Tuesday, March 06, 2007

ESP: Exercise Sensory Power

Exercise Sensory Power.

The written word shouldn't just be read. It should be felt, tasted, smelled, heard, and seen. It should be experienced.

A lot of the time, as writers, we have movies playing in our heads. Characters talk and move; scenery whizzes by; secrets are whispered; bad guys die; heroes triumph; romantic leads finally get together. We see the stories in our minds and we write the words on the page.

One problem that can occur, though, is that we write what we "see," and we forget that there is a lot in our story to tell with the other senses, like smells, tastes, the feel of things, and sounds.

I bet if you went back through your manuscript or story and marked all the sensory words, you'd find that the vast majority of them are descriptions of the way things or people look. Not too many would be about the way something tasted, or the texture of an object, or the smell, whether it's rancid or flowery, or the everyday sounds.

You don't want your readers to just drift through your book, seeing the movie in your head. A script, even a scratch-and-sniff 3-D concoction, is inferior to a book in the ability of the author and reader to explore the senses. With a book, you have the opportunity to pull the reader in, not only with the sense of sight, but with all the other senses. Make use of that opportunity and your plot will be richer.

Instead of telling the reader that Mary is angry, show us her anger. Let us hear the door slam and the glass shatter. Let us feel the bits of glass etching her palm as she reaches for the door handle. Let us hear the glass crunching under her shoes as she paces, smell and taste the bitter coffee she sips.

More on ESP tomorrow.

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