Saturday, December 4, 2010

200 “Triggers” for creating emotional responses in your characters in 31 Categories.

In order to make writing more emotionally powerful writers like to employ emotional triggers. Below are examples of such triggers. It goal of these triggers is to trigger many more ideas in the writer’s mind in an attempt to create just the right mix of triggers to meet the specific needs of the writer’s WIP.

31 Types of Triggers:

1.Emotions: can trigger emotions in others
2. Senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling and tasting a given stimuli can trigger emotions.
3. Behavior: actions by others can trigger emotions – from nasty to kind.
4. Losing items: money, jewels, sentimental items
5. Breaking items: sentimental items, expensive items
6. Forgetting things: passwords, meetings, birthdays
7. Snafus: doing things backwards, giving wrong directions
8. Computer virus & vandalism
9. Accidents: spilling things, walking into wrong meeting
10. Embarrassments: of all kinds.
11. Insults
12. Oversights
13. Disappointments
14. Insights:
15. Introspection:
16. Anniversary dates: of all kinds
17. Feeling of helplessness
18. Jealousy: of all types, include envy and resentment
19. Projection, interpretation, inkblot effect
20. Bad news, rejection
21. Dreams, nightmares, day dreams
22. Superstitions: seeing black cat, Friday 13th
23. Winning: from big to little: loto, free book
24. Boost to self-esteem, awards, compliments
25. Lyrics in songs: song titles
26. Bible quotes that hit with power
27. Things that are overheard
28. Quandaries: having to face a difficult choice
29. Problems with government: taxes, traffic tickets, fines, zoning,
30. Rude drivers, drunk drivers
31. Injustice: cat and mouse, man teasing a dog, father ignoring little child when he gets home.

Think Parlay: One way to used emotional triggers is to have them cascade into bigger and bigger emotional problems. Woman drops sunglasses getting out of car, they break, she jumps out and locks the keys in the car with the motor running, etc. This is a way to get a big bang with a series of little events which can carry greater credibility.

200 Specific Examples

1. Seeing someone take three newspapers from a vending machine after paying for one copy.
2. Seeing a healthy young person park in a handicapped parking space.
3. Seeing a drunk passed out in an alley.
4. Hearing a song that you last heard played at a funeral of a loved one.
5. Seeing a soldier in uniform who is missing an arm or leg.
6. Seeing someone pick up the phone and then break into uncontrollable sobs.
7. Opening your front door and seeing two policemen standing there.
8. Hearing sirens coming down your street getting louder all the time.
9. See a child pick up a handgun.
10. Dropping your car keys down a drain at the car wash.
11. Finding letter from IRS in your mailbox.
12. Smelling smoke while you sleep.
13. Hearing glass breaking.
14. Seeing a dog dodge cars in the street.
15. Discovering that your wallet is missing.
16. Having the brakes go out in your car.
17. Seeing some bad gang types shoplifting goods in a convenience store.
18. Walking into a convenience store and finding no one there.
19. Discovering your cell phone is not yours.
20. Getting up to speak and forgetting what you were going to say.
21. Friend tells you in tears that her husband has been cheating on her.
22. Being told that your best friend’s husband has been promoted (yours just lost his job).
23. Discovering a person you admired was arrested for being a fraud.
24. Driving your car and noticing the engine is on fire.
25. Being told you have to fire one of your workers.
26. Being told by doctor you need to be tested for having cancer.
27. Very loud noises you can’t excape because of heavy contraction work going on outside your house.
28. Getting a bad test score at school or performance review – both which were subjective and unfair.
29. Being falsely accused by person who probably actually did it.
30. Forgetting important date: birthday, anniversary, etc.
31. Calling wife or girlfriend by ex’s name and not hers.
32. Being in a car wreck: injured or not.
33. Getting unexpected high bill for something: utility (real or mistaken).
34. Showing up two hours early because you set the clock back instead of forward.
35. Coming home and finding that your front door is open. Is someone in there?
36. unexpected toothache or broken tooth
37. you see someone who looks just like someone who has died.
38. learn another one of your friends is pregnant when you are trying to have a child and can’t
39. You see a bad accident alongside the road
40. you trip and fall down: figure where and why
41. you hear gunshots
42. you feel a minor earthquake…one that you can feel but that does not damage
43. lightening strikes a few yards from you
44. you see a family being evicted from their apartment by the sheriff
45. a deer runs out in front of you car
46. you see a herd of deer, several dozen in the morning light, out in a field
47. you see a horse giving birth out in a field
48. a fire starts in the kitchen
49. a neighbor comes banging on your door yelling for help
50. a grass fire is moving towards your home
51. you can’d find you child while in department store
52. you are at the date’s home and you have a sneezing fit over his cat being there
53. you tell an author how much you like her book and you name a title she did not write
54. you see two men chasing two other men down the street and into an alley
55. you see two ambulances stop in front of an old house
56. you look out the ten story window and see an accident about the happen on the street below and there is nothing you can do about it
57. a baby starts to cry very loudling in the middle of an opera
58. you see a three legged dog
59. you see a boy drop a fly ball in a little league game and begin to cry
60. you see three bigger boys bully a fourth boy in a school yard across the street knowing there is nothing you can do
61. you see children walking to the very edge of the Grand Canyon just inches from a drop that is over a mile down
62. you see a dead deer strapped to the hood of a hunter’s truck
63. seeing two kids in a play ground having a fist fight
64. seeing a balloon slip away from a child who starts to cry
65. bags lost by airline, flight cancelled by airline
66. snow storm at bad time
67. mistake made at work
68. you are told a secret which you feel morally obligated to reveal
69. a small victory like winning $25 on a radio show
70. finding something valuable that you thought was lost for good
71. being the only one at work or in a class who knows the answer to a difficult question
72. learning someone at work is having an affair
73. being told that someone you know has died
74. seeing an old couple in a park having a very bitter and loud argument
75. watching a squirrel fall from a tree
76. winning a bet at work or small loto win $50
77. seeing someone famous or having the famous person ask you for directions
78. seeing an eagle soar where eagles are not supposed to be; seeing a double rainbow
79. talking on phone to someone who can hear a tornado outside and must take cover
80. being at a little airport and being told a plane is coming in that is out of gas
81. taking off in a small aircraft when the engine fails
82. hearing a teenage yelling “I hate you” which can stir memories
83. hearing an explosion that shakes the neighborhood – can be a transformer
84. seeing the happy reunion at airport between solider and his family
85. driving by a cemetery and seeing the motorcycle warriors protecting a serviceman’s service
86. seeing a man come home and having him hug and love his dog who runs out to meet him
87. seeing co-worked get flowers delivered to her desk and how she reacts
88. co-worker brings her newborn baby to work with all the emotions that can stir
89. co-worker or friend shows off the diamond engagement ring
90. co-worker has big birthday cake delivered to her desk
91. blackout: the power goes out over a given area
92. seeing something you shouldn’t have seen: like in a window reflection or mirror; boyfriend slipping a business card to woman in restaurant
93. thinking your boyfriend is coming on to your sister
94. meeting ex-girlfriends of your boyfriend in various situations
95. you discover someone has a big talent that you never expected (perhaps you learn something by reading a relative’s diary).
96. you uncover something, an item or letter, from a long dead relative that strikes meaning to your life today
97. you find a very old photo of a relative who looks just like you but who you have no idea who she is
98. you hear a bible quote on the radio that hits home very hard
99. you see someone you know who is in AA and he is in a bar
100. you see a police officer on duty sneaking a drink from a flask

100 Everyday frustrations:

1. locking keys in car
2. running out of gas
3. breaking off key in car
4. frozen lock in car in morning
5. flat tire
6. tire that is too low on air pressure
7. dead batteries just when most needed
8. tv remote no longer works
9. something in washing machine stains the white clothes
10. someone parks in your assigned parking place
11. dog barks all night
12. neighbor plays music too loud
13. road construction and delays
14. long lines, long wait, then windows closes before you get waited on.
15. stopped by police checkpoint
16. have wrong eyeglasses, broken ear piece
17. broken shoe lace, shoe lace tied in a knot
18. take a wrong pill
19. expired driver’s license
20. expired car license, expired inspection sticker
21. credit card rejection in public
22. bounced check: by mistake you or bank
23. show up on wrong day for doctor’s appointment
24. forget to buy what you went to the store to buy in the first place
25. learn your discount coupons have expired at the checkout line
26. run into someone you don’t want to see in line at supermarket
27. have favorite talk show host have substitute
28. have favorite tv show be a repeat
29. have favorite talk show host preempted by sporting event
30. have restaurant be out of the food item you drove all the way across town to eat.
31. spill something hard to remove on new clothing item
32. tear a clothing item you are wearing
33. have you resume discovered in the Xerox
34. bad behaving kids at wedding, in church,
35. paper cut; could bleed on clothes
36. broken finger nail with no way to clip it
37. radio station is off air for some reason
38. ear ache
39. sneezing fit at bad time
40. headache
41. car won’t start
42. wrong pickup order from fast food place learned only after you get home
43. lock yourself out of your house
44. icemaker no longer works
45. horn sticks and you can’t turn it off in public place or late at night
46. false burglar alarms annoy you or yours annoys neighbors.
47. plants die from forgetting to water them
48. unexpected frost kills plants
49. you gained five pounds
50. the furnace is putting out only cool air
51. the air conditioner stops working at very bad time
52. you forget people’s name at a very important time
53. your cell phone rings at bad time even though you thought you turned it off
54. you sit on a sticky seat at the movies
55. the cd will not come out of the cd player in your car
56. red light come on in your car and you don’t know what is wrong
57. watch battery dies and you miss appointment
58. you discover one of your expensive ear rings is missing
59. you dial someone you don’t want to talk to by mistake
60. you are seen buying something in a store that you don’t want the person knowing about
61. you accidentally say something that you are not supposed to know or that was a secret
62. you try to open your car door in a parking lot and it’s not your car…it just looks like your car
63. your newspaper didn’t arrive the one morning you needed it
64. animals have spread your garbage all over your lawn
65. you garbage pail is missing again
66. you can’t open your can of pop when the tab breaks off
67. you can’t open a child proof pill box
68. you get the wrong prescription at the drug store
69. your doctor is no longer seeing patients with you type of insurance
70. you missed an important call: a call to win something on the local radio show.
71. you burn something making a big mess in the microwave because of talking on the phone
72. important letter came back to you because you failed to put a stamp on it
73. change machine keeps you dollar when you most need change
74. your matches won’t light no matter what you try
75. your foot goes to sleep just as you need to get up and do something in public
76. you step off curb and into something messy
77. you hear phone ringing but you cannot find it
78.windshield wipers don’t work
79. heavy rain floods road you need to get out of back country…no easy work around
80. train miles long crossing street and you have to wait for it to pass…rarely ever happens
81. ice storm locks you into your driveway
82. power outage puts your freeze full of meat at risk
83. large flock of birds eat all the grass seed you just put down to start your lawn
84. gas goes up 10 cents over night, while the last donut was sold, and the coffee is making
85. the one open gas pump in a very crowded station is out of order when you get to it
86. your alarm clock comes on super loud at a hotel and you can’t turn it off
87. you leave a message on the wrong phone machine by mistake…it is also someone you know who should not hear the message
88. your bottle of pills does not have top on tight and all the pills fall down the sink and unto the floor
89. you put personal letters in the wrong envelopes
90. dog or cat gets out when you are leaving for work and late for work
91. your child or mother says something that embarrasses you
92. someone trips on something you left where it should not be
93. you say something innocent and someone near you breaks out in tears
94. a slip of the tongue gets you into trouble
95. last two shopping carts are stuck together, wheel is stuck and carts wants to turn in circles, loose cart heads toward your car, you rush to stop it
96. item you bought in grocery was not the item near the posted price – item costs much more than you expected
97. phone bill has expenses you didn’t incur and you’ll have to spend an hour, again, trying the straighten the bill out
98. auto alarm goes off in parking lot or you make someone else’s alarm go off by getting too close to their car
99. shop lifter alarm goes off as you leave a store
100. you accidentally open a personal letter to a co-worker. It was on your desk.

Also See: 100 Ways to Show Character Growth in Your Romance

Also See: 106 Ways To Show Your Hero & Heroine Falling in Love


  1. Vince, great examples. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  2. Hi Caroline:

    Thanks for coming by. I’ll be putting up more lists in the future.