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

24 thoughts on “Evocative Writing: An Ah-ha Moment

  1. Roni Loren

    Great tips. πŸ™‚ And it's always such a challenge for me too, to come up with fresh metaphors without sounding too off the wall.

  2. Katie Ganshert

    Thanks for all the comments and thoughts everyone! Sorry I couldn't join in the conversation earlier. We had to make a very sudden trip to Madison yesterday and just got back today.

    Anyway – glad the post is helpful.

    And Marji, Jenny, and Michelle….you'll just have to buy the book when it comes out in May to see what I replaced the warm pudding with. πŸ™‚

  3. Michelle DeRusha@Graceful

    I laughed at this post (especially your editor's comment about the reader feeling like she needs a paper towel!), but I absolutely mean that in a good way — I love your honesty. You are willing to put yourself out here, flaws and all, and that makes all of us feel better.

    Now I'm dying to know what you changed the description to…I will need to buy the book for sure!

  4. Donna

    Thanks for sharing your editor's amazing insight, Katie. I'm such a novice at editing that I need things explained just like that so that I visualize it, apply it and ultimately use it to improve my writing. Thanks again!

  5. Catherine West

    Seriously funny! Chocolate pudding – I'm glad that was removed as I would probably put on a hundred pounds reading your book… LOL!! I definitely understand the point though. It's a constant stretching of the mind, asking, this is good, how can I make it better? Okay, then I can I make it outstanding?!

  6. Lauren F. Boyd

    You're right: Good enough often does get in the way of just right – and not just with writing but with things in everyday life.

  7. Beth K. Vogt

    Excellent, excellent advice, Katie.
    When I get feedback, I try to listen first. Not react. My first reaction is to always defend what I wrote, to say something like, "But you don't understand …"
    So, so defensive.
    I try to be open to their feedback, believing that my critique partners, my editors, my agent–they all want the best for me. And that would be an excellent book.
    And, truthfully, I can't create that all on my own.
    So, do I delete it? Maybe. Do I keep it? Maybe. Do I change it: Just about every time.

  8. Jodi Janz

    Thanks for the tips Katie. I will put them to use soon. For now, I do not have an editor, agent or otherwise to make comments about my sticky, sweet and drippy lines . . . but someday!
    Happy editing!

  9. Sarah Forgrave

    That pudding line makes me smile. And so does the picture. Now I'm craving a bowl of pudding…Thanks. Thanks a lot. πŸ™‚

    This is a brilliant post, Katie! I've been going through this with my agent…trying to edit some things and it is painful at times, isn't it? But I like what you said at the end there….I remind myself that the pain will be worth it when I take my story to that next level. I do NOT want to settle for mediocrity! πŸ™‚

  10. Angela Ackerman

    Great post! I love those aha! moments. πŸ™‚

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  11. Sonia Rumzi

    Ummm! I like the idea of my arm getting warm sticking it in pudding. It is young and a child like. πŸ™‚ Thanks for the post! Good solid writing and sharing. Thanks again!

  12. Jennifer K. Hale

    Holy crap, Katie Ganshert. You rock my world. πŸ™‚ LOVE this post. Seriously, when are you going to write a how-to book of your own?

    And how is it that you now have me dying to know what the replacement is for pudding???? You wicked, wicked writer, you. πŸ™‚

  13. Marji Laine

    Great post, but the picture of pudding at the top really drew me in. Couldn't figure out what writing had to do with chocolate pudding!

    Now I know πŸ™‚

    So what took the place of the bowl of warm pudding???

  14. Bethany K. Mattingly

    Gotta love those ah-ha moments.

  15. Erica Vetsch

    It all depends on what's not working. Sometimes the writing is better for deleting the bit that isn't working, because often, for me, I'm telling something I've already shown when my editor dings me on something.

    Sometimes it just needs clarification, and sometimes it needs a total rewrite in the same way your pudding line did.

    Dontcha love those a ha moments in writing??

  16. Wendy Paine Miller

    I love this. I love that Shannon explained, pushed you and motivated you to find the best. I love that you kept at it, thinking and stretching your brain.

    I love that you felt free to question, but worked toward a new phrase anyway so the reader would feel it.

    Excellent post and excellent point for writers to grasp!
    ~ Wendy

  17. Olivia Newport

    I love the post's title. "Evocative" is the perfect work to remind writers what they're trying to do.

  18. Jay

    For me the best similes that work well, do so on more than the surface level, which is why I can see pudding-elbow not being the best choice.

  19. Writer Pat Newcombe

    I generally do try to see their point of view but if I ultimately don't agree – well, it's my work. But I do agree that you can work around lots of stuff by trying to get the point across in a different way.

  20. Heather Sunseri

    This post really make me laugh. Because I so see how one would feel the need to grab a paper towell when reading that line. However, I thought the imagery of warm pudding was funny.

  21. Laura Pauling

    I think it's worth the effort to find a way to make it work. But your example made me laugh b/c I think we've all made mistakes like that.

  22. Jessica R. Patch

    What a great post, Katie! I sat here a minute trying to think what would that feel like, dipping my elbow in warm pudding? lol

    My agent asked me to make some changes. I wanted to keep the dialogue and a particular scene,so I had to really think hard how to pull it off from someone else's point of view! My brain hurt, but it paid off in the end. πŸ™‚

    Love these posts! SOOOO beneficial and fun.

  23. Paul Anthony Shortt

    I've been lucky in that I've agreed with petty much everything my editor has suggested so far. I cringe a bit at some of the mistakes I make, but I'm so thankful for my editor.

    The one area we can't agree on yet is the title…

  24. Jessica Nelson

    Okay, I shall admit that yes, I have taken the easy way out at times…lol
    Warm pudding line is too funny though! I'm glad you changed it. πŸ™‚ My line edits are supposed to come next week and I'm super nervous. Blech! But excited…


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