Words. Removing emotion words, that is.
She felt sad.
He was angry.
If you find you’ve written sentences like these in your manuscript, chances are good you have one of two problems:
It’s easy to write, “He seemed agitated.” It’s much harder to think about and write something like:
His hands moved in a circuit from rubbing the back of his neck to pulling the collar of his shirt away from his throat to patting his right hip pocket. He flinched when the clerk asked for his order.
It’s more interesting for us readers to experience your story by reading these descriptions; we lose that experience when you tell us someone is bored.
We also get to know your character better when you show us how that character experiences boredom: one person may watch TV and eat a bag of chips; another may pace; and another may start picking at the loose threads on their sweater, slowly shredding it.
And, bonus!, these descriptions give you something more to work with later in your story. Perhaps that empty chip bag becomes a clue to whodunnit. Maybe that shredded sweater was a gift from an ex-boyfriend who comes back seeking a reconciliation.
When you come across emotion words in your manuscript, try deleting them. If the scene still shows the emotion, then you’re done. You didn’t need that crutch.
If you’ve lost something by deleting that emotion word, work on rewriting the scene a bit to show the emotion.
If you find you’re struggling with describing emotions, check out the Emotion Thesaurus. This book, written by writers for writers, lists 75-ish emotions and their definitions. The writers include both external (visible to an outsider) and internal (felt only by the person experiencing the emotion) signs that describe each emotion.
When I'm doing the editing
I read, and then I tell you about what I've read. Whether you want to hear about it or not...