Avoid using weak pushbutton words in story

Sometimes rather than finding a truly evocative term, writers get lazy and use pushbutton words. Pushbutton words attempt to evoke an emotional response from readers without appealing to their critical faculties or intellect. American writer Lewis Shiner coined the term.

Examples of pushbutton words include: dreams, poet, song and tears in sentences like these:

He wondered if his dreams would ever come true.

Her heart sang like a poet’s.

He could not shake the image of her smile, which remained in his head like a pretty song.

Tears welled in her eyes.

Each of these words is intended to evoke an emotional response (dreams=hope, poet’s=love, song=beauty, tears=sadness), as if the writer says, “I want readers to feel sadness, so I will push the button marked ‘tears’ and that’s what they’ll feel.” Because writers overuse these words, however, the stimuli doesn’t work so well; there is a bad connection between the button and the reader’s response.

If using a pushbutton word in your writing, delete the sentence and start over. Seek another way to be evocative.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.