Do You Feel Me?   1 comment

Infusing sensory details into writing – how do you do it or do you do it? Does it just flow as you write or is it part of the rewrite process, a deliberate choice? Does too much sensory detail in writing bother you or do you wish there was more in today’s writing?

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Image result for image of sensory inputWe live in an era of visual entertainment, so that consumers expect a cinematic experience in their novels. Don’t believe me? Read the Hunger Games trilogy. The movies correlate really well to the novels because the books were written so that readers can “watch” the novel unfold as if seeing it on a movie screen.

How do writers achieve that sort of visual power in their novels?

In my research, I found some good articles on cinematic technique, but I figure Kelli Williams will cover that so much better than I can.

Some authors seem to deliberately avoid includes senses other that sight in their writing and others include it in a very heavy-handed way. I am in favor of including sensory details in writing. It makes for a much better book regardless of the genre. There’s a reason why David McCollough is such a popular historical writer and it’s because he uses novel techniques to bring the reader into the scene he’s teaching us about. Think of how a Ken Burns film makes us all want to learn history.

Ideally sensory detail flows as I write. If I feel like I was there when I wrote it, the readers are likely to feel like they are there when they read it. That isn’t always possible. Sometimes I get so caught up in one layer of the narrative that I come back on rewrite and realize that I forgot all about the sensory detail. And that’s fine, because I can add it. That’s one of the purposes of rewrite.

Image result for image of sensory deprivationI am a visually oriented person, so I have no problem describing what readers ought to be seeing. While writing Mirklin Wood, I came to a realization that I needed to strengthen my sensory detail in the other senses. Tamys has been partially blinded and I needed to bring the reader into his experience. What can he see? What does he hear? My own sense of smell is not that keen, so this was an area where I really had to put some thought and ask my family “If you were in this situation, what would you smell?” I’d smell nature in general. Brad would smell dirt and green growing things. In my interviews with them, I realized how much the sense of smell triggers memory, which ended up playing a key role in Tamys’ experiences in the book. Tamys is not completely blind, so color became really important. He can’t make out details, but he can see broad-stroke images . I had to decide if he would see those colors as drab and grayed or vibrant to the point of violence.

I spent a lot of time sitting in my yard and the woods with my eyes closed. Sound is a powerful sense, but it’s one we often ignore. We all remember the affect of movie scores because they elicit strong emotions that can make viewers cry or laugh or feel rage on the character’s behalf. Novelists don’t have the ability to use music in our writing, but there are a lot of ways to include sound to bring the reader in contact with the scene.

Ordinary sounds infuse a sense of place into a story. In a medieval banqueting hall, you’d hear the clank of metal silverware and the whisper of a hundred voices. Think about the screech of tires as a car races away from the scene of a crime or the drip of a faucet in a quiet night.

I don’t rely hugely on metaphor in my writing. It’s just not how I think, so while I appreciate writers who do it well, it’s not usually a goal for me. The color blue, for example, is just a color I like. It rarely means anything. Although the color of eyes in the Daermad Cycle does mean something, for the most part, don’t look for metaphor in my writing. Instead, I want readers to feel as if they are standing in the scene with the characters. I strive for realism, but in a circumstance where the character’s perception has been damaged, I might play with the sensory details. Hence, Tamys smells bacon and visualizes a pig. There are appropriate times to use enhanced, expressive, distorted, even surreal visuals, sounds, smells, tastes and textures. In Objects in View, which comes out tomorrow, Shane has an experience with the woman who haunts him. It feels more than real to him because his senses are distorted by his guilt. On the other hand, in my latest work-in-progress, a character temporarily loses contact with sensory details because of an overwhelming memory.

Then there’s a lot to be said for letting the reader see, hear and feel the ordinary details of a character’s life. Just putting a sentence in the middle of a paragraph can insert the reader into the scene. We all know the sound of gravel crunching underfoot, the smell of daisies in bloom, or the feel of snowflakes landing on our cheeks. I don’t want my readers to experience my books as a form of sensory deprivation. I want them to experience what the character experiences. Sometimes it only takes a short sentence here or there to set that scene and it pays big dividends.

Although I think I use sensory detail well as I write, I have taught myself to look for it on rewrite. I try to ask the questions that satisfy the senses. What does the character see? What does he hear? What does she smell? Feel? Taste? I try to ask myself that question in every scene, but I also try to maintain a light hand. Covering all five is probably overkill most of the time, but I try to expand away from just sight into the senses we often ignore.

Posted October 3, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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One response to “Do You Feel Me?

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  1. Great post Lela.


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