aj wagonerThis guest post is by AJ Wagoner. AJ writes poetry and wants to bring change to the world in rhythm and rhyme. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter (@AJWagoner).

In short stories and novels, fantasy in particular, readers want to be present or transported to the scenes of the story. One of the best ways to do such a feat is to ‘Evoke the Emotions and Employ the Senses.'

Poetry should be no different.

evoke emotion

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. ~Robert Frost

Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words. ~Paul Engle

Poetry is what we turn to in the most emotional moments of our life – when a beloved friend dies, when a baby is born or when we fall in love.” ~Erica Jong

When I was in college, I took a course on Introduction to Poetry. The professor wrecked my poetry world. I didn't even see the curveballs until my poems were marked with the red ink of doom.

And yet, I still use everything I learned in those moments today in my poetry.

What I learned about poetry

I learned how to ‘Evoke the Emotions' by the ‘Employment of the Senses'. I will share some of the simple versions with you:

Write concrete thoughts and images, not abstract ones. We want to see, hear, smell, taste and feel what you write.

  • Use the active voice, not the passive voice. We want the subject to do the action, which draws us into the emotions. For the differences between the two, here.
  • Utilize action verbs, not linking verbs. We want to feel the pop of the action, the sizzle to the bacon.
  • Avoid gerunds (the -ing words). Gerunds can hinder the meter and flow of a poem. One ends up with ideas of ‘running noses' across a finish line or ‘stocking cans' magically doing all the work for the grocery clerk.
  • Avoid adverbs (those pesky -ly words). Adverbs can hinder and impede the flow of a poem. They also do not give accurate depictions to the emotions we try to evoke.
  • Use metaphors over similes. The simile with the use of ‘like' or ‘as' can also slow up and impede the evocation of the emotions. Metaphors however can give a better picture of the two objects you compare.

Finally, break the rules, whatever rules you come across, even the ones I shared. I write a lot about ‘abstract' ideas, Sometimes I will replace those words with images to represent them, but mostly, I go with those abstract words and let the rest of the poem speak to the images.

The best advice I ever got in life, whether for writing poetry or life in general, was to not let ‘rules' and ‘set parameters' define how you write. In the words of Elizabeth Swann from Pirates of the Caribbean (with a little improv), “You're writers. Hang the code, hang the rules. They're more like guidelines anyway.”

Do you try to evoke emotions in your writing? How do you accomplish it?


Your turn, friends, to evoke the emotions and senses. Write something that makes us see, hear, taste, smell, and feel.

Write for fifteen minutes. When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to comment on a few practices by other writers.

Happy writing!

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.

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