Ever noticed how some writers have an uncanny ability to toy with your emotions?
Within the span of a few pages, you can go from shaking with excitement to bawling your eyes out to flying into a rage and throwing the book across the room. It’s the hallmark of great writing, proof of mastery of the craft, and the yardstick by which aspiring writers measure their work.
And it goes beyond storytelling.
Sure, taking the reader on an emotional roller coaster ride is essential in novels and short stories, but what about emails, resumes, blog posts, proposals? They’re all designed to influence the reader in some way. You want to pass along information, yes, but you also want the reader to feel a certain way about that information.
Maybe you want to impress them, get them excited, make them cautious, get them angry, encourage them to keep going, or any number of emotions. The better a job you do at making them feel, the more influential you are, and the better your chances of getting what you want.
So, you might wonder… how?
The world is full of people who can scribble down their ideas, but to bring those ideas to life, to make them take up residence in the mind of the reader, lurking in the background, tugging, pulling, and cajoling their emotions until they think and feel exactly as you want? That’s a rare skill indeed.
The good news is it can be yours. There’s even a shortcut.
How to Instantly Become a Better Writer
Use power words.
Rather than describe what I mean, let’s deconstruct an example from the great Winston Churchill:
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.
Well, there was a lot on the line. Under attack from Germany, Britain was fighting for its survival, and somehow, someway, Churchill had to find a way to inspire his countrymen to greatness.
He chose words. Or, to be more accurate, power words.
Let’s take a look at the passage again, this time with all the power words underlined:
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstroustyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.
Each underlined word makes the audience feel something. In this case, Churchill intermixes words that cause fear, such as “struggle,” “tyranny,” and “terror,” with words that cause hope, such as “strength,” “God,” and “victory.” The last, in particular, is repeated over and over, practically drilling the emotion into the minds of the audience.
It’s no accident. Smart speakers, as well as their speechwriters, sprinkle their speeches with carefully-chosen power words, drawing the audience from one emotion to another as skillfully as any novelist or screenwriter.
Granted, that’s not all they do. The best writers use an entire tool chest of techniques to create emotion, and power words are only one such tool.
But there’s good news.
For beginning writers, power words are one of the easiest tools to master. Unlike many storytelling strategies which can take years of practice to master, you can start sprinkling power words into your writing, and you’ll notice an immediate lift in the quality of your prose.
All you lack is a list of power words to use, but of course, I have you covered there too. 🙂
317 Power Words to Start Using Immediately
For years now, every time I mentioned power words to my students, someone always asked:
“Where can I get a list? Is there a book I can buy?”
Sadly, not that I’m aware of. That’s why I created this list.
Slowly, over a period of several weeks, I catalogued all the power words that jumped out to me, organizing them into categories based on the emotion you want to create, so you can easily find the right word. In the future, I’ll also update the list, adding new words on a regular basis to make it the most comprehensive list of power words available anywhere.
It costs nothing. All I ask in return is you share it with your friends and readers when appropriate, helping it reach the people who need it most.
Want a handy PDF containing all 317 Power Words (plus 50 exclusive bonus words) to download and keep? Get it Here.
Calling All Fearmongers
Let’s do a little experiment.
Just for a moment, stop reading this post, turn on the television, and go to a major news channel. Watch it for five minutes, listening for the words below.
Chances are, you’ll hear dozens of them. Here’s why:
Fear is without a doubt the most powerful emotion for grabbing and keeping an audience’s attention. To make sure you don’t change the channel, news networks load up with fear words, making you worry you might miss something important.
It’s effective. Granted, you can overdo it, but in my opinion, most writers don’t use these types of words nearly enough. They really do connect with people.
Here’s a bunch to get you started:
Give Your Readers a Pep Talk
Let’s face it.
When they’re reading, most people aren’t exactly bouncing off the walls with energy and enthusiasm. They’re probably bored, maybe a little depressed, and almost definitely tired. And they’re looking for something, anything, that’ll wake them up and make them feel better.
The good news?
Your writing can do that for them. Use these power words to give them a pep talk and get them charged up again:
Take a Page from Cosmopolitan (or Playboy)
Like it or not, lust is one of the core human emotions.
Just look at the men’s and women’s magazines in the checkout aisle, and you’ll see what I mean. Nearly every headline on the cover is either blatantly or indirectly about sex.
And it works, not just for men’s and women’s magazines, but for anything. As a writer, you can use words that inspire lust to make almost anything intriguing.
For example: take a look at these two posts I wrote for Copyblogger:
Sex, Lies, and the Art of Commanding Attention
Copyblogger Editor Admits to Sleeping with Readers and Recommends You Do the Same
Both posts use the power of lust to teach people about headlines, of all things. Proof positive that it can be used for anything.
Here’s a lascivious list to get you started:
Start a Riot
As writers, sometimes our job is to anger people.
Not for the fun of it, mind you, but because someone is doing something wrong, and the community needs to take action to correct it. The problem is, with wrongdoing, most people are pretty apathetic – they’ll wait until the situation becomes entirely intolerable to do anything, and by then, it’s often too late.
So, we have to fan the flames. By using the below power words, you can connect with people’s anger, and slowly but surely, you can work them into a frenzy. Just be careful who you target. Lawyers can eat you alive if you pick on the wrong person. 🙂
Know it all
Sick and Tired
Stomp on Their Greed Glands
The legendary copywriter Gary Halbert once said, “If you want people to buy something, stomp on their greed glands until they bleed.” Graphic, yes, but also true.
Skim through good sales copy, and you’ll find a lot of these power words. Many of them are so overused they’ve become cliché, but that doesn’t stop them from working.
The truth is, nearly every human being on the planet is interested in either making or saving money. Use these words to tap into those desires:
Make Them Feel Safe
Greed isn’t the only emotion you want buyers to feel. You also want to make them feel safe.
They need to trust both you and your product or service. They need to have confidence you’ll deliver. They need to believe they’ll get results.
Of course, building that kind of trust starts with having a quality brand and reputation, but the words you use to describe yourself and your product or service also matter. To help your customers feel safe, try to use as many of these power words as possible:
No Questions Asked
No Strings Attached
Try before You Buy
Offer Them a Forbidden Fruit
Remember when you were a kid, and someone told you NOT to do something? From that point on, you could think about little else, right?
The truth is, we’re all fascinated by the mysterious and forbidden. It’s like it’s programmed into our very nature.
So why not tap into that programming?
Whenever you need to create curiosity, sprinkle these power words throughout your writing, and readers won’t be able to help being intrigued:
Behind the Scenes
Want a handy PDF containing all 317 Power Words (plus 50 exclusive bonus words) to download and keep? Get it Here.
Go Ahead and Tell Me. What Words Did I Miss?
Yes, this is an enormous list, but so many power words are available, nobody can possibly catch them all on the first pass. What are some other words that seem to have that extra little spark of emotion inside them?
Leave your answer in the comments, and as time goes by, I’ll come back periodically and update the list. Eventually, I hope to have over 1,000 words here, separated and organized by category, making this the definitive resource for power words on the web.
Thanks in advance for commenting and sharing the post with your friends!
About the Author: Jon Morrow has asked repeatedly to be called “His Royal Awesomeness” but no one listens to him. So, he settles for CEO of Smart Blogger. Poor man. 🙂
What is tone?
Tone refers to an author’s use of words and writing style to convey his or her attitude towards a topic. Tone is often defined as what the author feels about the subject. What the reader feels is known as the mood.
Tip: Don’t confuse tone with voice. [Read How Do You Find Your Writing Voice?] Voice can be explained as the author’s personality expressed in writing. Tone = Attitude. Voice = Personality.
Tone (attitude) and voice (personality) create a writing style. You may not be able to alter your personality but you can adjust your attitude. This gives you ways to create writing that affects your audience’s mood. (Click here for examples of tone in a story.)
The mechanics of tone
Tone is conveyed through diction (choice and use of words and phrases), viewpoint, syntax (grammar; how you put words and phrases together), and level of formality. It is the way you express yourself in speech or writing.
How do you find the correct tone?
You can usually find a tone by asking these three questions:
- Why am I writing this?
- Who is my intended audience?
- What do I want the reader to learn, understand, or think about?
In formal writing, your tone should be clear, concise, confident, and courteous. The writing level should be sophisticated, but not pretentious.
In creative writing, your tone is more subjective, but you should always aim to communicate clearly. Genre sometimes determines the tone.
|Absurd||illogical; ridiculous; silly; implausible; foolish|
|Accusatory||suggesting someone has done something wrong, complaining|
|Acerbic||sharp; forthright; biting; hurtful; abrasive; severe|
|Admiring||approving; think highly of; respectful; praising|
|Aggressive||hostile; determined; forceful; argumentative|
|Aggrieved||indignant; annoyed; offended; disgruntled|
|Ambivalent||having mixed feelings; uncertain; in a dilemma; undecided|
|Amused||entertained; diverted; pleased|
|Angry||incensed or enraged; threatening or menacing|
|Animated||full of life or excitement; lively; spirited; impassioned; vibrant|
|Apathetic||showing little interest; lacking concern; indifferent; unemotional|
|Apologetic||full of regret; repentant; remorseful; acknowledging failure|
|Appreciative||grateful; thankful; showing pleasure; enthusiastic|
|Arrogant||pompous; disdainful; overbearing; condescending; vain; scoffing|
|Assertive||self-confident; strong-willed; authoritative; insistent|
|Awestruck||amazed, filled with wonder/awe; reverential|
|Belligerent||hostile; aggressive; combatant|
|Benevolent||sympathetic; tolerant; generous; caring; well meaning|
|Bitter||angry; acrimonious; antagonistic; spiteful; nasty|
|Callous||cruel disregard; unfeeling; uncaring; indifferent; ruthless|
|Candid||truthful, straightforward; honest; unreserved|
|Caustic||making biting, corrosive comments; critical|
|Cautionary||gives warning; raises awareness; reminding|
|Celebratory||praising; pay tribute to; glorify; honour|
|Chatty||informal; lively; conversational; familiar|
|Colloquial||familiar; everyday language; informal; colloquial; casual|
|Comic||humorous; witty; entertaining; diverting|
|Compassionate||sympathetic; empathetic; warm-hearted; tolerant; kind|
|Complex||having many varying characteristics; complicated|
|Compliant||agree or obey rules; acquiescent; flexible; submissive|
|Concerned||worried; anxious; apprehensive|
|Conciliatory||intended to placate or pacify; appeasing|
|Condescending||stooping to the level of one’s inferiors; patronising|
|Confused||unable to think clearly; bewildered; vague|
|Contemptuous||showing contempt; scornful; insolent; mocking|
|Critical||finding fault; disapproving; scathing; criticizing|
|Cruel||causing pain and suffering; unkind; spiteful; severe|
|Curious||wanting to find out more; inquisitive; questioning|
|Cynical||scornful of motives/virtues of others; mocking; sneering|
|Defensive||defending a position; shielding; guarding; watchful|
|Defiant||obstinate; argumentative; defiant; contentious|
|Depressing||sad, melancholic; discouraging; pessimistic|
|Derisive||snide; sarcastic; mocking; dismissive; scornful|
|Detached||aloof; objective; unfeeling; distant|
|Dignified||serious; respectful; formal; proper|
|Diplomatic||tactful; subtle; sensitive; thoughtful|
|Disapproving||displeased; critical; condemnatory|
|Disheartening||discouraging; demoralising; undermining; depressing|
|Disparaging||dismissive; critical; scornful|
|Disappointed||discouraged; unhappy because something has gone wrong|
|Dispassionate||impartial; indifferent; unsentimental; cold; unsympathetic|
|Distressing||heart-breaking; sad; troubling|
|Docile||compliant; submissive; deferential; accommodating|
|Earnest||showing deep sincerity or feeling; serious|
|Egotistical||self-absorbed; selfish; conceited; boastful|
|Empathetic||understanding; kind; sensitive|
|Evasive||ambiguous; cryptic; unclear|
|Excited||emotionally aroused; stirred|
|Farcical||ludicrous; absurd; mocking; humorous and highly improbable|
|Flippant||superficial; glib; shallow; thoughtless; frivolous|
|Forceful||powerful; energetic; confident; assertive|
|Formal||respectful; stilted; factual; following accepted styles/rules|
|Frank||honest; direct; plain; matter-of-fact|
|Gentle||kind; considerate; mild; soft|
|Ghoulish||delighting in the revolting or the loathsome|
|Grim||serious; gloomy; depressing; lacking humour;macabre|
|Gullible||naïve; innocent; ignorant|
|Hard||unfeeling; hard-hearted; unyielding|
|Humorous||amusing; entertaining; playful|
|Hypercritical||unreasonably critical; hair splitting; nitpicking|
|Impartial||unbiased; neutral; objective|
|Impassioned||filled with emotion; ardent|
|Inane||silly; foolish; stupid; nonsensical|
|Incredulous||disbelieving; unconvinced; questioning; suspicious|
|Indignant||annoyed; angry; dissatisfied|
|Informative||instructive; factual; educational|
|Intense||earnest; passionate; concentrated; deeply felt|
|Intimate||familiar; informal; confidential; confessional|
|Ironic||the opposite of what is meant|
|Irreverent||lacking respect for things that are generally taken seriously|
|Jaded||bored; having had too much of the same thing; lack enthusiasm|
|Joyful||positive; optimistic; cheerful; elated|
|Judgmental||critical; finding fault; disparaging|
|Light-Hearted||carefree; relaxed; chatty; humorous|
|Loving||affectionate; showing intense, deep concern|
|Macabre||gruesome; horrifying; frightening|
|Malicious||desiring to harm others or to see others suffer; ill-willed; spiteful|
|Mocking||scornful; ridiculing; making fun of someone|
|Mourning||grieving; lamenting; woeful|
|Naïve||innocent; unsophisticated; immature|
|Narcissistic||self-admiring; selfish; boastful; self-pitying|
|Nasty||unpleasant; unkind; disagreeable; abusive|
|Nostalgic||thinking about the past; wishing for something from the past|
|Objective||without prejudice; without discrimination; fair; based on fact|
|Obsequious||overly obedient and/or submissive; fawning; grovelling|
|Outraged||angered and resentful; furious; extremely angered|
|Outspoken||frank; candid; spoken without reserve|
|Pathetic||expressing pity, sympathy, tenderness|
|Patronising||condescending; scornful; pompous|
|Pensive||reflective; introspective; philosophical; contemplative|
|Persuasive||convincing; eloquent; influential; plausible|
|Pessimistic||seeing the negative side of things|
|Philosophical||theoretical; analytical; rational; logical|
|Playful||full of fun and good spirits; humorous; jesting|
|Pretentious||affected; artificial; grandiose; rhetorical; flashy|
|Resentful||aggrieved; offended; displeased; bitter|
|Restrained||controlled; quiet; unemotional|
|Reverent||showing deep respect and esteem|
|Righteous||morally right and just; guiltless; pious; god-fearing|
|Satirical||making fun to show a weakness; ridiculing; derisive|
|Sarcastic||scornful; mocking; ridiculing|
|Scathing||critical; stinging; unsparing; harsh|
|Scornful||expressing contempt or derision; scathing; dismissive|
|Sensationalistic||provocative; inaccurate; distasteful|
|Sentimental||thinking about feelings, especially when remembering the past|
|Sincere||honest; truthful; earnest|
|Sceptical||disbelieving; unconvinced; doubting|
|Solemn||not funny; in earnest; serious|
|Submissive||compliant; passive; accommodating; obedient|
|Sulking||bad-tempered; grumpy; resentful; sullen|
|Sympathetic||compassionate; understanding of how someone feels|
|Thoughtful||reflective; serious; absorbed|
|Tolerant||open-minded; charitable; patient; sympathetic; lenient|
|Unassuming||modest; self-effacing; restrained|
|Uneasy||worried; uncomfortable; edgy; nervous|
|Urgent||insistent; saying something must be done soon|
|Vindictive||vengeful; spiteful; bitter; unforgiving|
|Virtuous||lawful; righteous; moral; upstanding|
|Whimsical||quaint; playful; mischievous; offbeat|
|Witty||clever; quick-witted; entertaining|
|Wonder||awe-struck; admiring; fascinating|
|World-Weary||bored; cynical; tired|
|Worried||anxious; stressed; fearful|
|Wretched||miserable; despairing; sorrowful; distressed|
Helpful Tip:Finding the correct tone is a matter of practice. Try to write for different audiences. Even if you only want to write novels, it is an apprenticeship of sorts. Write press releases. Write opinion pieces. Write interviews. Write copy. Write a business plan.
The more you write, the better you will become at infusing your work with the nuances needed to create the perfect book. If you want to receive a daily prompt, click here to join our mailing list.
by Amanda Patterson
- 15 Questions Authors Should Ask Characters
- 6 Sub-Plots That Add Style To Your Story
- 7 Choices That Affect A Writer’s Style
- 5 Incredibly Simple Ways To Help Writers Show And Not Tell
- Cheat Sheets for Writing Body Language
If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.
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- Posted on 27th June 2014
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Explore: Style, Tone, Voice, Writing Tips from Amanda Patterson