Monday, March 22, 2010

Connecting With Your Reader - Part 3

Last week I gave you some tips on how to connect with the reader through specific nouns and active verbs. This week I want to zero in on the specific verbs, nouns and adjectives we choose when we write.

I have to give a special shout out to author, Mindy Starns Clark, because she pointed this problem out in a manuscript I showed her last year. The particular piece I showed her was fiction, but I’ve found this technique just as helpful with articles and other non-fiction projects.

She pointed out that my verbs, and some of my adjectives didn’t match the mood of my scene. I was attempting to write a very tense scene where my main character was quite scared and tense. Instead of amplifying and reinforcing this mood with my verbs. I used pleasant verbs. Let me give you an example.

Setup: My main character, Pet, has just received a death threat on her cell phone.

Still clasping the phone, Pet scrambled into her wooly robe and rushed down the hall. As she plopped down in an overstuffed chair in the corner she dropped the offending phone beside her and began to massage her temples. How could this happen?

Notice the comforting words I unconsciously chose?
  • Clasping the phone
  • Wooly robe
  • Plopped
  • Overstuffed chair
  • Massage
These particular words don’t convey the mood of the scene I was writing. Let me show you my rewrite:

Still clenching it in her fist, Pet scrambled into her robe and rushed down the hall barefoot, wincing at the cold hardwood floors. Without turning on any lights, she crossed into the living room and knocked her shin on the coffee table. She balanced on the edge of the couch, running her fingers down her shin to make sure there was no blood.

Notice the different word choices:
  • Clenching
  • Wincing at the cold hardwood floors
  • Knocked her shin
The action in the two examples is basically the same, but the specific words I chose now matched the mood I wanted to convey.

To make this easier, get in the habit of making word pools. A word pool is a list of words that convey the mood or sense that you wish to show.
  • Decide on the emotion your character is feeling and use specific words to convey that feeling.
  • Layer in senses to reinforce the emotion.
  • Don’t jar your reader with words that imply a different emotion
I use the technique of word pools when I write articles for print or online. For example, when I write for a men’s publication, I have a list of words that I think convey a specific masculine viewpoint. Conversely, I have a list of words that convey a female viewpoint. When I write for a men’s magazine, I’m very careful not to use any of those ‘girlie’ words.

Keep adding to your personal word pool lists and you'll find your writing will have a new depth. Here are a few topics tojumpstart your collection:
  • stress
  • joy
  • fear
  • excitement
  • devestation
  • worry
Don't forget to join the conversation!


  1. I remember you telling me about that conversation with Mindy. Great advice to pass along!

  2. I love this, Edie. And perfect timing for me!