Genres Promise Certain Emotions: Are you Keeping Your Promise?


When readers pick up a genre novel, they are expecting a certain emotion. For romance, they expect an emotional range of love, heartache and connection with someone. Mysteries evoke curiosity, a puzzle to be solved and emotional satisfaction when you figure it out before the detective. Horror writers provide a scare, a thrill, and a repulsion for something.

When you write a story, in other words, you are promising the reader an emotional ride of a certain kind.

Before you start a story, think about the emotional promises of what you are planning. Does it fit into a genre or could it? If so, take advantage of the genre conventions to enhance your story.

Creating a Mood

When you start the actual writing, it’s easy to enhance that emotion by creating a certain mood. To do that, think hard about the setting and what your character would experience in that setting. Think about the sights, sounds, textures, temperature, tastes, and smells.

For example, if you wanted to describe a scary wedding, here are some possible sensory details: sharp cake knife, stiletto heels, startle of broken champagne glass, the bang of the champagne cork popping out, sickly sweet perfume, or cloudy and overcast day. As you write the story, you’re looking for words that have a scary connotation. Poets Miller Williams and John Ciardi say that a novel is a context for making choices; and within those choices, the important thing is connotations speaking to connotations.

I love that way of saying it: connotations speaking to connotations.

This isn’t to say that you will only have one emotion in a story. instead, you’ll work for a range of emotions throughout the story. Even at a funeral, it’s boring is everyone is sad, sad, and furthermore, they are sad. Instead, characters should joke about the deceased, tell a touching story, fight with relatives, and so so. Never hit just one emotional note, but a range of emotions that keep the reader interested.

Yet, overall, your story should give the reader one strong overall emotion. Why? Because that’s what you promised your reader.

How would you describe this photograph to create a mood of mystery? What would you smell, taste, see, hear, and feel in this place?

How would you describe this photograph to create a mood of mystery? What would you smell, taste, see, hear, and feel in this place?

  • Brian Hoffman
    May 9, 2014

    I write wonderful first drafts and revising them only makes them even more wonderful. Uh, uh. Excuse me. I must have been dreaming.

  • Darcy Pattison
    May 9, 2014

    LOL. I bet yours are the best first drafts ever!