Flamingo your writing by making me feel, see, smell, taste, and touch…
The kind of velvet silence that soaks up every whisper.
The only sound in your head is the bass-beat of your panicked heart… and all eyes are on you.
What’s the worst thing that can happen during your competition pole dance performance? Wardrobe malfunction? Nope. It’s pole dancing, everybody’ll cheer. You fall over? Nope. You can make that look like it’s part of the routine, and carry on regardless. Your music stopping halfway through your dance? And they can’t get it started again?
Yep, that’ll do it…
I tell you, nothing’s bloody simple is it? I was smashing out the best performance of my life until the music just… stopped. Time was, I’d have gone to pieces. Rushed off the stage. Cried in a corner.
How humiliating, right? Well, not this damn time. Not after all that hard work.
As I stared, wide-eyed and frozen in panic, someone broke the silence and yelled, “You carry on girl!” and I thought “Screw it. I will!”
The audience cheered, then someone started clapping a rhythm—and everyone joined in. I finished my routine. It wasn’t perfect—how could it be? I had no music—but I put my entire soul into it. The judges asked if I wanted to do it again… but I said no, thank you. I didn’t think I could do a better job than I did, in that place, on that night, and they were happy to score me on the dance I did.
Let me tell you something, my friend. There is nothing—nothing—like the feeling of a roomful of people who’ve got your back. Who are willing you to do your best and carry on in spite of an epic technological failosaurus.
Total strangers who come up and give you a hug and tell you how freaking amazing you are because you stuck two fingers up to technology and carried on anyway.
I have tears running down my face right now because of the love in that room. Does that sound cheesy? Yeah. Do I care? Hell NO. Because it’s true.
Everyone in that room was putting themselves out there, doing their best, and having a whale of a time. And everyone watching was loving it.
What. A. Night.
Oh, what’s that? You want to know who won? That would be me.
Now, let me explain why I’m telling you about pole dancing.
Bring Me Into Your Writing
The best writing helps us visualise the story. Not on every page, necessarily—especially for non-fiction—but when you want to make your reader feel something or do something, help them step into the experience. To do that, we want to create images and write about concrete details.
Humans can’t visualise abstracts… but give us a colourful description, and what you’re writing about springs into our minds like a photograph.
Think about the words you use and the phrases you write and how they conjure images in your reader’s mind (or fail to). Humans are visual creatures: if you want to move us, make us see and make us feel in glorious technicolour.
Instead of describing something literally, write something more interesting. If you want a masterclass in doing this, read Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. He was a genius word-painter. One of my favourite descriptive phrases from Sir Terry is, “the atmosphere inside the yurt was like a blacksmith’s armpit”. We know exactly what he means: hot and sticky and smelly and gross. He doesn’t need to say those words, though; he conjured up the image and the feeling in two simple words.
There’s no reason why you can’t do that, too—despite the fact you’re writing non-fiction. In fact, do it because you’re writing non-fiction: it’s too easy to lapse into a monotone of “professionalism”.
How To Write Pictures
These are my five top tips for writing pictures in your reader’s mind:
- Imagine your book as a movie playing in your head. Who’s doing what? Where are they? How does it feel? Hot? Cold? Loud? Quiet?
- Be specific. When you’re outlining and writing your Shitty First Draft, generalities are fine. They’re a starting point, a sketch. When you’re editing and polishing, though — get specific. Pull out a story to illustrate your ideas and colour your story in.
- Understand the physicality of what you’re writing: what does one hundred metres look like? A football field? A park? What does it feel like to be punched in the stomach? Do you know? Find out. How do you feel when you’re afraid? What’s the taste in your mouth? How sharp do things look? What do sounds sound like?
- Create symbols to describe abstract concepts. In Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë’s character Catherine describes her love for Linton and Heathcliff using symbolism: “My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it; I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath; a source of little visible delight, but necessary.”
- Show, don’t tell. Instead of telling me you were embarrassed, make me feel it. At the start of this article, I could have told you my music stopped during my pole dancing competition, and I was mortified, then I carried on and won hurrah! This is the exact same information, isn’t it? But wouldn’t that have been dull? Instead, I took you into the room with me and made you feel what I felt. Don’t tell me something was grey-blue; show me it was the colour of the ocean on a stormy day. Let my mind paint the picture.
Anybody can fling words onto a page to get a message across. Not so many people can make their message stick.
If you want your book, your article, your webpage to be memorable—if you want it to move people to action, to buy from you—write better than most people.
Search for the fascinating imagery, the interesting words, the evocative passages. You don’t have to be a poet or a novelist; all you need is a little imagination, access to a thesaurus, and the courage to stand out.
Start Writing Your Book Today
If you want to learn more about how to write, self-publish, and market a book for your business, snaffle yourself a copy of How The Hell Do You Write A Book? Then check out the blog and podcast for more articles and guides. If you want a little (or a lot) more help, find out how you can work with me.
Vicky Fraser is the founder of Moxie Books and author of How The Hell Do You Write A Book and Business For Superheroes. She helps business owners write life-changing books, connect with readers and new customers, and grow their businesses. When she's not doing that, she's hanging from a trapeze by her feet.