Making an Impact- Visceral Reactions

July 24, 2018

If you ask my critique partners, they would say I am the queen of visceral reactions. It has become more of a joke really since I am usually the one that is pointing out the need for one in their writing and they love to catch me needing one in my own. As with many things in writing, it is often harder to spot in your own words.


So, just to explain, what is a visceral reaction? If you look it up in the dictionary it would say, "characterized by or proceeding from instinct rather than intellect". Basically it is a bodily reaction of some sort that is uncontrollable, say an increased heartbeat, sweating, shaking, stomach clinching, etc. These are some basic examples but you can get the idea. Try to play around with them and come up with fresh interpretations. I have been known to pause in a situation and pay attention to my own body and the reaction I might be having so I can describe it later - obviously not life or death situations - mostly when I'm happy or excited!


Why would you want to use these in your writing? A visceral reaction, when used at the right time, will punch up your readers experience of our work. It will built tension, both emotional and situational by showing your characters reaction to whatever is happening. This will allow your reader to be more closely connected to your character and more immersed in the scene. We want our readers to be so wrapped up in our story that they forget the real world for a little while. Visceral reactions are a great way to achieve this goal with out using too much real estate in your work - they are quick and powerful.


Some examples. So, let's take a basic sentence.

"Andrew watched the wolf approach slowly from out of the trees."

Okay, so there is danger here. It doesn't sound like a very good situation for Andrew and we would have more context in the scene but we can punch up this sentence with a good visceral reaction.

"Andrew's stomach twisted tighter than a noose as the wolf approached slowly from out of the trees."

Now in this example the sentence is a little longer but those few words do a ton. We know exactly how Andrew is feeling and we have a better sense of the danger he is in. 


Visceral reactions not only work in dangerous situations but they are amazing in happy scenes and love scenes as well. For any heat level, sweet to erotica, a well-placed visceral reaction or two will punch up the scene to the next level. In a scene from Fractured Magic I could have written: 

"I really liked Jax. When I didn't want to kill him."

First of all, this is a tell, and it is stronger to show, but that is for another post. So, instead I wrote:
"Something about Jax made me melt inside, warm and gooey as a fresh cinnamon roll. When he wasn’t making me want to kill him. "

See the difference?


One word of warning about visceral reactions: they can be overused! It will get exhausting for your readers, and a bit hard to believe, if every scene your characters have pounding hearts, want to throw up, are shaking ect. So save the visceral reactions for the important moments that you want to draw attention and want to punch up. Also, don't always use the same reaction. If your character is always feeling a tight stomach and the urge to puke, your reader might decide the character has a weak stomach or some other medical issue!


Hope this helps! Leave a comment with a visceral reaction from your work in progress!

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