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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Wordpainting for Emotional Effect

by Susan May Warren

Two weeks ago we took a look at 4 Tips to writing ACTIVE description.

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!


Susan May Warren is owner of Novel Rocket and the founder of Novel.Academy. A Christy and RITA award-winning author of over fifty novels with Tyndale, BarbourSteeple HillSummerside Press and Revell publishers, she's an eight-time Christy award finalist, a three-time RITA Finalist, and a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award and the ACFW Carol. A popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation, she's also the author of the popular writing method, The Story Equation. A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: Contact her at:


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