Without further ado, here are the Four Horsemen of the Prose-ocalypse:
What do I mean? These four areas of the body are the well-worn favorites of writers everywhere when it comes to describing emotions of any kind. Count how many times you’ve seen the following (or similar) phrases:
She darted a menacing glance over her shoulder.
He cast his eyes to the ground.
My heart clenched in my chest like a giant fist.
His heart knocked against his ribs like a caged bird.
She let go of a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding.
Timmy gasped for air like a drowning man.
The sound of his raspy breathing was the only noise in the otherwise death-silent room.
A gnawing feeling radiated from her guts.
Acid roiled in my stomach, threatening to make an exit up my esophagus.
And on and on and on. Now, that’s not to say these phrases are inherently bad. They’re not. But as writers, you should always be aware of your descriptions. There aren’t many areas of the human body that act as emotional centers. Eyes, hearts, lungs and stomachs are the four biggies. A lot of stuff happens at these hotspots as a character moves through the emotional arc of a story.
But every time you write something about eyes darting, a heart clenching, breaths catching in throats or guts rumbling, just know that these Four Horsemen appear in almost every manuscript. It is your job to put a fresh twist on these descriptions and to give your readers new images.
Just because you know everyone struggles with this problem and just because you want to easily convey emotion in your work doesn’t mean you can get complacent and fall back on the stuff I’ve outlined above.
I issue you a challenge and throw down the gauntlet! What are some fun ways you outsmart the Four Horsemen in your manuscripts?