In a post I read a few years ago by Marg McAlister, “Verisimilitude: Description that Puts the Reader in the Scene,” I copied and saved one of the excerpts she used because I thought it was a good example of how sensory description can work well in a scene.
I was reminded of this last night as I lay in bed reading an urban fantasy novel (to remain nameless except to say it is a popular series by a well-known author in the genre) and my pet-peeve radar was activated.
But let me ask first–why do we read? I read for many reasons: to learn about the world, to learn about the craft of writing, to activate my imagination, to take a break from work. But the main reason I read fiction is to enter other worlds, to lose myself in another place and time, to feel what the characters feel, to experience something different.
So, my biggest pet peeve when reading is when an author pulls me from that world.
And pulling me from that world with an info dump of inactive setting or character description is the worst offender. Pure, unadulterated, torturous Hell. Or, what I imagine Hell might be like for a writer or avid reader. Read more
In an earlier post, “Use all six senses to make your story come alive,” I write about the importance of using all our senses when creating a scene. Too often, writers rely on sight or visual cues in the scene and forget to include the other senses.
Touch, sound, taste, and smell are just as important as sight, yet are often overlooked.
What senses do you use the most in your writing?
Find out by taking a chapter and highlighting the five senses with five different colored markers or pencils. I did this recently and discovered that after sight, my most used sense was smell, then sound, then touch. I didn’t use taste at all in that particular chapter.
You don’t need to use every sense in every chapter but you do want your writing to come alive and varying the senses will help you reach this goal.
One way to play with sound is through onomatopoeia—words that imitate the sounds the words describe. We’ve all seen this device used in comic books or in cartoons: POW, WHAM, BAM, etc. But you can also invent word sounds to match anything you want. Read more
Using images in a scene can be a good way to center an event or ground the reader in the here and now of the story. Writing images is all about going beyond the cliché and using sensory details.
One of my favorite ways to create an image is to take a simple sentence or idea and expand on it, calling in our different senses.
In my work-in-progress I want to convey at the beginning of a flashback scene that it was a hot August day. I could just state, “It was a hot August day.” This is simple and direct but, because I want to expand on the mood of the scene, I rewrote this simple sentence and fleshed it out—using some sense impressions and an image.
Rewritten example: Read more
Sometimes, I don’t like to read another author’s work while I’m writing, other times I do. Since I began writing my current manuscript, I’ve started and stopped several books. But last week I picked up Neil Gaiman’s American Godsand haven’t been able to put it down. I find myself asking, “How does he do it?”
American Gods is a wildly creative and beautiful story. What I love most is how the story is so otherworldly—people coming back from the dead, gods walking around among us—yet feels so absolutely real as if it were playing out in front of me. Read more