Thursday, June 09, 2022

Writing for emotional impact

One of the most potent writing skills an author can possess is the ability to cause readers to empathize and feel with their characters. When readers choose a book they plan to be transported to a different place. Depending on the genre, it may be a different time or the same time, a different earthly culture or some alien culture, or even a whole new fantastical world. Wherever and whenever the story takes place, making that world come to life is important. One of the tools used to make that happen is the characters. Readers experience the world through the eyes of characters whether humans, animals, or some unexpected lifeforms. The details learned are filtered through what the characters hear, see, smell, touch, and taste. But along with the five senses, we learn through the characters’ emotions.

free write

Character’s emotional responses

In real life, emotional responses influence our cognitive processes, including perception, attention, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem-solving. So as readers experience emotional responses of the character’s in your story, it creates a strong influence their on attention as it motivates the character to act in a particular way. Depending on the circumstances, emotion can either enhance or impair your character’s learning and long-term memory. All of this engages the reader to care, to speculate as to what will happen next.

Make the reader feel

Good writing makes the reader feel what your character is feeling. Imagine a character who faces a test. His/her emotional response as they anticipate the test reveals much. Do they fear? Are they anxious? Frustrated? Bored? Self-confident? Subject matter can elicit an emotional response peculiar to the character. It can even be anxiety regarding the sense of the unknown. Whatever the response, you want to make the reader feel it. This means you don’t just say they are frustrated. You show they are frustrated. They may lose their temper, drum their fingers, tap their foot, or sigh over and over. They might even get so frustrated they get up and leave. Inner dialog (thoughts) can show a lack of self-confidence. You might even show the character having trouble sleeping the night before the test, or turning to drugs or alcohol to help them calm down. Actions show the frustration and it engages the reader to feel the frustration.

Today’s Pumping Your Muse writing prompt – writing for emotional impact

Today’s writing prompt challenges you to show emotion based on one or more of the following photos. This is a free-write exercise. Seek to use strong verbs. Instead of saying, he was sighing loudly (week), something like, he heaved a deep sigh. I’ve chosen picture prompts of people and animals which will challenge on different levels. Have fun with this. Remember practice makes perfect!

Picture prompts 

Picture prompt 1

Picture prompt 2

Picture prompt 3

Picture prompt 4

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About Dragonborn by Donna Sundblad

Dragonborn conjures up a winning fantasy with dragons, humans, time travel, and magic. Follow the journey of the young prisonguard, Ervig Greenfields, as he seeks out dragons to remove a curse. The dragons offer him access to the Labyrinth of Times, which will purge the dark magic. But there’s a catch. Erving must take the Dragon Oath that requires allegiance--to fight alongside dragons for centuries, never to return to his own time. He and a handful of others take the selfless oath and become Dragonborn. The Dragonborn and their dragons become seeds of change, in this epic tale, of sacrifice for the greater good. Ride along with them as they slip through a tear in time to the past to change the future. 

Dragonborn is available on Kindle, paperback on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo (Christian fiction), Smashwords Apple and Google Books. When you read it, be sure to leave a review! Thanks for your support.

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Sunday, May 08, 2022

Take a risk--submit your work

Learning to show and not tell comes with practice. I’ll never forget the first time I shared some of my work for critique. Truth be told it scared me. When I hit “post” and I knew others could read it, my emotions went on a wild roller coaster ride. Excited. Yes, excited. For more than one reason. First of all, I had something to post. I had blossoming characters I cared about. The main character had layers of personal struggles and one close friend. But fear tempered my excitement. I feared people wouldn’t like my writing. Might even tell me something worse than that…like I wasn’t a writer at all. I know it sounds silly, but putting your writing out there for others to read isn’t easy. It’s often a roadblock for writers who hide their stories away unsubmitted in files on their computer never to be read by another human. This is worse than writer's block!


Waiting for feedback

Waiting for feedback gave way to worry. Again, I worried it would be torn to shreds by criticism. But then I came full circle and reminded myself that I did like the story, and I thought others would too. Not everyone, but out there, others would like the story. Around and around my emotions whisked me along a path where self-doubt and self-confidence collided.

Finally, feedback came. All the people who offered their critiques did it with kindness. They let me know what they liked. The strong elements. That just thrilled me. People said the story held promise. But along with all the positive feedback, what many of them said in one way or another was it would be even better if I told less and showed more.

I admit I didn’t like hearing that. I thought I was showing. With my defensive hackles raised, I went back to my story and reread it. I didn’t see “the telling” they were seeing. I picked up Stephen King’s On Writing, and it taught me a lot and I gained a deeper understanding of the meaning of show don't tell. The critiques did me a favor by being honest. It helped me grow as a writer.


Take a risk -- submit your work

Over time, I started submitting my work knowing that rejections come way more often than acceptances. I didn’t let it stop me. If I didn’t submit it, I knew for sure it would not be published. And when accepted! Wow! You had to scrape me off the ceiling to get me back down to earth. I have to tell you; acceptances don’t get old. I’m excited every time.


Today’s Writing Prompt

With all that said, today’s writing prompt is a different type of writing exercise. Instead of writing something new, you will share something you’ve already written with someone else in one of the following ways:

  • With a writing group (this can be virtual or in-person)
  • Take a class that allows you to share your work with peers
  • Check writer’s guidelines for a suitable market and submit something you’ve already written for publication
  • Attend a writer’s conference that provides critiques

Don’t panic. You've already done the hard part. You wrote it! You can do this. Submit your work!

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Some links in this post are affiliate links. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliate sites. Thanks so much for being part of our success.



Wednesday, April 13, 2022



Just as physical exercises stretch, strengthen, define, and build our muscles, writing exercises, when practiced regularly, stretch our imagination, strengthen our writing skills, help define our writing goals, and build our muse’s creative muscle memory. In our day-to-day routine, we physically move and while that is exercise, it is not targeted exercise. It’s the same with writing. Procrastinating when it comes to any form of exercise is commonplace, but when we actually learn to make it a habit, it pays off. With that said, how about we do a little stretching of the muse’s muscles today and practice describing a simple everyday action. 

Strong verbs

 What is a strong verb?

If you’re unsure of what a strong verb or noun look like, here’s an example:

We’ll start with the weak verb: “He entered the room.” (While this is active, it is weak.)

If you change “entered” to “walked,” walked is a stronger verb than entered, but it can be improved. Think more specific. If he wandered into room it creates a different image than if he trudged into the room. If he hurried his steps you could use verbs like charged, stormed, dashed, or raced. They paint vivid mental images. Entered or walked only create a basic image. It offers no hint of emotion or mental condition. In fact, it doesn't provide real detail of movement to follow. Vivid is the effect you’re looking for...not basic.

Do the same with your nouns. In our above example, the “room” is quite nondescript. It’s like following the character into a blank. All we really know is that he is indoors. Is it a waiting room, an office, a living room, a parlor, bedroom, music room, sewing room, a cluttered room, colorful room, a class room? As you dig for the right words, I suggest you use a thesaurus.

Pumping Your Muse Writing Prompt


 Choose one (or more) of the scenarios below:

  • Brushing teeth
  • Stopping by the drive through for donuts for the gang at work
  • Parking the car
  • Changing a flat tire
  • Realizing your hair is thinning
  • Feeding the cat

Enjoy yourself.


Monday, April 04, 2022

When I was young

Creating a character isn’t always quick. At least not if you want them to be interesting. To be interesting, they need to have history. Even when other characters don't have a clue about that history, it can play into the story adding uniqueness and even elements of surprise. Remember, a character's reputation is not necessarily who they are. In some cases, it might be the red herring that introduces an unlikely hero.

When I was young

Today we’ll create an old woman character who is talking with a young woman who reminds her of herself decades before. Here’s what you need to know about the old woman.

  • Emma married young.
  • Had four children.
  • Husband drank too much.
  • Worked hard to try and bring money in. Cleaned houses, took in people’s laundry and ironing.

Snapshot from her younger self

Emma's husband, Andrew, shows up at a house she’s cleaning. He smells of whiskey. She’s in the middle of waxing the floor. Her youngest baby is on a blanket on the floor. He demands she come home, says that she’s embarrassing him by cleaning for people. She gives him a firm, “I’ll be home when I’m done here.” He pulls a gun and starts waving it around. She fears for her daughter and pushes past her drunken spouse and rushes down the stairs. He calls her to stop, but she runs across the field toward the road. She’s short and grass of a field is waist deep. Her mind races as she tries to figure out what to do. The gun goes off. She raises her hands and screams. Another gunshot. She trips and falls. The bullet sliced through the fleshy skin between her thumb and forefinger.

Andrew's voice. “My God, I’ve killed her.”

Another gunshot.

She stands and learns she is now a young widow with four children….

Today’s creative writing prompt

This prompt is really an exercise in character development. Emma is with a young woman she can see is struggling. Your writing exercise today is to create the back story of this young woman. A quick way to learn her backstory is to do a character interview

What does Emma see/know that has her concerned? Once you know the young woman’s backstory, write a scene of dialog between the two. In it, expose elements of their stories. It doesn't have to be an info dump, make it real. But your goal is to bring out a fact that might shock or surprise most readers.


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