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Why you need expressive images in your writing

We normally think of the expressions on our face as the reflection of an inner state. I feel happy, so I smile. I feel sad, so I frown. Emotion goes inside out. Emotional contagion, though, suggests that the opposite is also true. If I can make you smile, I can make you happy...Emotion, in this sense, goes outside in.

In this section of Malcolm Gladwell's "Tipping Point," he discusses how emotion reflects our inner composition and our environment. An emotional contagion, for Gladwell, suggests that a physical act (frowning) often results in an emotional reaction (sadness). He goes on to describe how certain people are so influential.


Some of us, after all, are very good at expressing emotions and feelings, which means that we are far more emotionally contagious than the rest of us. Psychologists call these people 'senders.'


What does this mean for writers?

Learn how to pick out "senders" for your images. The facial images you use can make a very real emotional impact on your readers. You don't need every photo to be overtly dramatic; rather, they should be expressive.

Understand the parts of the face: Eyebrows are the most expressive part of the face, but there is so much more than meets the eyebrow. A face pointed down can mean seriousness or sadness, and flared nostrils can mean either disgust or anger; marketers must be able to correctly identify an expression of an image. For an extensive list, click to this face body language table.

Know what can distract your image: If your image has a central focus (e.g., smile or mouth), pay close attention to what could draw the viewer's eye away. A background should not be too distracting, or else it will steal the show. The rest of the image must also support the main element of the primary emotion. If you are going for a somber mood, that image would be distracted by a basket of puppies.

Expressiveness does not mean beautiful: The most expressive faces are not necessarily the most beautiful. Steve Buscemi (Fargo) and Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) are among the most expressive faces in acting, but are not necessarily the most attractive. Do not be tempted to use a photo simply because you find the image to be the most attractive.

Using expressive writing techniques work because humans naturally mimic what they see. When done correctly, your writing will be more influential.

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