Wordpainting for emotional effect!

Last week we took a look at Active Description and 4 Tips on how to wordpaint for emotional effect. 

This week, let’s take a look at incorporating those 4 Tips and Wordsmithing your description.

Once you have all the elements of FOCUS, or your metaphorical word pool, you want to start putting it together.

Obviously, when you are dealing with ACTIVE description, you’ll weave the elements in through the scene as the character moves through it.  It can be a bit more difficult with Static description to keep the story moving. I suggest 2-5 sentences of description if you have to stop the story to snapshot something.  

Now, here’s the trick: You’re creating a feeling with your description – and emotional impact or connection to your reader, so pick wisely every word. Here’s a trick I use: Think of a movie – start wide and then pull in closer, adding texture as you go.

In this scene, I wanted to give a sense of freedom, but also chaos, because Marcos and his brother Dino are late in returning home.

Apparently, the wind cared nothing for cooperation, either, dying to a trickle, leaving the skiff to barely list upon the smooth Ionian Sea. Perhaps it hadn’t helped that the elusive yet delicious barbouni had played the sea nymph, unwilling to be captured in the heat of such a glorious day. The red-mulleted delicacy flopped, angry and zealous, in the live-well of the boat’s stern, the mustard-yellow nets in a tumble at the bow.

Look at the words I use to create the feeling of freedom as well as chaos: Elusive, delicious, glorious, played the sea nymph, flopped, angry, zealous, the nets in a tumble.

In this scene: I wanted to give a sense of recklessness, the party feel of the ‘20s, as well as danger.  Let’s see how I wordpaint to give that feel.

Uncle Jimmy parked his car in a lonely alleyway between two brownstones. They got out and Markos followed him down a stairwell blocked by garbage cans. Uncle Jimmy stopped at a blackened door, knocked.

A panel in the door slid out, and eyes peered through.

“Hornsby,” Jimmy said, quietly.

The panel closed. Silence. Jimmy had removed his driving gloves and now slapped them in his hand.

A lock slid back with a click and the massive door opened.

Music spilled out as Uncle Jimmy hooked Markos’s arm and pulled him inside the basement room. “Welcome to America, boy.”

Green draperies covered the walls, tiny gaslights flickered at each round table inhabited by women with rouged lips, painted eyes, low-cut frameless dresses, some long, others fringed at the knee. They wore the brimless hats and high-heeled shoes he’d seen in storefronts. A blonde by the door, with hair cut to her chin, settled her eyes on him, a cigarette in a long black holder balanced between her fingers. She blew out a smoke ring as he passed by, her eyes trailing him.

Men in crisp suits and wide ties drank glasses of amber liquid.

Uncle Jimmy practically pushed him to the long bar.

“What is this place?


Tony’s—gin room? He’d heard the term, hadn’t really known…

I wanted to give the feeling of danger so I use descriptions like: gaslights flickered, rouged lips, painted eyes, low cut dresses, fringed, brimless, a smoke ring, eyes trailing him….

Now I’m going to stop and “snapshot” someone in the scene with a piece of Static Description.  Notice the words I use to show danger and temptation.

 At a stage at the far end of the room, a blonde sat on a stool, her low-cut red dress a siren in the dark club, crooning out a song with a husky tone that roused to life something inside him. His eyes fixed on her, the feeling growing at the way her gaze latched on him, the smile that crept up her blood-red lips. She turned and began to sing to him.

His entire body glued in place.

Behind her, a musician with man-sized bouzouki plunked out low tones, another played a shiny flute—stepping forward to solo as the woman finished, her final notes hanging in the blue haze of smoke, caressing the crowd.


[Low cut dress, crooning, husky tone, roused to life, latched, crept, blood red lips.]


The key to wordsmithing description for emotional effect is to carefully choose every single word for the nuance, feeling and emotional response, and embed them in your storyworld and description in order to add a mood or attitude to the scene.  And don’t forget perspective – remember, it all starts in the eye of the beholder.


Wordsmithing and Advanced Storyworld is the most powerful way to bring your story to life and build in the emotional connection for your reader.


Have a great writing week!

Go! Write something Brilliant!

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PS:  if you’re interested in taking your writing to a whole new emotional level, consider attending our 2016 Deep Thinker’s Retreat for advanced writers.  Check it out here!   





Extreme Wordsmithing Makeover:  4 Tips to writing ACTIVE description

Continuing our Extreme Wordsmithing Makeover series, we spent much of August diving into STATIC description and I taught you a technique called FOCUS, an acronym that reminded us to first put the description through the eyes of the POV character. Then, it gave an overview of the parts of description:  Fact, Observations, Close Up and Symbolism, all gathered together in a snapshot description, something we use to make an impression on the reader.

Today, we’re going to use the same acronym, but we’ll apply it as we move our character throughout the scene, experiencing the storyworld as we interact with the actions of the scene.

What is ACTIVE Description?

Active Description is simply putting the description through the eyes of a character then describing the scene (using all the FOCUS elements and 5 senses) as they move through it. While static description can be used powerfully to snapshot a person, place or thing, active description keeps the story moving and is integrated into the scene. (It’s important to use both in a story!)  Just like static description, active description can add a powerful emotional undercurrent to the scene.

Consider this passage from Sons of Thunder: 

Markos speared the water. The cool lick of it scooped his breath, slicked from his body the heat of the day.

He surfaced fast, gulped air, and dove back to the ocean floor, kicking toward the cave. A deep thrumming rumbled his bones even as he scrabbled over the slippery rock outside the entrance. The jaws raked his skin as he levered himself through a crevice just big enough for a boy of seventeen.


Although it’s an active description, it is meant to create a sense of tension as he pushes himself into the cave.  I could have written it more simply: Fear coiled inside him as he pushed himself into the cave.  But I wanted to description to convey the emotion, and not name it directly.

Here’s another passage from the same book:

She sat at the dressing table. He knew he should turn away, but he couldn’t quite find it in him. Instead, he watched as she curled her hair tight to her face with her fingers, held it there for a moment. She rouged her cheeks, her earlobes. Lined dark kohl on her green eyes. Used her pinky to apply her blood-red lipstick.

Her gaze flickered over to him. “You like watching me get ready?”

He turned away, burying his face in his hands. Her laughter trickled high. “Oh, Markos, you’re such fun!”

His chest burned. “I’ll wait for you out in the hall.” Finding his feet, he pushed away the chair, reaching for the door. But she had crossed the room and now planted her hand over his. He turned even as she slid close, her hand on his chest. He hadn’t noticed how small she was, really, without her costumes, or wrapped in her vamp persona. Now, she seemed almost petite, even…needy. Especially since the tease had left her eyes. Her fragrance wound around him, tugging at him.


The hero is watching a girl getting dressed, and I use the description to heighten the temptation and lure for him.  The subtleties of words like blood-red, his chest burning, her fragrance winding around him, tugging-all words that suggest temptation, or being lured into trouble.

Great wordsmithing is about using every word to its full effect, and creating paragraphs that do double duty—inform as well as add feeling to the scene.  In this way, you’re adding and emotional sense to the story without telling the reader how to feel.


How do you word paint for emotional effect?

Tip #1: Create a Metaphorical word pool. As you write, your words will tend toward specific verbs and nouns.  Taking a step away from these, you’ll find that they might fall in categories of description.

For example, describing the sky, you might say that the clouds swirled against a canvass of blue.  Okay, “swirled” and “canvass” both evoke a sense of “painting.”  You now have your metaphorical category.  Look for other “painting words” as you continue the description – brush, paint, mix, blend, stir.  You can also go further, and take from the mind of the painter, or even use well known painters to bring in emotional metaphor.

Eg:  lavender splotched the canvass of blue, as if the painter, frustrated, took his brush and swept across with angry, thick strokes.


Tips #2: Pick Verbs that convey the FEELING of what you are describing.  Marcos feels like he’s being gulped, or eaten, going into the jaws of the cave, and I wanted to convey a sense of panic as he goes inside.  So I used words of violence:  Speared, rumbled, scrabbled, raked.

If I were describing a giant crater in the earth, one made by a meteor, I might use words like jagged, and ripped, and bruised.

But if I were describing a hole that would become my long desired swimming pool, I’d go with, scooped, or even carved from the earth.  By the way, sometimes, if I’m having trouble finding my metaphorical pool, I just write the description, and see what verbs I naturally use.  From there, I can find the metaphorical pool.  (I.e., in this one, I think if ice cream with the verbs I used for the pool description).


Tip #3: Give your POV character a physical response to the description.  Ie, Marcos is hot, so the water is cool, yet dangerous. He has mixed emotions about being there – so I show that in the verbs I use.

Note the subtle tension in these sentences:  The cool lick (a positive feeling) of it scooped his breath (negative), slicked from his body the heat of the day. (positive)  He surfaced fast, gulped air, and dove back to the ocean floor… (negative).


Tip #4: You could also use a metaphor that captures the physical response, something that would give a similar physical response.  For example, in my pool example, I could say: Staring at the dark expanse, edged with rich, chocolate curls of earth, I tasted the cool water on my lips, sweet and sloppy, drenching me. A shiver of delight shimmed right down to my belly and I could hardly wait to dive in.

Obviously, I’m using the feeling of eating ice cream, and equating it with my dreams of diving into my pool.


Note:  Don’t use TOO many metaphors – one strong one will do.  But find the right one, and use it well.

Next week we’ll put it all together, and wordsmith our descriptions for emotional effect!


Go! Write something brilliant!

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A Quick and Easy Tool for Writing Description (part 1)

Extreme Wordsmithing Makeover:  A Quick and Easy Tool for Writing Description (part 1)


This month we’ve been talking about Weak Writing Fixes and diving into description.  Last week I introduced the acronym FOCUS, a tool I use to help me write description.


First step in writing great description is to put it through the POV of your character.  It’s all about how they feel about being there.  We layer in their attitude while they describe the scene.


Once you add in perspective, then you need to dig deep into the description. I use the word FOCUS to help me break it down.


F= FACTS: You want to take a good look at your noun and ask:

What is it?  What is it NOT? 


As we start writing description, we need a baseline of what we’re looking at before we can dive into description.  One of my favorite ways to do this is to compare what the POV character is seeing against what they expect, or want to see, or what it could be.


This is from Sons of Thunder, one my favorite comparison scenes.


Markos had become a foreigner in his own skin. As if he’d left himself back on the dock or perhaps sitting in his square, white-washed window, the shutters wide, watching the sun’s blush on the waves creeping over the fishing boats and charming him to sea.

But not this sea. This sea he didn’t know, with its endless caldron of jagged valleys, edged with spittle, and at night, so black, the wind over it an endless moan. At night, the sky appeared so immense, yet miraculously intimate, it seemed he could pull the stars from their mooring. And, he’d never been so cold. A kind of chill that he couldn’t flee pressed into his bones, turning him brittle. The wind from this black, sometimes green sea—never his Ionian blue—moaned in his ears, burned his throat.



The key to seeing the object is to tell us the facts of it.  We need to know what it is.  But we also need to know only the important facts for the scene.  We don’t need to know everything, just the essentials of the elements.


But we need more than the Facts.  We also need to understand this with our senses.  This is where we employ those 5 senses:  I call them Observations:   O = Observations. 


The 5 Senses–Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste, Sound—are key to bringing the storyworld to life. 


Consider this passage:


(From Baroness) Rosie: Paris 1923


Rosie and Dash walked home along the Seine, Notre Dame Cathedral shining against the night, the stars above the bright lights of a grand performance.

Accordion and banjo music floated out from the cafés as they walked up the Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, the music mixing with the murmuring of voices of those dining on outdoor terraces. (Sound)  The moon came out to join them and hung low, peeking between the greening linden trees, the redolence of spring twining toward the blackened river. (Smell)


They laughed, and Rosie felt Dash slip his hand into hers. Warm and strong, he wove his fingers through hers and tucked her close to him.  (Touch)



Here’s another from the same book. The heroine is hoping to hitch a ride with a barnstormer.



Twilight skimmed the shiny wings and their sleek red bodies as she finally broke free of the departing spectators and lost herself among the airplanes, parked in a neat row before a long white tent. Inside the tent, lamplight flickered, (Sight) voices of the pilots tumbling out onto the grassy field. (Sound) Parked alongside the tent was the red roadster she’d seen barrel through town, and a truck with The Flying Stars painted on the side, a trailer attached to the back. A man in a grey jumpsuit, stained with grease sat on a running board smoking a cigarette (Taste & Smell), the ash a red eye in the encroaching darkness. A mongrel with a mangled ear lay at his feet.

She wandered between two planes, feathering her hand over the painted canvass of the wing (Touch). Bracing herself on a wheel strut, she pulled herself up to look into the cockpit.



Once we build the Facts and the Observations (Senses) we need to cement the sense the description into the reader’s head, as well as show what is important about the description to the POV character. Too many details overwhelm the reader – they don’t know where to look.  Think about a camera.  When a photographer zeros in on a subject, it finds the most unique element and frames that in the shot.  It’s the details that betray us.


So, going back to the acronym, we use the C.U for the Close Up. (F.O.C.U)


From The Help

I watch as she cuts out biscuits with a shot glass that’s never shot a thing but short dough. Behind me, the kitchen windows are propped open with Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogues. Pictures of two dollar hand mixers and mail-order toys flutter in a breeze, swollen and puckered from a decade of rain.



Sons of Thunder

More of a dangerous, even seductive scene.


Marcos just tried not to glance in the mirror, where the bright bulbs illuminated her array of make-up pots, jewelry, and discarded headdresses.  Or the hosiery that hung over the top of the dressing screen. 



Sons of Thunder


He’d filled out – well, they both had, probably, but with Markos nearly thirty, he reminded him of their father, wide shouldered, seaweed tough hands.  A square jaw, his face grizzled with whiskers, which parted at an open wound on his cheekbone.


(we focus on the cut)



Pick a Close Up that epitomizes the feeling you want to leave with the reader.  The cut shows the violence of war, and how tough the hero is.  He’s a survivor.


In the previous paragraph, we focused on the hosiery, hanging down like legs.


Close Ups bring the scene to life, add a sense of reality as well as texture to the story. We see it, and the close up embeds a feeling into our minds.


Next week we’ll talk about the final and most powerful element of FOCUS: Symbolism, and how to use it to connect your reader emotionally to the description (and thus use description as another tool for emotional layering in your scene!)


BUT, if you’d like an in-depth class on description, check out our Storyworld video series!


Go! Write something Brilliant!




PS—we’re opening our highly acclaimed Online Storycrafter’s Program for new students in early September.  If you’re interested in being notified when the course opens, click HERE.





Extreme Book Makeover: Wordsmithing your Descriptions

How do you engage your reader into a story, capture their imagination from the first page, and immerse them in a fictional world? It’s more than setting, fashion and time period. Description can only bring you so far—you have to think deeper, about wrapping your character in what is called Storyworld.


This summer we’ve been diving deep into weak writing fixes, focusing on description.  We started with Storyworld, learning how to build it into an emotional/sensory experience.  (http://learnhowtowriteanovel.com/blog/category/search-by-series/extreme-book-makeover/weak-writing-fixes/)


Let’s take it deep and look at how to use powerful description as we build storyworld.


Let’s start with an understanding of Description and why we use it in a story.  Good description is: Sensory, specific, active, figurative and contains a sense of music or rhythm that acts as the musical score of the story.


Description brings us into the world and helps us understand the story. More than that, it helps us understand the story through the eyes of the POV character.  The key to strong description isn’t the words…it’s the words plus the perspective.


Creating StoryWorld takes the description deeper and is about wrapping your reader up in the world and helping them feel the world.  More than that Storyworld, done right, can help establish the emotion of the scene, enhance it and help a reader feel the character’s emotion.


So, what is storyworld? 

It’s the sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and rich, focused visual details that convey the impressions, opinions and overall state of emotion of the pov character, and in turn, the reader. 


Powerful Storyworld creation is a combination of finding the right storyworld to fit your scene, then putting it through the eyes of your character and setting up a framework of emotion for your reader. This is achieved in the very specific descriptions you use.


Here’s an example from Baroness.


The car splashed water onto the sidewalk, dribbling mud onto her dress, her stockings. (touch and sound)  She probably looked like a street waif, bedraggled, dirty, starving. Her hair hung in strings around her face and she hadn’t stopped to retrieve her coat as she escaped The Valeria. She had however, fled with the pearls, an oversight Cesar wouldn’t forget either.

The car turned at the corner, and she stepped out of the alleyway and quick walked down the street. The sun had begun to turn the day dismal and gray, the sky overcast with the pallor of death. (I use a metaphor here, as well a specific sight) Rain spit upon her skin, and a cruel wind licked through her soggy, ruined dress. (Touch) The rain had stirred the dank smells of dirt and rot from the alleyways, (Smell) and she could still taste the tinny rinse of blood in her mouth from where Cesar slapped her. (Taste)



I’m trying to create a sense of desperation, so I use words like:  Dribbling, dismal, gray, pallor of death, spit, cruel, licked through her, soggy, ruined, dank smells, rot, tinny rinse of blood.



There are two different kinds of description: Static and Active.  Static description is when you want to stop for a moment and look at something, take a snapshot, so to speak, so that the reader will notice it.


Here’s a passage from Duchess:


“Darling, you look smashing.” Dash emerged from his bedroom into their shared sitting quarters in the Taft hotel, holding a highball of something amber, the glass catching the glamour of the room. Gold brocade sofas, dark rose velvet chairs, a white marble fireplace, an enormous bouquet of yellow and white roses in the center of the dining table, under the dripping chandelier of teardrop crystals. New York City certainly knew how to welcome a prodigal in style. Except, well, her studio bio, the one printed in Photoplay hailed her from a small farm in Kansas.

Some days, she longed for it to be true.


Active Description has the character moving through the scene as it is described.


This is from Baroness:


Rosie: Paris 1923


Rosie and Dash walked home along the Seine, Notre Dame Cathedral shining against the night, the stars above the bright lights of a grand performance.

Accordion and banjo music floated out from the cafés as they walked up the Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, the music mixing with the murmuring of voices of those dining on outdoor terraces. (Sound)  The moon came out to join them and hung low, peeking between the greening linden trees, the redolence of spring twining toward the blackened river. (Smell)


They laughed, and Rosie felt Dash slip his hand into hers. Warm and strong, he wove his fingers through hers and tucked her close to him.  (Touch)



See how the description is woven through the scene?  This type of description is used when you don’t need to take a “snapshot” but rather want to simply weave the description for emotional effect through the scene.


Next week, we’ll be diving into Static description and how to build that powerful “snapshot.” BUT, if you’d like an in-depth class on description, check out our Storyworld video series!


Have a great writing week!

Go! Write Something Brilliant!


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