This week in writing class, we were looking at “Throw-Away Words” like that, very, just, seems, and feels. For the first 3 in the list, the easy solution to make writing stronger is to simply remove those words. (To get the skinny on why and when, check out the full post and download HERE.)
But for seems and feels, we actually have to challenge ourselves to find ways to convey emotion… without resorting to telling the reader exactly how our character seems or feels. If you’ve ever heard a writing teacher say, “Show, don’t tell,” this is what they’re talking about.
Consider these two sentences:
- Stefanie seemed disappointed in her musical performance.
- Stefanie slunk off stage.
Which one grabs you more?
The second sentence “shows” rather than “tells” Stefanie’s disappointment. And miracle of miracles, it even does it in a shorter span of words, though that’s not always going to be the case.
When we use powerful verbs to illustrate our characters’ actions, it helps the reader empathize, and often identify with the hero more intimately.
As I created those two sentences about Stefanie, it reminded me of a time when I was disappointed by the outcome of my own musical endeavors. But the first sentence didn’t punch me in the gut the way the second one did. Musicians are taught to hold their heads high, smile, and bow graciously… no matter how bad or good the perceived performance. So if Stefanie couldn’t even manage a half-hearted smile, then it must have truly sucked donkey balls.
But how can you know what body language and behaviors correspond to the rainbow of emotions you’ll put your characters through?
This book comes to the rescue by highlighting 75 emotions and listing the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each. You can select from characteristics that display a range of intensity, perfect to match any emotional moment!
It’s available in ebook, though I prefer to keep the print copy next to me as I troll for “seems” and “feels” in my manuscript.
Already love this book? Check out Ackerman & Puglisi’s companion guide: Emotion Amplifiers, which covers states like exhaustion, boredom, illness, pain, and extreme hunger, which can push characters to the limit, compromise their decision-making abilities and decrease the likelihood of them reaching their goals. Best of all IT’S FREE.
Time to tighten the screws on your characters and amp up the tension in your stories!