Evocative Writing: An Ah-ha Moment

Thanks to my amazingly talented editor, Shannon Marchese, I recently had a big-time epiphany. She shared with me a writing tip I have yet to find in any craft book. Which is saying a lot because I’ve read so many.

Lately, I’ve been working on line-edits. I did my first big round a couple weeks ago. There were several places where my line editor would highlight something and write, “This doesn’t work.”

90% of the time, I’d delete the line. The other 10%, I’d keep it and try to explain why I wanted to keep it. Usually, the reason boiled down to emotion. I felt as if deleting the line would weaken the emotional punch I was trying to pack with my words.

Here’s the thing.

I want to be an evocative writer. I want to transport my readers into the story. I want to make them feel what the characters are feeling. Which means I spend a lot of time trying to imagine what something feels like, and then trying to figure out how to translate those feelings into words.

Which is exactly what I tried to do when my hero touched my heroine’s arm for the first time. I sat in my chair and I tapped my chin and I tried to think, “What does this feel like? And how can I write this feeling in a fresh way?”

I didn’t want to write: electricity sizzled up her arm.

How many times have we read that line?

So instead, I wrote: Something warm spread through her arm, as if she’d dipped her elbow into a bowl of hot pudding.

Okay, I’m laughing as I write this, because in hindsight, I can see it’s pretty silly. But let me tell you, I really liked this line. It made me feel clever.

So when my line editor highlighted it and said, “This isn’t working”, this fell into the 10% where I pushed back. I wrote, “But that’s totally what it feels like!”

Here’s where the epiphany comes in.

Shannon gave me a call and as we were talking she said, “You’re right. That is what it feels like. But elbows in pudding are not appetizing to people. It’s warm, but it’s messy and makes a person feel like they need a paper towel to wipe off their elbow. So what else does it feel like?”

Something in my brain started to click.

She went on to explain that just because a line isn’t working doesn’t mean I’m supposed to delete it. In fact, Shannon didn’t want me to delete it. She wanted me to make the line work. To keep the feeling intact using different imagery.

The clicking became very clear and all of a sudden, I got it.

Pinpointing how something feels is important. But using the right imagery to evoke those feelings is equally important.  

Instead of deleting those lines, I needed to figure out how to evoke the same feeling in a way that works for my audience. I write romance. So when my readers read that scene, I don’t want them to feel like they need to wipe off their elbow. I want them to feel warm and giddy. Not warm and messy.

So here’s what I did:
1. For each of the lines that weren’t working, I asked: How does this feel?

2. Once I pinpointed the feeling, I asked: What imagery or words can I use to evoke this feeling?

3. I brainstormed several options.

4. I picked the one that captured the feeling in a way that enhanced the story, rather than distracted from it.

I worked through many of my problem lines in this way, and I have to tell you, my writing is better for it.

Deleting the lines would have been easy. But my writing would have lost some of it’s spark.

Keeping the lines would have been easy. But my writing might have distracted some of my readers.

Changing the lines took time and effort and hurt my brain a little. But it made my writing so much better.

Isn’t this so true for life? The easy way is very rarely the best way. And good enough so often gets in the way of just right.

Let’s Talk: When your agent, critique partner, or editor tells you something isn’t working, are you most tempted to delete it, keep it, or change it? Do you ever let good enough get in the way of the best?

Please stop over to Kristen Johnson’s blog, where she asks me some really great questions about dealing with discouragement, facing insecurity, and pressing on toward publication.removetweetmeme