Making the Pages Cry

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Happy Friday! We have a real treat. Becca Puglisi is here to give tips to take your writing to a whole new level. All writers struggle, especially when trying to convey emotion. It’s easy to beat the same words until they bleed and WE cry. This is one of the reasons that The Emotion Thesaurus is a must-have reference for writers. Becca and Angela took the time to put together one of the most innovative and valuable writing tools I’ve ever seen. We are thrilled to have Becca here today!

Take it away, Becca!


I considered writing today about that one thing you need to write a truly great story that the reader can’t put down. But we all know that there isn’t just one thing. Voice? Plot? Characterization? Motivation? Sure. All of the above. But since I’ve seen roughly a gajillion blog posts that cover these topics, I’d rather write about another important element that doesn’t get much press: emotion.

When your story lacks the appropriate emotion, the reader quickly loses interest and stops reading. When asked what caused the disconnect, they can’t always articulate it clearly. They say things like…

I couldn’t get into the story.

I didn’t connect with the character.

The stakes were high, but for some reason, I just didn’t care.

The main character wasn’t believable.

It just didn’t grab me.

There are a lot of reasons behind reader apathy. As a rabid reader myself, I can say that many times, when I toss a book aside, it’s because the character emotion isn’t quite right: there’s not enough of it; there’s too much; it’s poorly written; the emotion doesn’t fit the character and so doesn’t ring true.

Whatever the reason, reader apathy is bad. We want the reader to be emotionally invested and fully engaged in the story. We want them to be late to work because they had to read one more chapter to see what happened next.

We want them reading our books under their desks at school when they’re supposed to be studying biology. (I taught school; I’m allowed to say that.) One way to make sure that the reader is plugged in is to use our own experiences to infuse emotion into the story.

The pages should cry. They should sweat and tremble and bleed. The character’s emotion should be so realistic and gripping that the reader can’t help but feel it, too.

So, how do we make that happen?

I recently attended a local conference and sat in on a workshop by Ellen Hopkins—YA author of gritty, hard-hitting, edgy fiction in verse. During that hour and a half, she shared a technique for tapping into your own emotions and injecting them into your story. I thought it was brilliant, and effective, and a little terrifying. So I’d like to share it with you.

First, identify the emotion your character is experiencing—fear, for instance. Think of a time in your past when you clearly felt that emotion, then write that experience as the person you were at the time it occurred: a six-year-old boy, a kid at sleep-away camp, a college freshman, a newly divorced mom.

Writing the memory down will bring specific details to mind—sounds, scents, colors, and textures that you can include in your character’s fear-filled scene. Using these details will help draw the reader in so they experience the emotion along with the character. Then, when you refer to those things later in the story, they’ll trigger that emotion in the reader, and the desired feelings will return

It’s amazing how much you’ll remember when you dig up those old memories—which is scary, I know. We spend a large part of our lives trying to forget anything painful. Remembering makes us re-feel things we never wanted to feel in the first place. But it’s kind of necessary, isn’t it? Because how can we move the reader if we can’t recall and describe those intensely moving emotions?

This is why I truly believe that emotion is one of the must-haves for writers when it comes to engaging the reader. It’s one of the reasons Angela and I wrote The Emotion Thesaurus, to help us figure out how to better write our characters’ emotions. And it’s why we’ve decided to teach a course at WANA on the topic.

Using Nonverbal Communication to Wow Readers covers the techniques for showing character emotion, which will help writers build reader empathy and create an emotional experience that draws readers into the story. Participants will also receive a PDF copy of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression.

So if you’d like more ideas on how to convey emotion, we’d love to see you on March 6th. And if you can’t make it, do try Ellen’s technique on tapping into your own emotions. I hope it comes in handy.

Thanks for having me, Kristen!


ANY TIME! Fabulous post and I love it when you guys make me look good :D. *hugs* I hope you guys will give Becca a round of digital applause.


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Becca Puglisi is a YA fantasy/historical fiction writer and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. She is currently hard at work on the next two books in this series, The Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Flaws and The Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Positive Character Attributes, which will be available the summer of 2013. Becca enjoys speaking at workshops and teaching about various writerly topics. Online, you can find her hanging out at her award-winning blog, The Bookshelf Muse.


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  1. #1 by Jae on February 22, 2013 - 12:37 pm

    Fantastic exercise! So timely for me too. I was feeling a bit worn out with descriptions, this makes me feel like I can get back to creating something truly powerful on my pages. Thanks!

    • #2 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:14 pm

      Woot! Timely is good ;). I hope this exercise helps.

  2. #3 by Julie Catherine on February 22, 2013 - 12:43 pm

    Awesome post and excellent advice. This is an exercise I’d gladly do to help make my characters come alive in an organic, believable way, thank you, Kristen and Becca! And I’m delighted to say that I use my copy of the Emotion Thesaurus all the time – it’s a necessity for any writer, and brilliantly written! ~ Julie 🙂

    • #4 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:17 pm

      Oh, I’m so glad you’re finding your copy of The Emotion Thesaurus useful, Julie!

  3. #5 by suzannewvince on February 22, 2013 - 12:53 pm

    The timing of this post couldn’t be better. I’m struggling with this issue right now. I just bought The Emotional Thesauras a week ago and look forward to diving into it this weekend. Thanks, Kristen and Becca!!

    The class on March 6th, is that EST?

    • #6 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:20 pm

      Hi, Suzanne. Yes, the class is at 8:00 EST. It’s so hard to write emotion well; I do think it’s something that most writers have to come to grips with at some point in their journey. We’d love to see you there!

  4. #7 by David Erickson on February 22, 2013 - 12:58 pm

    Writing emotion into a story is tough. And it’s rare that I read anything that really touches me. But this looks like a great exercise and I will use it. Thanks.

    • #8 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:20 pm

      Best of luck, David!

  5. #9 by crankycaregiver on February 22, 2013 - 12:59 pm

    It is people like you who write the books that we novices need so badly. Great post and kudos to all. I’m running to Amazon to get my copy!

    • #10 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:21 pm

      Oh my gosh. I feel like SUCH a novice, lol. Thanks for the vote of confidence ;).

  6. #11 by neenslewy on February 22, 2013 - 1:11 pm

    I found out about this publication today, how strange that you are now on KL’s blog. thanks for sharing this exercise with us.

    • #12 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:21 pm

      Kristen knows all… *cue maniacal laughter*

  7. #14 by Roger Doering on February 22, 2013 - 1:16 pm

    As a novice male writer, you suggested that we draw on those emotional incidents occuring in our younger years, feer, aprehention, etc. My problem is that I think guys are basically numb to the world between years 0 and 25. I have to really struggle to make emotion come out in what I write.

    • #15 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:26 pm

      You know, I have the same struggle because my memory basically sucks. I have a hard time calling up most moments–even the highly emotional ones. But the truth is, they’re there. Some people have more of those incidents than others, but we’ve all been scared and shocked and really angry, etc. Maybe you could talk to the people who were closest to you during those hazy years and ask them when they remembered you getting pissed off or being really excited about something? I know that when I’ve done this, once people start talking, the memories come flooding back.

  8. #16 by neenslewy on February 22, 2013 - 1:33 pm

    Reblogged this on awritersfountain and commented:
    Amazingly I discovered this publication earlier whilst searching the net. Then I discover this post on Kristen Lamb’s blog. Agreat read, you can order the book on Amazon.

    • #17 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:28 pm

      Thanks so much for the reblog and the extra props! So glad you’re enjoying The Emotion Thesaurus!

  9. #19 by Emma D Dryden, drydenbks LLC on February 22, 2013 - 1:40 pm

    Fantastic information and I will be forwarding this post as well as info about the book to many clients who are struggling with this very issue. Thank you!

    • #20 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:29 pm

      Ooooh, thanks for spreading the word, Emma. As I mentioned, this is a common area of struggle for many writers, and one that doesn’t get a lot of press. The more it’s discussed, the more ideas we’ll all have for improvement.

      • #21 by Emma D Dryden, drydenbks LLC on February 23, 2013 - 10:30 am

        Yes, absolutely! And now a few people have asked me whether the conference is online. I assume it is, but is it a webinar, through Skype, through some other system? And in what timezone? I know people who want to sign up, but need a little more information — maybe you can update the info on the “to register” page? Thanks!

  10. #22 by tsuchigari on February 22, 2013 - 1:43 pm

    I just bought my copy a few weeks ago when it was suggested in my writers group – it really is gold. It tickled me to find an interview – it must be good karma! Fantastic book, fun to read about your thoughts.

    • #23 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:30 pm

      So glad you’re liking it!

  11. #24 by J. L. Mbewe on February 22, 2013 - 2:09 pm

    I bought a copy when it first came out. Awesome reference material. I’m all about emotion in my characters, but thanks to a certain critique ( 😉 ) that I am very much thankful for, I’ve just discovered that I’ve been doing it all wrong. ha! Good stuff. Thanks for sharing!

    • #25 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:33 pm

      So glad you’re liking it, Jennette!

  12. #26 by dlattanzi on February 22, 2013 - 2:10 pm

    Reblogged this on Living Ethnography.

    • #27 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:35 pm

      Thanks, Lattanzi!

  13. #28 by Patrick O'Scheen on February 22, 2013 - 2:30 pm

    Lovely Post! have no idea if I’m doing it wrong lol. My entire book is based on emotions. Maybe I need a critique as well…

    • #29 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:37 pm

      Well, as long as you’re got some good critique partners, I’m sure they’ll let you know what they think about the emotions ;). Do you have crit partners lined up to read your book?

  14. #30 by sarahlmandl on February 22, 2013 - 2:58 pm

    I ordered a copy promptly after reading this article. Thanks for the tip!

    • #31 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:37 pm

      Yay! Thanks so much for the support, Sarah. I hope it comes in handy for you!

      • #32 by sarahlmandl on February 23, 2013 - 1:37 pm

        If it can get me out of using “sad” and “mad,” then it will be a success! I appreciate your recommendations.

  15. #33 by Karyn Good on February 22, 2013 - 2:59 pm

    My copy arrived last week and I’ve already put it good use! Breaking down our own personal experiences and using them as a starting point to create authentic emotion in our characters is a great idea.

    • #34 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:39 pm

      So glad to hear that it’s helpful, Karyn. And I agree about the emotion exercise. For awhile, I’d been looking for ways to tap into emotion, so I was very excited when Ellen shared this technique.

  16. #35 by Janet K Brown (@janetkbrowntx) on February 22, 2013 - 3:02 pm

    Wonderfully, wise, advice. Thank you both.

    • #36 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:39 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Janet!

  17. #37 by Lori Mozdzierz on February 22, 2013 - 3:47 pm

    Excellent post! Thanks for the share. 😀

    • #38 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:39 pm

      Thanks for popping in, Lori :).

  18. #39 by Karen Lange on February 22, 2013 - 3:54 pm

    Great post! I appreciate this info. Need to try this soon!

    • #40 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:39 pm

      Thanks, Karen. I hope it helps!

  19. #41 by Grass Oil by Molly Field on February 22, 2013 - 4:11 pm

    When I was in college, before the bubonic plague, my mother bought me “The Synonym Finder” and I still use it. A feature of e-readers that I absolutely adore is the hover over the word to find its meaning thingie. I often highlight words that are new to me or long lost friends.

    I also work hard to stay present with my writing which helps me avoid using the same descriptors in one chapter. It’s tough, but it’s worth it. It’s arduous, yet rewarding. It’s painstaking while also enriching. See? 🙂 (It comes from being born into a family whose members speak mostly in paragraphs…)

    My characters bite their inner cheek, flair their nostrils, curl their lips, dart their eyes about a room, a book… their pulses quicken, eyelids twitch, breaths shallow and all sorts of stuff. I think and thus write visually, so a lot of what I put together reads like a screenplay. I think I overdo it, but people tell me they get lost in what I write, I dig hearing that.

    I enjoyed this post.

    • #42 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:45 pm

      Molly, I also love finding just the right word for what I’m trying to say. I find myself having to tone down my speech around town or I start getting the slight head-shake from friends—you know, the one that means “I have no idea what you just said.”

      Sadly, this hasn’t kept me from using the same clichéd phrases ad nauseum in my writing. My characters smile so much, the reader probably starts to picture them as clowns…

  20. #43 by Angela Ackerman on February 22, 2013 - 4:18 pm

    Excellent post–and so true. If you think about the stories that stuck with you, weeks, months or years later, it is because of that emotional connection. Emotion is just so important!

    Thanks so much Kristen for having Becca by for a visit! 🙂

  21. #44 by Angela Ackerman on February 22, 2013 - 4:19 pm

    And a second big thank you to everyone here for the kind words abotu the ET, and for giving it a try. We are thrilled this book helps so many 🙂

    • #45 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:45 pm

      What she said 😉

  22. #46 by Athena Brady on February 22, 2013 - 4:42 pm

    Great post Becca, you rock! This is a must have writers tool. thanks for sharing Kristen

    • #47 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:46 pm

      Thanks so much, Athena!

  23. #48 by Daniel Escurel Occeno on February 22, 2013 - 5:07 pm

    “And Charlie, don’t forget about what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he ever wanted. He lived happily ever after.”

    Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
    British juvenile author (1916 – 1990)

    Emotional Thesauras, just reading the two words makes me very happy.

    • #49 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:47 pm

      Awww. And reading about your happiness makes me happy :). Well, that and having The Emotion Thesaurus mentioned alongside Roald Dahl.

      • #50 by Daniel Escurel Occeno on February 22, 2013 - 9:30 pm

        I misspelled “Thesaurus”. But I thought; since you dabble in YA fantasy/historical fiction, you might appreciate the quote. It was appropriate since you reminded me of the need to get readers to react emotionally to what I write. It made as happy as if I had everything I had ever wanted. Of course, a ten-novel contract for multi-millions would still make me happier.

        “I want to write simple (simple to read); but it does not mean I want to write plain. Content (substance) more than “prose” is my primary goal, with simplicity in my writing style,” said Daniel

  24. #51 by stephscottil on February 22, 2013 - 5:10 pm

    Great exercise; this is one of those that’s easy to gloss over, but to actually do it REALLY helps. I heard back from agents that they couldn’t connect with my character, so I’ve been reading up on this a lot. I think partly it takes time to develop this skill as a writer. (or maybe it will just take ME time). Great post, I am bookmarking this one.

    • #52 by Daniel Escurel Occeno on February 22, 2013 - 5:27 pm

      Spell Check! It might help. My emotions right now are one of embarrassment. I better make the coffee and consume the breakfast of sunny side-up fried egg with fried rice and cooked corn beef from a can. AND go back writing on my Historical Romance novelettes later. 12.5K would be better to practice adding emotions. Some say to add the adverbs and some say to keep it: “HE SAID; SHE SAID.” Determine your style, which you are happy with; and Just Keep Writing. Let destiny determine the consequences.

    • #53 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:50 pm

      Oh my gosh, I don’t think it’s just you. When I tried to write my scared experience from the viewpoint of my 8-year-old self, I actually couldn’t do it. I had to write it from my adult viewpoint. Then, I found that I could go back and write about it as a child. It’s so hard to tap into those emotions, but being about to do it absolutely pays dividends with your writing.

  25. #54 by Cabernet In The Dark on February 22, 2013 - 5:11 pm

    Just downloaded a sample on my Kindle and already I’ve decided I’m going to buy it. Can’t wait. Looks like an amazing read!

    • #55 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:50 pm

      Woot! Enjoy :).

  26. #56 by Natalie Aguirre on February 22, 2013 - 5:47 pm

    Great advice, Becca. Thanks for sharing what you learned. And your book is an awesome help in showing emotion better.

    • #57 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:51 pm

      *wave* Natalie! Thanks so much. It’s great to see you here :).

  27. #58 by Amy Freeman on February 22, 2013 - 7:08 pm

    SUCH a great piece. This is so helpful for any writer at any level. Thanks for posting this!

    • #59 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:51 pm

      My pleasure, Amy. Thanks for reading.

  28. #60 by Tracy Campbell on February 22, 2013 - 7:45 pm

    Great post, Becca
    Looking forward to the next two books 🙂

    • #61 by becca puglisi on February 22, 2013 - 8:52 pm

      Thanks, Tracy!

  29. #62 by macswriter on February 23, 2013 - 3:21 am

    My copy of your book is relatively new but I’ve used it extensively already. It’s such a handy resource to find fresh ways of describing those sensations. Now I have so many options at my fingertips and am refining the process of using just the right amount in exactly the right places. Should take me no more than five or ten years. 😉 Great post. Thanks.

    • #63 by becca puglisi on February 23, 2013 - 7:12 am

      Hi, Mary Ann. I’m so glad you’re finding your copy useful! This is exactly why Angela and I wrote it, to give writers more options. 🙂

  30. #64 by Jaime Samms on February 23, 2013 - 9:42 am

    Hi, I’m interested in taking the workshop, but the website didn’t indicate what time zone it being run in.. I have to know its a time I can attend before I pay. There didn’t appear to be a contact email or form to ask questions. Can someone please email me: jaime.samms @ with the information? Thanks, jaime

    • #65 by becca puglisi on February 23, 2013 - 3:29 pm

      Hi, Jaime! I sent you an email, but in case anyone else needs to know, the time listed is for EST. So, 8:00-9:30 EST.

  31. #66 by melissamwolff on February 23, 2013 - 11:55 am

    This is amazing

    • #67 by becca puglisi on February 23, 2013 - 3:31 pm

      Glad to know it was helpful, Melissa.

  32. #68 by Susanne Drazic on February 23, 2013 - 2:20 pm

    Great guest post. : ) Retweeted and google +’d.

    • #69 by becca puglisi on February 23, 2013 - 3:30 pm

      Thanks Susanne! *wave*

  33. #70 by kittyb78 on February 23, 2013 - 2:40 pm

    Well phrased Becca, thanks. 🙂

    • #71 by becca puglisi on February 23, 2013 - 3:30 pm

      Thanks so much, Kitty. Have a great weekend!

  34. #72 by heidiwriter on February 23, 2013 - 4:06 pm

    I LOVE the Emotion Thesaurus and use it all the time, especially when I’m trying to get away from the cliched emotional descriptions. Very helpful! Thanks!

    • #73 by becca puglisi on February 23, 2013 - 11:01 pm

      That’s good to hear, Heidi. Glad it’s coming in handy :).

  35. #74 by sharonhughson on February 23, 2013 - 4:28 pm

    Amazon keeps recommending this book to me based on my purchase of Kristen’s “blog” book and J.S. Bell’s “Plot and Structure ” (both of which are fantastic), so I guess I may have to acquiesce. Thanks for dedicating some of your writing time and skill to helping those of us still fumbling with mastering the craft.

    • #75 by Author Kristen Lamb on February 23, 2013 - 4:30 pm

      Both GREAT resources. Amazon is smart :D. Thanks for the comment!

    • #76 by becca puglisi on February 23, 2013 - 11:02 pm

      It was my pleasure, Sharon. From one fumbler to another…;)

  36. #77 by peternoahthomas on February 24, 2013 - 4:31 am

    The Emotion Thesaurus has been a tremendous help to me, I recommend the book to anyone who writes. It really gets your creative juices flowing and helps you convey emotion to your readers in unique and helpful ways. Their Bookshelf Muse website is invaluable too. Check it out.

    • #78 by becca puglisi on February 24, 2013 - 7:17 pm

      Thanks for the great endorsement, Peter! We aim to please 😉

  37. #79 by Traci Kenworth on February 24, 2013 - 4:56 am

    Great topic, Becca!! I have a copy of your and Angela’s book and it’s just so handy and useful!! It saves me a lot of steps and gives my writing a depth it most likely lacked previously. Looking forward to the other books as well!!

    • #80 by becca puglisi on February 24, 2013 - 7:17 pm

      Thanks for the props, Traci! I’m so glad it’s helping.

  38. #81 by Leslie S. Rose on February 24, 2013 - 9:38 pm

    I have to say all those “method” exercising in acting class really pay off when it comes to infusing authentic emotion to character. Thanks for a super post.

    • #82 by beccapuglisi on February 26, 2013 - 8:40 pm

      Oooo, I’d LOVE to hear some method acting techniques. I’m sure that would be really helpful.

  39. #83 by Tan Ya Hui on February 25, 2013 - 2:47 am

    I’m definitely going to buy the book now. I have been trying my best to improve my writing, and have been using music to get into the mood (was able to write a sad scene with sad music because I keep thinking of those times where I was so lonely which really helped a lot) to solve the problem of not being able to connect with the reader using emotions. Thanks for the post!

    • #84 by beccapuglisi on February 26, 2013 - 8:41 pm

      Music is a great way to get yourself in the right frame of mind, particularly when it reminds you of a time when you experienced a certain emotion. Great idea!

  40. #85 by Sherry Ellis on February 25, 2013 - 12:27 pm

    This was an excellent post!

    • #86 by beccapuglisi on February 26, 2013 - 8:41 pm

      Thx for coming by, Sherry!

  41. #87 by teresarobeson on February 25, 2013 - 1:37 pm

    Thank you, Becca, for the timely reminder to infuse more emotion into my stories! I think I was feeling something lacking in my YA ms… :} I subscribe to your (and Angela’s) blog and always appreciate your helpful posts!

    • #88 by beccapuglisi on February 26, 2013 - 8:42 pm

      So glad you’re finding helpful tidbits at The Bookshelf Muse!

  42. #89 by Aaron Freeman on February 25, 2013 - 3:09 pm

    In the improv business we say, “Don’t invent, remember”.

    • #90 by beccapuglisi on February 26, 2013 - 8:42 pm

      Nice! Another acting reference. Must get some acting lessons…

  43. #91 by Sharon K Mayhew on February 25, 2013 - 10:20 pm

    Great post, Becca! I have to say anyone who doesn’t have the Emotion Thesaurus needs to get a copy. It is one of the most useful writing tools!

    • #92 by beccapuglisi on February 26, 2013 - 8:43 pm

      Thanks, Sharon!

  44. #93 by mysolemates on March 27, 2013 - 7:55 am

    I imagine you could eventually add a few pages for the computer age called the emoticon thesaurus 🙂 😀 😄 – I’m doing posts about words that changed me for the A-Z challenge, and just yesterday I did a practice post and tapped into my inner 8 year old, (timing is everything) this post has inspired me to explore it more and maybe press publish instead of save to drafts 🙂

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