The power of an emotional appeal

Great writers understand the power of emotion

Last week, a Year 11 student and I looked at the opening paragraphs of some of the greatest or most popular novels ever written and what struck us was the subtle, deep emotional pull from the first paragraph. Typically, a child was shown to be mistreated, unheard or out of place from the first pages.

Great writers understand that to pull a reader into certain types of stories, they must have an honourable character who needs to be shielded from the ravages of life. They also understand their relationship with the audience – they don’t tell the audience everything – they allow the audience to infer and draw the pieces of the unfolding puzzle together.

Use setting, characterisation and emotional appeals to set up the emotional arc of your story

So simple? Not really.

Charles Dickens knows how. He really is a master and engaging an audience through emotional appeals…so how does he do it?

From: Great Expectations

From paragraph two in chapter one -

I give Pirrip as my father's family name, on the authority of his tombstone...

a reader has to infer - father is dead (aww)...

my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones.

Aww – again the reader has to infer – his mother is dead too and voice of Pip is underplayed creating ethos, therefore making Pip appear heroic.

And then…

this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness...

oh dear – he’s on a marsh, near the graveyard, near his departed mother, father and five siblings (Aww) and then


"Hold your noise!" cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. "Keep still, you little devil, or I'll cut your throat!"

The fearful man…immediate, specific conflict is introduced; someone who could harm the poor, noble Pip.

What does the reader think? Poor Pip! Is Pip going to survive?


No – that’s why writing is hard – but our books can help…Creative Writing: Digital edition

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