Monday, June 2, 2014

Using Sensory Impressions to Bring Your Scenes to Life

Using sensory impressions in your creative writing helps draw a reader into your story.  Certain sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures produce pictures in readers' mind that are connected to emotions in their pasts.  A writer doesn't have to be flamboyant with the descriptions.  Sometimes subtle depictions do more than over-description.

If you've ever walked through a forest after a heavy rain and kicked up wet leaves, your mind picks up that scent and visual while you're reading the setting right now.  Does the thought of a freshly plowed field in early spring trigger anything in your mind?  It might, if you grew up in an area where farmers planted their crops. What about walking along a pier as the misty breeze off the ocean flows past you?  Moth balls in your grandmother's closet.  Honeysuckle on a late summer afternoon. Freshly picked tomatoes.  Dill pickles.  Grandpa's pipe.  These images remind me of times in my youth and as I grew up.  They might mean something totally different for someone else, or others might visualize similar things.

The point is words produce images in our minds, and sometimes those images are linked to our emotions.  Exact sensory words connect with readers, but they won't if the writer doesn't get out of the way.  "Show, don't tell" is an adage that is more valuable than most writers understand.

A simple example is:

I saw a big tree and heard a bird singing on a branch. (Telling)

A red robin sang on the leafy branch of the massive oak tree. (Showing)

Even in the modest example, showing is more beneficial for the reader.  You get specifics, which are details that paint a picture with words.  So, if you're writing about a man driving a car, don't be vague.  What kind of car?  What color?  Rental or does he own it?  How old is the man?  Does he have a beard?  Is he bald?  Tall and skinny or short and chubby?  The possibilities are endless, but all these details give the reader insight into his personality, his tastes, etc.

However, don't be too overly descriptive, either.  Too much detail will cause a reader to skim ahead or skip entire passages because it bogs down the plot and eliminates the urgency.  Have you ever read a novel where the entire room or house is thoroughly described to the point where you flip ahead?  Yeah, me too.  Overdoing description is almost as bad as not enough details.

Take a notebook and go for a walk sometime.  Find a place to sit and describe all the sounds, smells, and sights.  Bring your surroundings to life on the page.  It might take a few attempts, but the effort is well worth it.

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