Ramble: Eliciting Emotion Without Details

Recently I posted 3 new chapters to a fanfiction I’ve been writing for a rather long time now (no, I’m not going to link it. It’s embarrassing. If you happen to find it though… well… anyway). These chapters dealt with some very harsh, dark themes such as rape, torture, mental fuckery – among others. One of my favorite readers, who leaves reviews nearly every update, mentioned this in one of her latest comments:

“You weren’t kidding about there being hard things in this chapter, but you did a good job of having us feel the horror without needing to go into gruesome detail.”

And it got me thinking about all of the stories I’ve read over the years that I can remember. Both in regular and in fanfiction And I’ve come to realize that many of the stories I have enjoyed the most leave a great many details up to the reader’s imagination. While yes the basic description of characters and scenes are given, or building up to an event and using language to direct the reader to experience a certain emotion, stories that suddenly jumpcut immediately after making it clear what is about to happen, but not having you read the gruesome detail (especially in horror and suspense situations) – those to me are the best. Not only does it allow every reader to have their own personal experience with the work, but there is nothing more frightening than the worst possible things we can imagine. Perhaps the scene was leading us to believe that a favorite character was about to be tortured to death, but then didn’t let us see/read the torture taking place. When we read the segment that the character appears in afterwards, perhaps having escaped their jailers, how they are described and appear will guide us to imagine the things that may have happened to them. Perhaps the reader is more afraid of water torture – they may imagine that’s taken place to the hero. Or maybe starvation and beating? They’ll imagine that THAT is what may have happened to them.

But later still in the story, the hero may confide in their best friend or lover what truly took place in the jail/dungeon/cavern, etc. And how relieved the reader is that what they feared most wasn’t the thing that has happened… Or, for those who imagined correctly, the overwhelming empathy the reader feels for the hero. This method, which I honestly unintentionally used in my piddling little fanfiction, makes the reader more emotionally invested in the story, and in a way makes them feel like they are part of it. And when a reader becomes so invested in the story, they will keep reading.

That’s my take on it, for what it’s worth anyway.

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