with human feeling. First-person narratives make stories less hypothetical to the layperson and offer focus and structure. Necessary facts can be conveyed within emotionally driven information, leading to a well-balanced and compelling final piece.

Consider Linguistics

Never underestimate the power of language: Carefully choosing your words can lead to a more emotive story. Words carry connotations in our collective consciousness, so select powerful language to help drive your story home. Adding an adjective or particular verb at the right point in a sentence can completely change the reader’s reaction.

Figure Out Your Angle

Decide what underlying emotion you want your story to convey. How do you want the reader to feel after finishing the article? Knowing your goal with the piece can help you choose structure and language. For instance, if you want to enrage your readers, you might open the story with a dismaying statistic. If you want to leave them feeling good, inject more humor and playfulness into your writing.

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