Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions: A Handy Little Writing Tool

Cartoon faces using the wheel of emotions

“Change happens in the boiler room of our emotions. So find out how to light their fires.” — Jeff Dewar

Headlines are the beginning of the reading journey.

No matter how you cut it, your title determines how many people read your subtitle. Your subtitle determines how many people glance at your header image. Your header image reinforces the ideas of the headlines.

Then someone clicks, or more likely, moves on to another piece.

These three things combined paint a five-second picture in your readers’ mind of whether or not your work is worth their next five minutes of free time.

And damn it if our free time isn’t precious these days.

Or, more importantly, your readers’ free time.

Let’s find the best of both worlds and improve our headlines’ effectiveness by adding emotion and feeling.

If your writing is truly great, it needs a title to match.


Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

American psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik spent decades of his life studying emotions in people. He ended up being famous for his below contribution to the world — aptly called Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions.

The Wheel of Emotions by Dr. Robert Plutchik.

Wheel of Emotions. Credit: Public Domain Wikimedia Commons

He identified eight primary feelings that we all subscribe to at a basic level:

  1. Fear/terror
  2. Anger/rage
  3. Joy/ecstasy
  4. Sadness/grief
  5. Acceptance/trust
  6. Disgust/hate
  7. Anticipation
  8. Surprise

Beyond that, he identified several layers of lower degrees.

Annoyance rather than rage. Apprehension versus sheer terror.

People mostly use it today as a form of self-reflection and in becoming more mindful. I hope he wouldn’t fully mind if I want to use it for another purpose — writing headlines!

Make People Feel to Reel Them In

I believe the same concept can apply to constructing our titles for whatever kind of story we write.

You’ve spent hours, if not days, crafting your recent piece. Wouldn’t you hate it if the first sentence blocked 90% of people from reading your work?

I would. And I certainly do.

So why not spend a little extra time perfecting the gateway to our stories.

Adding emotional feeling is certainly a great way to accomplish this. I’m sure you’ve heard of power words, trigger words, and every other kind of title “hack” you could think of.

There are even dozens of headline analyzers that claim to help you find the right mix for your titles. Some editors swear by them.

I personally find them lacking, even if they do help nudge me in the right direction. That’s why I started using my own system to improve my titles and increase the click-through rate of readers.

I call it the Feel to Reel strategy.

If you want to reel in a reader and entice them to spend their precious time, make them feel something first.

Feel to Reel 3-Step Headline Writing Strategy

This process shouldn’t be too hard to follow. Once you get used to it, it will only take an extra minute or two of your article creation time.

Step 1: Write your article and edit it

It doesn’t matter how great your headline is; you need to back it up with a great body of writing after.

Write your story, edit it to perfection, and proceed to the next step.

Step 2: Choose your feeling

Of the eight identified primary feelings, which ones are most suited to the article you wrote?

Feel to Reel by JJ Pryor.

Feel to Reel, Image created by J.J. Pryor

Feel free to pick more than one emotion, but try to keep it to two at most.

Step 3: Choose your words

Now that you’ve chosen one or two feelings that best suit your story, look through the below list and try to find one word from each emotion that best fits into your headline.

Don’t forget to play around with the structure of the word, you amazing writer, you.

Joy:

Happiness, delight, pleasure, ecstatic, bliss, rapture, enjoyment, cheerful, elated, exhilaration, satisfied, gleeful, glad, joyful, cheerful, gratified, exultation, amusing, fun, merry, euphoric, excitement, jovial, lively, rejoice, triumph, zestful, exuberance, paradise, rejoice, glory, playful, enthusiasm, exaltation, heaven, light-hearted, joyous, jubilant, overjoyed, pleasant, thrilled, blessed.

Examples with over 5,000 claps:

  • “The Pleasure of Clapping Back”
  • “Can You Enjoy Work Too Much?
  • “Ten Choices I’m Glad I Made and Ten I Wish I Hadn’t”

Acceptance:

Acknowledge, affirm, approve, favor, hold, recognize, trust, agree, respect,
tolerate, absolute, authentic, authority, bold, brilliant, captivate, completely, conclusive, detailed, genuine, guaranteed, honest, legitimate, memorable, professional, promise, proven, reliable, respected, tested, safe, secure, healthy, smart, unmistakable, clear.

Examples with over 5,000 claps:

  • “How to Recognize Real Love”
  • “Do Your Job and Trust the Process”
  • “You Can Never Demand Respect

Surprise:

Shock, astonish, amazing, startle, astound, dumbfound, stagger, stun, wonder, surprising, astonishing, flabbergast, stupefy, confound, daze, jolt, bewilder, shake, floored, blow away, revelation, rock the boat, upset, ambush, awe, dazzle, disconcert, grab, discover, nab, capture, seize.

Examples with over 5,000 claps:

  • “7 Reasons Why You Will Never Do Anything Amazing With Your Life”
  • “Ever Wonder Why the Most Popular Apps Are Starting to Look the Same?”
  • “The Astonishing Difference a Smile Can Make”

Anticipation:

Expect, predict, foresee, forecast, await, foretell, forebode, hope, forestall, promise, envisage, call, envision, counter, wait, foreshadow, prophesy, accelerate, advance, goal, prevent, announce, astonishing, rapid, hurry, rush, soon, ignite, sprint, streamline, crave, inspire, teaser, launch, learn, expect, urgent, now, warning, mystery, wishful, outlook, wonder, yearn, future, plan, desire, covet, yearn, forbidden.

Examples with over 5,000 claps:

  • “5 Things to Expect When Dating a Mature Woman”
  • “Can One Word Predict the End of a Relationship?
  • “The Mystery of Color”

Anger:

Despise, aggravate, disturb, agony, annoy, dread, enrage, salty, revenge, fight, eliminate, fired, savage, assault, scream, atrocious, frantic, force, shatter, attack, frustrate, snarky, furious, severe, beat down, grumpy, hassle, hate, tantrum, terrible, break, bitter, dispute, panic, provoke, deadly, offend, conflict, toxic, touchy, insult, unnerve, malicious, cruel, curse, upset, violate, provoke, uproar, corrupt, insane, resent, wrathful, dispute, disgust, scam, steal.

Examples with over 5,000 claps:

  • “Why You Make Terrible Life Choices”
  • “Uber’s Valuation is Insane
  • “The Truth About Toxic Workers in The Workplace”

Fear:

Danger, embarrassing, miss, panic, mistake, threat, abuse, cowardly, distressed, inferior, avoid, dreaded, unexpected, suspect, shun, worry, angst, anxiety, concern, despair, dismay, doubt, horror, scared, terror, uneasy, highjacking, abusive, forbidden, freaky, scam, alarming, scary, frightening, ghostly, overwhelm, scathing, self-destructive, grim, shady, gruesome, shocking, beware, hair-raising, brutal, harmful, soul-crushing, spine-chilling, hellish, hideous, crisis, cutthroat, alert, horrifying, lethal, daunting, sinister, poisonous, unspeakable, reckless, risky, vulnerable, sabotage, wicked, fatal, unsettling, painful, ominous.

Examples with over 5,000 claps:

  • “The Danger in Fake Positivity”
  • “I Don’t Miss You Like I Used to”
  • Overwhelming Brutal Truths You Must Accept”

Hate:

Hatred, dislike, loathe, detest, abhor, despise, loathing, animosity, hostile, avert, disgust, antagonize, malice, scorn, resent, revenge, shun, awful, sickening, putrid, creepy, worthless, cringe, taboo, criminal, vile, disgraceful, vulgar, grimy, evil, slimy, foul, horrible, messy, appalling, junk, scandal, nasty, unattractive, nauseating, loathsome, obscene, wretched, obnoxious, humiliating, horrid, offensive, corrupt, shameful, rotten, dreadful, revolting.

Examples with over 5,000 claps:

  • “The Absolute Best Way to Get Revenge
  • “Are You Aware of the Nasty Habits Killing Your Dreams?
  • “‘Find Your Passion’ is Awful Advice”

Sadness:

Shameful, gloomy, agonizing, sluggish, grief, heartbreaking, cowardly, hurtful, tearful, inferior, crushing, dark, lacking, dead, tormenting, touching, deceptive, tragic, loser, loss, troubled, defeated, lowest, ugliest, miserable, misfortunate, unsuccessful, missed, awful, disappointing, disastrous, poor, dreadful, poverty, weep, failure, wrong, depressing, pathetic, upsetting, unsettling, unhappy, sorrowful, dejected, somber, woeful, despondent, melancholy, inconsolable, depressed, pity, joyless, dejected.

Examples with over 5,000 claps:

  • “Why Listening to Sad Music Makes You Feel Better”
  • Ugly Truths About Working From Home”
  • “Why Highly Intelligent People Are Miserable

Bonus Category: Curiosity

Adding a bit of intrigue is also a huge factor for triggering people to click.

Here are a few to use for that added feeling of wonder:

Learn, harness, unveil, secret, uncover, discover, join, confidential, hidden, insider, private, secluded, exclusive, distinct, unique, peculiar, strange, bizarre, unusual, weird, extraordinary, odd, unconventional, eccentric, abnormal, unexpected, remarkable, mysterious, exotic, rare, puzzling, freakish.

Examples with over 5,000 claps:

  • “20 Things Most People Learn Too Late in Life”
  • “The Secret to Apple’s New Fonts”
  • “How to Discover Your Genius”
  • “Welcome to the Club No One Wants to Join
  • “The Hidden Costs of Touchscreens”
  • “How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind — from a Former Insider
  • “When Did the American Dream Become Flying Private to Dubai?
  • “The Origins of America’s Unique and Spectacular Cruelty”
  • “The Strange Law of Love”
  • “11 Unusual Tips for How to Wake Up Early”
  • “22 Incredibly Weird but Profound Life Lessons”
  • “How to Make Someone Feel Extraordinary by Saying Very Little”
  • “Self-help for Nightowls and Odd Balls”
  • Unexpected Signs Your Life is Changing for the Better”

J.J. Pryor

Head over here for more of my written shenanigans.

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