The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart. – Helen Keller

I’m very fortunate to live in downtown Portland where I can walk to Powell’s City of Books on a whim and surround myself with floor-to-ceiling shelves of the written word – room after room, level after level. The smells, the sights, the subdued verve in those walls – simply being around all those books – feeds me in ways that are hard to explain.

During my most recent visit, I noted – once again – a particular feeling that comes over me when I’m there. It was a hard one to locate… and I’m still not sure I’ve been able to pinpoint it, but to help, I went back to John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, and the closest I can define this feeling is a conflation between his words vellichor and anemoia.

vellichor | n. the strange wistfulness of used bookstores,
which are somehow infused with the passage of time—
filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read…

and because Powell’s also sells new books…
and because books alter time, move us around in time…

anemoia | n. nostalgia for a time you’ve never known

It’s a kind of FOMO, but more erudite. More sublime.

This experience got me to thinking about emotion in writing and how essential it is to suturing readers into our stories, getting them to invest enough to keep turning the page. Engaging readers through emotion is the cornerstone of story. Simply telling readers what our characters feel is not enough. The character and emotional energy of a story can fall flat with mere telling: Maria was sad.

Readers want to be taken on the ride. They want to experience the emotional shifts within scenes and they want to witness the emotional transformations characters undergo throughout the story arc. Sometimes the most of subtle emotions are the most pivotal to a character’s evolution and describing them can be a challenge.

How do you know when you’re reading a well-done emotional description? Can you think of a good example? Please let me know in the comments below!