Writing Exercise: Crafting Emotional Word Pictures

Posted by on Jul 25, 2013 in Writing Exercises | 0 comments

Writing Exercise: Crafting Emotional Word Pictures

In today’s writing exercise, we are going to craft a scene containing an emotional word picture or EWP.

An emotional word picture is a communication technique that is used to engage a person’s heart instead of their logic. Simply put, an EWP is a form of relational storytelling, usually with a message that can be comprehended better emotionally. These stories may inspire, call to action, enlighten or reveal deficits in understanding, among other things.

In this exercise, we are going to tweak this psychological technique and use it to craft a scene, rather than a full story, that is full of emotional depth, revealing characterization, open ended conclusions and subtle provocation. But be careful. Reproof, argument, and sermonizing have no place in your scene.

Let’s take a look at our writing prompt  from earlier this week.


What does this picture say to you? What emotion does it make you feel? What conclusion do you draw when you look at it? Does it provoke you in any way?

What I like about this picture is it’s in your face while at the same time it’s incredibly subtle. The girl fades into the background, almost as colorless as the wall. Even her hands are dingy. But in the midst of all that filth is a lively green that draws the eye, and from there the eye is immediately drawn to… nothing. Her her expression is hidden, but you can infer everything you need to know from her demeanor. It’s showing instead of telling because it does not allow the observer to figure everything out in the easiest way–looking in the girl’s eyes. And there’s something about that missing element that captures my attention and makes me look a second time, and then a third. And that’s the moment I begin to wonder about this girl. She’s become more to me than a depressed waif with dirty hands. The photographer has succeeded. He’s made me care.

This photo does everything a good emotional word picture does.

  • captures attention
  • relates to the familiar
  • speaks with subtlety
  • implies what’s important
  • doesn’t take the obvious path
  • fosters emotional connection
  • grabs one’s heart

These are the aspects of an emotional word picture that we want you to focus on while writing your scene.

EWPs are character driven.

When a reader begins a book, they are by default emotionally open and interested. It’s up to the writer to create an environment that allows the reader to remain in that state. The first place a reader looks when they want emotional connection is the characters. There are many ways to connect with a character, but in the end it all comes back to relatable content.

The true power of an emotional word picture comes from connection. This is true whether you are trying to communicate with your partner or are writing a book for mass consumption.

This sounds great, right? But remember, it’s easy for readers to lose connection with a character when an author becomes too focused on scene description, action, and reaction. This abandonment of a character’s personality and emotions creates cardboard cutouts that are nothing but a stage upon which the story is told instead of experienced. Word pictures help an author keep the experiencing portion of the reader/character relationship alive.

EWPs take the reader on an journey and gently guide them to a conclusion. The conclusion could be something as ridiculous as, donuts are bad for you (let me assure you that we Divas are impervious to the caloric content of such deliciousness), or be something as trite as, Cindy loves Tommy.

But regardless of the conclusion drawn, EWPs are subtle. They don’t tell. They don’t force a reader to come to a certain conclusion. And they never overtly state their purpose or intention.

So, let’s get started.

First, consider your audience and tailor your EWP accordingly. Second, set the stage in your mind. Third, choose your characters and outline your scene.

Now, let’s answer some questions. (You’ll need to write these down.)

  • What is the purpose of the EWP?
  • What conclusion do you want readers to draw?

Take a look at your purpose and the conclusion. Never state these directly. Remember, the point is to be subtle. Keep your answers to these questions in the forefront of your mind as you write.

Now ask yourself the following:

  • What emotions do you want to convey?

Highlight the keywords in your answer. Never use these keywords in your scene. Imply them, show them, let the readers infer them, but resist the urge to tell. 


  • What action/reaction do you want to provoke.

Again, this is where subtlety comes in, but this is a type of subtlety that is mixed with intention. Write with purpose. Craft every word in such a way they demand a reaction. Don’t tell your readers what to feel or think, just set the stage and wait for a response.

It’s time to begin. Write a scene. Use the picture above as inspiration if you’d like. Focus on your characters, provoke your readers, and relay a message without relaying a message

Please share your efforts in the comment section below.

Shay Goodman (95 Posts)

Shay Goodman is a self-proclaimed maven of mayhem and editing goddess. She has over twelve years of experience in the publishing industry and has worked as a copy editor, proofreader, and a developmental and content editor. She spent several years gainfully employed as a managing editor and director of acquisitions for a small independent press until deciding it was time to strike out on her own once again. Shay has worked with both international and New York Times best-selling authors, most notably: Suzy Duffy and E.L. James. She is proudly a founding member of Write Divas.

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