How to Write Better: 3 Secrets of Transmitting Naked Emotions

    transmitting naked emotions

    There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. ~ Hemingway.

    Naked emotions?

    Like I felt when I finally gave up screaming for help.

    When I sank to my knees and wept by the side of the stream, watching my horse about to drown–and unable to rescue her.

    I’ll tell you what happened in a moment …

    But this post is not about the horse and not about myself.

    It’s about letting naked emotions bleed through your writing.

    Emotions connect us with each other. In fact, research shows that specific cells in the brain create a virtual reality which connects us directly with the emotions of others.

    More about that later.

    This post will show you how to write better by harnessing the power of naked emotions to connect deeply with your readers.

    But first, let me tell you about the horse.

    Here’s what happened …

    One hot afternoon, deep in the Columbian countryside, I asked the owner of an estancia whether I could take one of his horses for a ride. He nodded and I soon sat astride a pretty bay mare called Alesia.

    I tend to think of myself as a ‘confident rider.’ The reality is that I feel confident about riding, but I’m actually inept on a horse. It was this clash of perception versus reality which led to the nightmare.

    Problems showed up as soon as I headed out across the vast, sunbaked plain.

    When I tried to make the mare go faster, she slowed down. And when I wanted her to slow down, she sped up.

    At last I got her to canter and, as we approached a stream, I kicked her flanks to make her jump down the bank and gallop through the stream.

    But Alesia reared up, refusing to go ahead. Frustrated, I gave her a flick with a stick.

    She then plunged forward–and jarred to a halt in the middle of the stream. I had to grab the saddle to stop falling off.

    And then I noticed.

    Alesia was sinking.

    The more she struggled, the deeper she sank.

    I tried to make her go forward, or turn around. But she couldn’t move.


    When the mud crept up her belly, I realized we were both in danger.

    So I slid off her rump–and immediately got sucked down myself.

    I thought, ‘Is this the end? Am I going to die here?’

    Then I remembered reading that when you’re stuck in quicksand, you need to use delicate swimming movements to propel yourself forward and upward. I tried, and–little by little–got closer to the bank.

    Finally, I could feel firm ground under my feet and lunged onto the grassy verge.

    I trembled all over.

    Then I looked back.

    Alesia was now up to her shoulders in mud–and still sinking.

    Her nostrils flared and her eyes rolled.

    I ran back and forth, swore, shouted, screamed.

    But nobody heard me.

    Finally, I sank to my knees and wept.

    Now only Alesia’s head rose above the muddy water. Her eyes seemed to implore me for help.

    But I didn’t know what to do.

    And then, just as she was about to drown, something unexpected happened…

    I’ll continue the story in a moment.

    But first, I’d like you to check in with your emotions.

    What do you feel right now?

    Do you feel a tinge of the panic and dread I felt when my horse and I were caught in the quicksand?

    If so, you’ve just experience the viral nature of emotions.

    The reason you can feel the emotions of others is because of mirror neurons in the brain.

    How the brain’s virtual reality affects us

    Let me ask you something.

    Do you flinch when you see someone burn their fingers on the stove? I bet you do!

    That’s your mirror neurons in action. These neurons perform a virtual reality simulation of what you’re observing. That’s how we can experience the emotions of others.

    When someone cries, we feel sad. When someone yawns, we tend to yawn too.

    But what about writing?

    It’s simple: mirror neurons are triggered not only by what we see or hear; they are also triggered by what we read.

    Our mirror neurons are fired up by the writer’s emotions.

    When we write and let naked emotions flow onto the page, our readers resonate with us. This process is called emotional resonance.

    There are three secrets you need to know in order to fire up the mirror neurons in your readers.

    Read on to find out what they are.

    The 3 Secrets of Harnessing Emotional Resonance

    The first secret may seem self-evident, but writers often overlook it: you must yourself feel the emotions you write about.

    Secret #1: Feel, feel, feel

    Feel, he told himself, feel, feel, feel. Even if what you feel is pain, only let yourself feel. ~ P.D. James, The Children of Men

    If you want to convey an emotion, you must feel it as you write.

    You can’t just sit down cold and hope your writing will warm up your readers.

    If it’s a personal story, close your eyes and remember what the experience was like. Remember the physical sensations. Recall what you saw, heard, and smelled.

    If you’re writing fiction, you need to imagine the scene with all its sensory details and emotions.

    Only then write your story.

    Like this one by Jon Morrow, called How to Be Unforgettable:

    I’m lying in bed in a nursing home, sick and dying, gasping for breath, knowing that any minute now I’ll be passing into the great beyond.

    The story is gripping and you can feel his terror in your own gut as you read the story. Then Jon says:

    Scary, isn’t it? Just writing it down gives me the willies.

    And there you have it! Jon felt the emotions as he was writing the piece. That’s why it’s so powerful.

    But what carries emotion?

    Stories! And that brings us to the second secret.

    Secret #2: Give your readers the stories they crave

    After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world. ~ Philip Pullman

    You and I, along with all other human beings, communicate with stories. Ask anyone about their new hairstyle, their girlfriend, their kitten, or their broken computer–and you’ll get a story in return.

    Stories are the universal language of mankind.

    That’s why stories are a great way to bond with your readers and illustrate a point. Take the post by Judy Lee Dunn about online identity. Here’s how she starts off:

    Sometimes a Google Alerts comes in that wakes you up. Like last Wednesday when I found out I had died. It was kind of weird because I wasn’t really expecting it. Just reading along and, bam. There it was.

    What a cool entry to a post about protecting your online identity!

    There are three ways you can heighten emotions in a story: foreshadow the incident, change the pace, and craft a setting.

    • Foreshadow the emotion

    If you foreshadow the emotion you want to transmit, the reader will feel it more keenly.

    Here is an example from Donna Tartt’s novel, The Goldfinch.

    And there was something festive and happy about the two of us, hurrying up the steps beneath the flimsy candy-striped umbrella, quick quick quick, for all the world as if we were escaping something terrible instead of running right into it.

    In this sentence, Donna Tartt braces the reader for a shocking turn of events and creates a sense of apprehension.

    • Regulate the pace

    Pace controls the speed at which the reader is pulled through a narrative.

    If you want your readers to be touched by suspense or fear, whip up the pace by using short sentences and short paragraphs.

    In contrast, if you want your readers to experience a sense of calm and relaxation, ease off the pace with longer sentences.

    A successful piece of writing needs both fast-paced sections, as well as calm zones.

    It’s like rafting a river. To give your reader a thrill, you need the adrenaline of white water.  And in between, you need calm stretches for the reader to kick back and enjoy the scenery.

    • Set the scene to heighten the emotional response

    If you want to heighten the emotional response, create a setting for your story with dynamic descriptions. Each word of the context needs to evoke emotions.

    Here are two examples. The first one is by Lisa Unger from her novel, Beautiful Lies.

    I can hear the rain falling outside the burned-out building, its loud, heavy drops smacking on canvas. It’s falling inside too, trickling in through gaping holes in the roof down through floors of rotted wood and broken staircases.

    Gives you goosebumps, doesn’t it? Notice how Lisa uses words like burned-out, heavy, gaping, rotted, and broken to create a dynamic description which affects the reader emotionally.

    You can also use dynamic descriptions when writing strong blog posts or articles.

    Here is an example by Ash Ambirge from her fiery post, You Don’t Need a Job, You Need Guts.

    I grew up curling my bangs in a trailer park, using food stamps to buy popsicles, dating boys who milked cows, bringing boom boxes to stone quarries, and thinking tinted car windows were the ultimate sign of prestige.

    Ash evokes the hopelessness and misery of her early years. Notice how well her cinematic technique of using emotive flashbacks works!


    3. Shhhh! Don’t tell

    Show the readers everything, tell them nothing. ~ Ernest Hemingway

    The emotional resonance is much stronger if you don’t name the emotion.


    Because as soon as you name an emotion, your readers go into thinking mode. And when we think about an emotion, we distance ourselves from the actual experience of feeling it.

    That’s why it’s more skillful to show the emotion but not tell the reader about it.

    Here is an example from Val McDermid’s novel, The Skeleton Road. She describes how a building inspector with a fear of heights traverses the roof of an abandoned building.

    Dry-mouthed, hands slippery inside his work gloves, he crab-walked cautiously down the steep pitch of the slates.

    The trick was to keep breathing, slow and steady. That, and not to look down. Never look down.

    Down. Christ, even the word made him feel faint this far up.

    As you can see,  Val McDermid never once uses the word ‘fear.’ But my hands went clammy when I read this passage. Yours too?

    Show, don’t tell, also stops you from publishing emotional rants on your blog. On a blog that shall remain nameless, I happened to read: “I was so freaking angry when she broke up with me! She even told me she faked it every time…!”

    Yes, well, sorry to hear about the faking. But I don’t think your readers care.

    Emotional rants often leave the reader cold because the emotion is named and most often, these kind of posts lack context and setting.

    In contrast, stories that the writer feels deeply about–and that illustrate a point–create a bond with readers. They want to know what happened next.


    So what happened to the horse?

    Just as my horse was about to drown, I heard voices. I jumped up and hollered for help.

    Three girls came running. The eldest was about twelve and her siblings were a few years younger.

    They immediately sprang into action. The two older ones crossed the stream from the side opposite the horse, feeling their way with care to stay on the stretch part of the riverbed.

    They managed to reach the reins and started pulling.

    The youngest one took me by the hand and led me across further upstream where the ground was firm.

    When I joined the older girls, we all pulled at the horse’s reins.

    Finally, the horse managed to get her hooves onto secure ground and burst out of the quicksand with a huge, shuddering squelch.

    In tears, I hugged the girls and followed them to their farm. In fact, they walked us right into their backyard pond and carefully washed off the mud. The horse and I were still trembling.

    Then I hugged the kids once more, got back onto Alesia and headed home. Very slowly.

    We’re on the home straight with this post as well. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the take-away points.


    If you want to bond with your readers, you need to make use of emotional resonance. There are three key things to remember:

    1. Feel the emotions you want to convey. Only your felt emotions will resonate with readers.

    2. Remember to use stories as the carriers of emotions. You can convey feelings, illustrate a point, or reset your reader’s attention by using stories.

    3. Show, don’t tell. If you want to use the full power of emotional resonance, don’t name the emotion. Otherwise your readers will start thinking, instead of feeling.

    Finally …

    It’s your turn.

    Think of an emotional experience in your life and consider how you could use it.

    Can it help you to make a point? Or can you use it to illustrate an idea?

    Or will it entertain or inspire your readers?

    Thoughts? Feelings? Please share in the comments below. And please share this post on social media if you enjoyed it.

    About the author

      Mary Jaksch

      Mary Jaksch is best known for her exceptional training for writers at and for her cutting-edge book, Youthful Aging Secrets. In her “spare” time, Mary is also the brains behind, a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

    • Michelle says:

      I sank with the horse! Thank you for the tips. This article inspired me to show the readers and not tell them. (I held the reins of my attention tight as I fought hard not to skip the tips to find out what happened to the horse!)

    • Lakshman says:

      Thanks, Mary Jaksch

      This post was really informative.

      Thank You.

    • Pimion says:

      Thanks for the article, especially for these great quotes that let me understand the nature of naked emotions better!

    • pat sutton says:

      You’re good at showing how in a refreshing, insightful, everything without the labels way. Thank you a million times.

    • kevin says:

      Great post !
      Gave me lots to think about . Nice story line about the horse stuck in quick sand
      made me identify with characters brought them to life .
      Thank You

    • Agreed. These are great ideas. I apply many of those tips. I didn’t realize it until I read this post.

    • Britt says:

      Thanks for finally writing about How to Write Better: 3 Secrets
      of Transmitting Naked Emotions
      . I Liked it!

    • Amaltas says:

      Splendidly written and made me believe that authors are wordaholic that speaks flawlessly. I am sure, now i could write better. Thank you Mary!!

    • Toni East says:

      Hi there Mary,

      What a brilliant post. I am just starting out and am doing a writing course – more about construction than the actual writing although the writing is important too. So this article is perfect as an example of emotions. Love the horse story.
      I will certainly be visiting your site again. So many good tips here.
      Thanks again and thanks for the free book.Very useful too.
      Toni East

    • Joe Kovacs says:

      Mary, the horse story was great and of course you do an amazing job of keeping up the suspense by starting the story then interjecting with your lesson about emotions and then getting back to the horse. I am actually a huge fan of Hemingway, which is what first prompted me to read this post. What makes the emotional aspect of storytelling so challenging, I think, for writers, is that AS writers, we have to see a story first before we can put it down on paper. We have to see what is happening as an external observer. The fault then is that we record what we see in our minds rather than taking that next important step which is to get INSIDE the characters we see in our minds and to write from that vantage point.

      A lot of writers, I’m sure, are just happy to be able to envision something (anything!) and so that is what they are quick to record. But as your post makes clear, that is not nearly enough. We do need that emotional connection or our interest as readers will drift.

      Thanks for posting this.

      • This is the kind of thoughtful and interesting comment I love to get! I went in search of what you’re up to and found your fledgling blog,

        I’ve subscribed 🙂

        Can’t wait to see what you come up with! If your site is anything like your comment, it will be worth subscribing to…

    • Bharat tripathi says:

      Dear mary

      i m not a writer or blogger ,but i write sometimes today during break time in my factory work during surfing i read ur post . earlier sometimes i attend a workshop on emotional intelligence

      A real example i found in ur post

    • This was a very thorough piece. It put me right there with you and your horse as you battled out of the quicksand. Did this really happen to you? If so, I’m glad you made it through.

      It just goes to show that writers also need to live life and take risks, otherwise there’s not much to write about at the end of the day.

      The research on emotional resonance and using stories to convey appropriate feelings and key points will be very helpful. After ten years of not being serious about the craft and dwelling in misery, much of it from my own doing, I’ve decided to officially launch a career in writing and content curation.

      I’ll be sure to share this post with my followers as well. Thank you for putting so much effort into this, Mary.

    • Alex says:

      Hi Mary,
      I came across your site on a search regarding Zen Habbits. I enjoyed your article. I also agree with your post. However, what do you do with a person, such as I, that gets bored with stories when the moment, or the reading material is about learning and not about feeling. When I sit in church, or class room or even a conversation, stories bore me to death (not always but most of the time) As a result, I have the hardest of time connecting with my readers because my writing and communicating as a speaker is always more analytical and contextual instead of story telling. This one area I have to develop but it is very difficult when I don’t want to read a story, I just want the nuts and bolts, meat and potatoes of a lesson to be learned. Your reply (by email if you wish) would be highly appreciated. Again, great post. I appreciated it. And the horse story was good too 😉 My daughter is a horse person so I could understand. 🙂

      • Alex, I appreciate your question.

        There is a place for straightforward, non-emotive writing. For example, there’s technical writing. That’s where contextual and analytical writing is called for.

        This might be an area you could develop as a writer.

        • Alex says:

          Thanks Mary.
          I’m sure it is a longer or tougher route to go about, but it should work 🙂

          Thanks again,

    • Adem Yücel says:

      Wow… Just wow, that was so awesome. If writing was a religion this article would be a verse from holy book.

      • Hey Adem – your comment should get a prize. What a fantastic compliment! I’m chuffed (as they say here in New Zealand). It means humbled, proud, amazed.

        Thank you!

    • Elisa says:

      Thank you for this excellent article. A wealth of information here that i know will be abundantly helpful in my writing. Already the wheels are turning! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

      • I’m glad you found it helpful, Elisa! I like the fact that your wheels are already turning 🙂

    • What a fantastic article. One that I will come back to again and again. As writers we often are told “show don’t tell”, thank you for showing it so eloquently.

    • Bianca says:

      Hahaha . . .I was just writing a personal jouranl on how I need to feel more and BAM. Just the last month I missed that’s been calling to me this whole time. Can’t say how much I love your blogs and how much they hit me in the feels every time.

      The problem I feel I run into is how I’ve dealt and combated with being stoic for nearly half my life on and off again like a bad romance my inner self just rolls her eyes at every time it pops up and just goes with the motions. A definite excericse I’ll be practicing as I hit the writing again.

      • It sounds like you’re just on the edge of something new in your life and in your writing, Bianca. That’s great!

    • Sazzy says:

      Excellently written and made me think so much more about my writing! Thank you!

      I think people forget how powerful words can be.

      • Good point, Sazzy! It’s true, words are powerful. Orators know it, but writers don’t always pay attention to this fact…

    • Sandip Roy says:

      ‘Hook, line and sinker’ – That’s how I reacted to this piece of writing! I thank you profusely. Will remember to ‘show, not tell.’

    • That is some story! I can’t believe they were able to pull the horse out when she was that far gone. Love how you used this story to illustrate your point! Many people think they have nothing interesting to say, but if you dig, you’ll ALWAYS find something people will respond to — and your job as a writer is to figure out how to weave those stories into your narrative.

      • Thanks for your kind words, Linda! I think you are right, we all have stories to tell.

        It’s a real challenge to use a personal story to illustrate a point. I enjoyed writing this piece!

    • Thank you for a wonderful, illustravtive and educational post. You had me going with paragraph.

    • Thank you, especially for including the link to my website. Very much appreciated.

      • Such an excellent post, just awesome. Hi mary thank you very much for this interesting post. You’re so clearly explained the nature of naked emotion. I will get and learn something new from here. Thanks again !!

    • Interesting, Belinda …

      Your comment made the think how important building an emotional connection with the readers is in writing fiction. I made me remember some thrillers I read that left me cold exactly because they were ‘ writers who throw the reader into an action scene without giving them any reason to care’.

      Thanks, Belinda. I hope to see more of your thoughtful comments here on WTD.

      Actually your comments made me wonder about you…

      I thought: “Someone who is such a sensitive and intelligent reader is usually a talented writer.”

      So I did a little research and found your site:

      And there it was! You are a published author with an interesting book to your name.

      Ha! Thought so!

    • An excellent article. Like others I only half-took in the writing advice until after I read what happened to your horse! Building an emotional connection with your reader is the key, I think. We care about you (those of us who don’t know you as a person) because you have shown you care for your horse and also because you are dealing with something horrendous with no expectation of help – an immediate connection is formed with any reader who likes horses or cares for animals, and also anyone who has ever faced an unexpected struggle alone.
      This is the opposite to writers who throw the reader into an action scene without giving them any reason to care – no connection is made: oh, they both died. Shame. What’s for lunch?

    • Good stuff, Mary 🙂

      Emotion is THE thing, isn’t it? And this post explains that as well as any I’ve ever read. Especially brilliant is the advice to show/demonstrate emotions to your reader rather than naming them.

      A fantastic read, my friend!

      • Hey Gary, I’m chuffed to read your comment!

        You recently asked me what ‘to be chuffed’ means. You can look it up in the Urban Dictionary. It means to be very pleased, proud or happy with yourself.

        Yes, I’m chuffed because you and a bunch of other excellent writers have said nice things about this post in the comments 🙂

        And you’re right: Emotions! Yes!

        When I look at the first blog post I ever wrote (it as DREADFUL), and compare it to how I write these days, one of the fundamental changes is that I’m writing with more emotions these days.

        Or, maybe more to the point: I’m using emotions as a key tool in the writer’s toolkit.

    • Wonderful, Mary. When I’m in novel-writing mode, it helps for me to first write the scene by hand that I had in a big 5-subject notebook (like I used in high school). I free-write as fast as I can, just getting the emotions and other details on the page. Thanks.

      • Ah! That’s very interesting, Marcy.

        Yes, it does seem as if emotions dissipate very quickly. We have to catch them as fast as we can in our first drafts.

        That’s why I think bad writing is good! What I mean is that we need to allow ourselves to write quick and dirty in our first draft.

        Thanks for your interesting comment, Marcy

    • Cheryl says:

      This was such an informative article…So helpful..and thanks for all the links to visit other authors and check out their books…

      My blogging runs along this line…if I don’t feel it, I can’t write it. Having said that, I am very new to exposing my writing but this article gives me hope…thank you so much for all you shared…and yes, I was very worried about the horse…glad it all worked out…a wonderful story…

      • Thanks for stopping by, Cheryl.

        I look forward to the time when I can follow a link to something you’ve written! When that time comes, we’ll both celebrate…

    • What a heart-warming comment, Jenny!

      Your Christmas gift to me is to know that the content we toil over here at WritetoDone is of help to you and others.

      Be well, Jenny, and have a great Christmas

    • Hi Mary,

      Thank you so much for this beautifully crafted and helpful article. I am aware of the power of emotions for linking with others, but hadn’t made the connection of NOT naming the emotion. That piece of information is gold and I will put it to good use. It’s time to drag out my unfinished book for another edit!

      Thank you also for the continuous stream of valuable information that you deliver to my email inbox. The gift is much appreciated.

      Merry Christmas Mary and team. May there only be good outcomes for you all in 2015



      P.S Children sometimes have all the answers, don’t they!

    • Hi Jake, I really like what you say in your comment – and so eloquently too.

      Yes, I believe it too: this is ‘something we can use to make our world a better place.’

    • Really great.

      Humans are amazing creatures in that we depend so much on each other to learn the skills we need to survive in the world.

      Look at a baby calf (or perhaps a horse in our case)… It can walk a few minutes after being born. By instinct.

      But not humans. We are basically useless for years. It takes a long time for us to build up the necessary knowledge to stay alive.

      And the way we do that is through stories.

      Whether they are mythologies or jokes or fearful tales, its the emotional ones that stick with us and let us learn. We can build on them and make them our own. They are the backbone of what allows us to build up knowledge, making each generation stronger than another.

      So what you are talking about here is not just something we can all use to sell our own stories. It’s something we can use to make our world a better place.

      Great post!

    • Darshan says:

      This was a powerful reminder of how to fully transmit to readers what we’re feeling when we craft a story. I made many mistakes early on in my writing with showing a scene, but not giving enough context to engender the emotion within my reader.

      I would try to make a reader sad by showing someone crying, but that alone doesn’t make a reader sad until they know why that person is crying. If the reason isn’t compelling (i.e. she wept because she missed the bus), the reader doesn’t feel sad, but if we see that someone kidnapped her child and held the kid hostage on the bus, we feel it.

      The horse story was crafted so well because we got a dynamic description of the crying, which implied a question (why is she crying?), the context for why she was crying, and question after question about the horse’s fate until we reached a point of relief.

      Powerful post, Mary!

      • Great to see you here, Darshan!

        Yes, getting emotions to transmit is a delicate thing. As I was writing this piece, I was so often tempted to write about what I was feeling, but I held back because I wanted to story to reflect and transmit my emotions.

        I know you’re a passionate writer – and you also have a professional knowledge of neurology. I’d love to read some pieces by you about the transmission of emotions.

    • Poor Horse... says:

      Hi Mary,

      Fun article.

      and please forgive me for pointing this out BUT, your story ends with a deus ex machina.

      What’s that? That’s when the main character is saved because the author cannot think of a climactic action to be made by the main character. So, a new character is introduced with a timely solution to the situation. Maybe you were pressed for time?

      A better story might be about when you and your sisters saved some famous author who had no clue how to ford a river on a horse?


      • The weird thing about this story is that it’s true! I was on that horse, the horse got stuck in quicksand, I managed to get out, the 3 girls appeared, and we pulled the horse out.

        At the time, my brother had a small farm called Monte Bruja, North of Cartagena.

        Your comment, as well as a fiery email I got – made me realise that maybe the story is hard to believe.

        It made me think about what exactly happened and how we managed to get it out.

        I reckon I could have got the horse out myself if I’d made it move forward straight away. But I didn’t. I tried to make it turn around …

        I didn’t realise at the time that the quicksand was just in one part of the streambed and the horse’s front legs must have been just on the last part of the dangerous area.

        It was a weird experience. Absolutely terrifying.

      • Interesting that you thought that. Perhaps because I once had a similar experience – not quicksand but a friend I was out riding with lost her horse over a bank into a river and had to be rescued by a passing boat – it was very obvious to me that it was a true story. So my first reaction on reading your comment was ‘why would you think it was made up?’ Which proves that, as writers, we cannot ever take reader response for granted. And also proves that old saying that ‘truth is stranger than fiction’.

        • Hi Belinda, yes, I must say it never occurred to me that readers wouldn’t believe the story.

          I got a very sharp email from a woman, called Kirsten. I invited here to copy/paste her response to me as a comment here because I thought it would be fun to have a rant like hers here …

          Here’s a section of her email:

          Here was my thought process while I was reading the part about some kids younger than twelve pulling a horse out of quicksand by its reins:
          What? That is a horse, it’s like 900-1200 lbs. my rudimentary knowledge of physics says that this is not possible. No, no, no, no, no, no. It does not work like that. Well, clearly someone isn’t writing what they know. What are those reins made of? Old belaying ropes? Bowline ropes? Are those Superman’s reins?
          You need to research horses before you write about them. Horses are complicated. You don’t pull a horse by the reins, that’s painful for the horse and the reins will break before the horse budges an inch. However, you could successfully put a lasso around a horse because they are designed to drag cows around from horseback. Please next time you are going to write an example about a sport, actually know the basics of the sport you are writing about.

          I wrote back to her and explained that how I wrote it was exactly what happened. I added that the bridles and bits they have in South America are a bit different from European ones and we had to grab whatever we could, reins and bridle to pull the horse out.

          This woman, Kirsten, obviously thought I had made up the story, had never been on a horse, and hadn’t researched the ‘story’ well enough.

          It made me laugh…

          • Morgyn says:

            As a lifelong rider, you had me from the get-go. And tortured me the rest of the piece, But the writer stuck with it because what you had to say was the equivalent of a craft book on a couple of pages.

            As for the ‘get real’ crowd, bite them. Invariably, it’s a case of not enough wisdom to know when to keep thy mouth (and fingertips) silent. And that includes using the reins. I’ve trained Pasos and didn’t bat an eyelash!

            Thank you, Mary!

            • Hey it’s nice to meet a ‘horsey’ person here, Morgyn. Thanks for your lovely, encouraging comment.

    • Glen Long says:

      Bravo Mary!

      The very best posts are an active demonstration of the principles they teach – and this post certainly does that.

      Like everyone else I wanted to know what happened to the poor horse but I managed not to read ahead.

      I like the idea of extending the “show don’t tell” principle to emotions. More often it’s used as a way of avoiding too much exposition in your writing, but it works great here too.

      Nice work!



    • Cecelia White Pineda says:

      Wow Mary – that was wonderful!

      And yes – I skipped to the bottom too to see what happened to the horse.

      But then I went back. I love the way you gave so many examples and illustrations of your points. It’s really helpful for assimilating the ideas. Even when the words seem obvious, and, of course, I’ve heard them before, I appreciate the translations coming from different angles that force me to think deeper and especially to integrate it for action.

      Thank you,

      • Great! Thanks for your lovely comment.

        I’d love to see what you make of it in action, Cecilia. Please do let me know when you write something that is inspired by this post. I’d love to read it.

    • Brilliant article, Mary. But I was so worried about the hours I couldn’t really concentrate on the great writing advice. Now that I’ve breathed a big sigh of relief, I’ll go back and re-read it. Very good advice. Thank you!

      • Worried? Yes, I have to say those minutes when I thought the horse was going to drown were among the worst of my life…

        Hope you enjoy the writing advice the second time ’round…

    • PJ Reece says:

      Mary… very useful stuff here. I’m off to my writers group this morning and will lay your link on the table. We can all do with hearing this kind of advice over and over again. Muchas gracias.

      • Thanks, PJ – always nice to see you here at WTD 🙂

    • Thank you Mary! What a great reminder … and the way you tell the story itself brings it home for me.
      I’m struggling with the very thing you mention in one of your comments — keeping emotions in check. And yet, as is so often said, it’s vulnerability that creates connection.
      My blog is in its infancy, so I’m hyper-aware of who my readers are and they are, for the most part, friends. (I’m hoping the A-List Blogging Masterclass will help me change that!) Funnily enough, I think I’d be better at expressing emotion if my readers were more anonymous. Is that odd?

      • Yes, as you say, “it’s vulnerability that creates connection.”

        But I think using emotions in our writing is more than just revealing vulnerability. I think everything we write needs to trigger an emotional response.

        But we can only create that response with integrity if we feel the emotion ourselves.

        There’s a kind of Litmus test we can do as writers:

        Check in with yourself before writing an article to feel which emotional response you have to the topic you plan to write about. And if the topic simply leaves you cold, don’t write about it.

    • Celeste says:

      So good Mary! Thank you for answering the Why of the “show, don’t tell” in such a clear and concise way. I first found this blog reading your post about the Pomodoro Technique and I’m so glad I did.

      • Hey Celeste, great to meet a writer who has a talent for writing funny – that’s rare!

        I went to your blog and read your post
        The Day that Making Mini Beef Wellington Turned Into a Plumbing Lesson

        I laughed out loud most of the way through…!

        Like this bit:

        ‘My mouth drops open. A high pitched sound eeps out.’

        You have real talent as a writer, Celeste!

        Please contact me (you can see the link in the navigation bar) as there’s something I want to say about your blog.

    • Bahij Bawarshi says:

      One of the best articles on writing that I’ve read. Thanks.

      • Thanks so much for coming here and adding your lovely comment, Bahij. It’s high praise indeed.

        I’ll try to live up to your expectations in my next posts [gulp] …

    • Gitta Wolf says:

      This is so good – you had me right from the first line! I scrolled down and down, needing to know what happened. Now THAT’S the power of words plugged into the power of emotion!
      Thank you for these articles, they are much appreciated by this writer/translator.
      I wish you joy, happiness and much love for the festive season and the New Year beyond.
      Kindest regards,

      • Thanks for your kind words, Gitta. I like your comment about scrolling down and down…

        A few days ago, when I was thinking of writing a new post for WTD, I suddenly realised that I keep my emotions in check when writing. I suppose that comes from my British mother and her ‘stiff upper lip’. So I decided to bring out the emotions within me and let rip..!

    • Alison says:

      Wow what a fantastic post! I was right there with you. It has really made me think about the way I write. It is so true, it doesn’t matter how useful the information is, if you don’t feel something it is unlikely to make an impact, When we feel we learn, right?

      Great one, thank you!

      • I’m glad you liked it, Alison!

        I think you’re right that emotions allow information to get under our skin.

    • Great by all standards. Picked a lot from that. Emotional resonance and others. Hopefully, I will use them in my writings to impact. Thanks a bunch!

      • Hey Anthony – I really appreciate your comment! Thanks for stopping by.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Virginia. This post was an experiment – and I’m glad it’s worked for you.

    • Michael Wilkinson says:


      This was very educational. I get the point of using emotional resonance to make a point, convey an emotion or evoke an emotion in a reader. I particularly liked your explanation of the use of foreshadowing to heighten the emotions of the reader.

      Thank you for sharing this with us and for going into such detail about transmitting naked emotions. I’ve bookmarked it.


      • Hi Michael, I’m so glad this post resonated with you!

        You’re right, foreshadowing is an amazing tool. Quite difficult to use, though. There’s a fine line between giving away too much, and not giving the reader enough warning.

    • Virginia says:

      What a terrific article. Oh my gosh – I had to keep reading to find out what happened to the horse.
      Great examples throughout on how to handle feelings, stories, and descriptive words. This is a keeper for reference and reminders.

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