Friday, May 30, 2008

Writing Tips: Speak to the Senses

Previously, I wrote about the first rule of good narrative: show, don't tell (read that post here). This week, we'll look at one aspect of effective showing.

Imagine for a moment that you enter a room. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you smell? Can you taste or hear anything? The five senses are our gateway to the world. Without them, we couldn't interact with anything around us.

In writing, you want to speak to your readers' senses so they can interact with YOUR world. If you don't include details that speak to your readers' sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, you leave them essentially blind, deaf, and crippled. They're not likely to enjoy your writing much!

When you write a scene, think about the five senses and how you can speak to them. However, be careful--don't fall into the "fuzzy trap." Vague words are fuzzy. Specific words are sharp. Let's look at this example paragraph:

"The man walked into the room. He could smell food cooking. A picture hung over the fireplace. He made a sound before he took off his coat and hung it up."

The wording in that paragraph is vague. It gives us an idea of the setting, but it doesn't REALLY engage our senses. Let's see what happens if we use specific wording:

"The man walked into his study. From the kitchen, he could smell bacon and eggs frying. A painting of a meadow in early morning hung over the fireplace, its figures of sheep and shepherd lit by the flickering flame below. With a deep sigh, he took off his heavy wool coat and hung it up."

In this new paragraph, our senses are fully engaged. We can imagine the smell of bacon and eggs and perhaps even hear it sizzling. We can see the painting and the firelight, and we can feel the heavy, scratchy wool. We hear the man as he sighs and wonder what inspires him to do so.

When you write, speak to the senses. By doing so, you'll give your readers everything they need to enter your world!



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