Kim’s Tips for Better Storytelling (Part 2 of 3)

Last week, we kicked off this 3-part series with how to extract storytelling techniques from movies and apply them to your writing. Read Part 1 Here.

As a non-fiction author, you might think that your storytelling can be abbreviated and you can get away with TELLING the reader, rather than SHOWING the reader.

After all… you’re not writing a novel, something to be read for pure entertainment, right?

Think again.

Because your reader will forget your catchy acronyms and 5-step process. What they won’t forget is the feelings you invoked in them – and through those feelings, they’ll be able to tap into the lessons you’re trying to impart.

One of the biggest places where authors fall down in their storytelling is when you THINK you are showing the reader what you’re experiencing (as narrator) but you’re really TELLING the reader.

“Show, don’t tell” is one of the cardinal rules of storytelling. But that doesn’t meant that citing that cliché at an author means that it’s instantly understood HOW to do this.

Storytelling Technique Two: Describing Emotions

For today’s exercise, we’re returning to the movie you watched last week – and I want you to think of a scene where the character(s) were experiencing an emotion. You, the viewer, KNEW what emotion, but the actor never announced it like:

I’m so mad!
I’m so happy!
I’m so sad!
I’m so anxious.

Announcing that you’re mad, happy, sad, anxious, etc., is just that:

An announcement.

It makes little impact on the reader.


Because everybody experiences emotions differently. Notice I didn’t say FEELS emotions; I said EXPERIENCES emotions.

Everybody experiences emotions differently. HOW you describe that experience creates impact for the reader. Share on X

Happy can be a swooping feeling in your middle. Where it feels like your heart is lifting up out of your chest, gravity doesn’t pull so hard, and your scalp relaxes as your lips curl your cheeks up in a smile.

Happy can also be a quiet feeling, where only your eyes crinkle. Your jaw and shoulders relax, you’re able to take a big, deep breath, and you feel light.

So how do YOU experience happy?

Here’s your exercise:

You’re going to tell the story of when you were happy. BUT, you’re not allowed to use the word ‘happy’ – or any synonym of it. So your no-go words are (and not limited to)

  • Happy
  • Joy
  • Content
  • Cheery
  • Jolly
  • Gleeful
  • Satisfied
  • Radiant
  • Exuberant
  • Exhilarated

OR any “colorful” turn of phrase or cliché like:

  • In seventh heaven
  • On cloud nine
  • Over the moon
  • Walking on air
  • Jumping for joy
  • Tickled pink
  • Happy as a clam

Your job is to write this moment of happiness and describe how you felt by showing the reader what happy feels like in your body. You do need to give a dab of context – but not much!

Now, I’ll admit…

Sometimes the “positive” emotions are harder to describe. And they can be more difficult to weave into a scene where Stuff Happens.

But don’t worry! We’ll dive into that – and how to start in the middle of the action – next week in Part 3!

Kim Galloway
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