Don’t Mention It: Using Your Senses to Improve Your Description

Don’t Mention It: Using Your Senses to Improve Your Description

Nov 21, 2016 | Latest, Writing Help

A couple of things that will strengthen your use of description, and also draw in the reader more quickly, is more use of the different senses.

Eyes can only see so many things, but the nose and ears are rich sources of detail and insight into culture and location. It’s easier to imply more about a location.

Unlike a film, where it can only rely on sight and sound to create a compelling experience, writing is able to elicit a deeper response. The shifting of the action into the mind’s eye also involves another element; the experiences of the reader.

Each element described, from food to texture to sound, is sourced from the reader’s experience of that food, texture and sound. This is why people can become passionate about a story, and feel differently about it than other readers. As Tolkein puts it, everyone remembers ‘their’ idea of a green, rolling hill.

Rather than listing everything that the senses gather about a scene, describe the most important ones that sketch the best sense of the environment. You can make your writing more immediate by relying on other senses than sight.

Try to use sight to describe what a character would pay attention to, and then sound and smell to broaden the scene.

Keep reading, we’re going to explore a pretty fascinating idea: how to differentiate characters through point of view.

Staying in Your Character’s Head with Description

This is often a real challenge, but in a story with multiple points of view where the author is writing in a close third person point of view, describing what a character would pay attention to is a gripping, convincing way to express your character.

What is ‘close third person’? When the author writes from inside the head of a character.

‘Third person omniscient’ is when the author dips in and out of the character’s mind, describing things that the character might not see or be aware of, and telling the story for the reader’s benefit. This has it’s merits, but if you’re writing ‘close third person’, then an interesting challenge arises.

If you’ve seen any of the ‘Brain Games’ series, the host makes a riveting point; our minds are conditioned to pay attention only to the things that we consider are important for our immediate need.

Since we can’t pay attention to everything, we will ignore and forget what doesn’t hold value to us in the moment. There is often a crazy amount going on, but our minds are brilliant engines designed to focus and forget, to eliminate distraction and give us what we need to keep meeting our current goal.

If we’re walking through the park hellbent on making a meeting, we won’t notice how nice the day is, or the pigeons, or how nice the coffee smells. If we won’t notice it, then as an author, don’t describe it – it won’t intrude on their focus.

Spend time understanding what they will pay attention to. How many times did someone ask you if you saw the paraglider, or the way the squirrel grabbed the sandwich, or that cute kid with the balloon?

If you weren’t looking for it, chances are it didn’t even cross your mind to remember it. Why should it intrude in the writing of ‘close third person’ POV?

https://gty.im/586970673

How to Differentiate Characters through POV

Learning to describe only what a character would pay attention to is an important and fascinating way to differentiate voice, talent and character expression.

If your fantasy character is a warrior, then he/she probably won’t know the names of all the herbs and foods used in the tavern.

If the character has culinary or medicinal interests, then paying attention to those details will make more sense, and reveal more about the character.

Or if your character is royalty, then he/she will probably not pay much attention to what is ‘normal’ to them. If they have no clue about the different kinds of trees, then don’t have detailed descriptions of shrub and fir enter their minds – unless something happens that forces them to think more deeply about it.

An historian or an artist will pay attention to details about a scene that relate to them, and not think about it the way a cook or a builder would.

You can expect a builder to notice the hairline cracks near a door, and get a sense that this load-bearing wall is failing. A herbalist probably won’t see a clue like that, or if they do, not understand the import.

The builder probably won’t pay close attention to the smells coming from the kitchen, other than that it smells good. The herbalist, or assistant chef, will be able to tell that thyme is sauteing in garlic, and there’s a squab on the grill.

The warrior would ignore the names of the trees and think nothing about the tale behind the granite ruins, and focus on how best to use the crumbled walls.

The historian would pay closer attention to the style of the carving, the way the rocks were cut, and how different it is to similar work from the same era, perhaps guessing who abandoned this forest-bound fort.

Don’t mention it.

When characters start noticing elements beyond their normal comfort zone, you need to make sure the reader understands why these details are being brought into focus. And as a story teller, you’re starting to use more elements of writing at the service of your story and character presentation.

So in short; if they won’t pay attention to it, don’t mention it.

If your world never had a moon, and no one has ever known about it, then don’t ever bring it up. Try to describe what the world is like, and how people would act, if there was no moon. Let the reader fill in the gaps – and probably feel clever that they figured something out without being told.

In knowing your character, you should be able to know how they will look at a scene, what they will pay attention to and what they will ignore. You will then be able to unlock one of the coolest aspects of character perception; differing memories or descriptions of an event depending on the character.

Keeping in the character’s head and staying close to what is important to them and what they would pay attention to is a prime way to be using the character’s voice, pull into focus the difference between your characters, and make description better serve your character.

Founder of LegendFiction. Geeks over epics, mystics, science, the angelic, & Netflix. Got an idea for a guest post? Send me a note! | Visit my website

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Join the list for the Weekly Digest of interviews and updates!

You might also like:

LegendHaven Convention 2022

LegendHaven Convention 2022

LegendHaven is the free 2022 online convention to meet up with Catholic and Orthodox fiction authors. Ignite  your excitement to write fantastic fiction!

read more
Katy Campbell | Meet the Mentors | Legendmakers

Katy Campbell | Meet the Mentors | Legendmakers

Katy grew up in a family that was always joking around and laughing. “My grandma taught me that humor is a powerful tool for getting perspective, especially when working through difficulties. I brought this value to my writing and have yet to create a story I don’t consider at least a little bit fun. So far, I’ve published four comedy fantasies and have many more in the works! ”

WEBSITE: www.katysfables.com

Q: Favorite fandom/movie series?

This is the worst question ever because there are so many awesome fandoms to choose from. Since I have to choose, I’ll say Star Trek from the original series through Voyager. (None of these new-fangled Star Treks you kids are watching.) My fairies draw a ton of inspiration from Q, the mischievous all-powerful space alien that appears in Next Generation.

Q: What are you writing these days?

Lots of things! I am doing a sequel to my first novel, Love, Treachery, and Other Terrors. A sequel to Rosaline’s Curse, and a new fun fantasy for middle schoolers about a fifteen-year-old girl’s search for her long-lost parents.

Q: Why is LegendFiction a Good Idea?

Because Orthodox and Catholic writers need a place to tell fun stories that reflect their worldview. I mentioned how much I love Star Trek earlier, but numerous episodes depict religious people as superstitious, science haters that need to be defeated. It’s a pretty standard sci-fi trope.

What’s the solution to this? Help religious writers create awesome sci-fi! Their stories might not be explicitly religious, but they also won’t perpetuate anti-christian stereotypes.

Q: What Services Do You Offer?

I offer story coaching for novels and short stories. As I am reading through your story, I will leave inline comments with my real-time reaction and predictions about where the story is going. This will help you understand if your emotional beats are working.
I try to be as specific as possible with feedback whether it’s constructive or praising. So instead of saying, “I like Chapter 6” I’ll say, “I like how you built tension in Chapter 6 by introducing the mysterious stranger. He was really creepy and the way he kept showing up everywhere the hero went got me really on edge.”

Instead of saying, “This section is boring.” I will say, “Cut this section down because it repeats information you gave us earlier in the story.”

Q: What’s your dream audience?

I like working with people who are open-minded, willing to consider my notes even if they don’t end up using them, and people who are willing to ask clarifying questions about my feedback. I also love working with people who have great senses of humor and don’t take themselves too seriously.

Q: What’s one thing that you wish people knew about editing?

Nobody’s work is perfect. All the great books you’ve read went through numerous rounds of editing. Don’t be embarrassed if I catch a mistake in your manuscript. I’ve probably made the same mistake a hundred times. Editing can hurt, but it’s an important part of making your story awesome!

ABOUT THIS SHOW: Legendmakers
Interviews, convos, and community news about LegendFiction, the creative community for Catholic & Orthodox fiction writers! We talk creed, craft, and co-creation, rooted in grit, grace, gods, and dragons. Let’s inspire your faith and your fiction.

ABOUT LEGENDFICTION
The creative community for modern Catholic & Orthodox authors. Discover new worlds, support your favorite authors, share your works in progress! Share your stories for free, or join our private community.
https://legendfiction.com
About: https://legendfiction.com/about/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/legendfictions/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/legendfiction/

FREE COURSE: How to be a Catholic Author
Helping authors write exciting novels, connect faith with fiction, and be a better Catholic! https://legendfiction.com/free-course

read more
Alien worlds, morals, and Markmakers with Mary Woods | LegendFiction

Alien worlds, morals, and Markmakers with Mary Woods | LegendFiction

Mary Jessica Woods was raised and homeschooled in the Chicago suburbs, where she read as many adventure stories as she could get her hands on. At the age of ten, she realized she was doomed to be a writer and has been following the muse ever since. Still seeking adventure, she headed out west to Wyoming Catholic College, where she climbed mountains, rappelled off cliffs, and studied the Great Books.

After graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in the Liberal Arts, she returned to the Midwest to work as an editor. Mary also volunteers as an editorial assistant for the literary magazine Dappled Things, and her nonfiction has appeared in America Magazine, Catholic World Report, and First Things. In her mind, she spends most of her time on distant planets or alien spaceships, but she actually lives in rural Michigan.

WEBSITE: https://maryjessicawoods.com/

GET MARKMAKER:
He swore to paint the truth. Now he is living a lie. For the Noxxiin people, tattoos define identity: they commemorate birth, ancestry, accomplishments—even crimes. As a tattoo artist living on an ancient generation ship, Mariikel Serix has sworn to record the truth. So when he becomes an unwilling accomplice in the banishment of an innocent man, he is horrified that he has broken his oath—and his eyes are opened to the misery of the Underbelly, the realm of the outcasts. https://chrismpress.com/books/markmaker/

ABOUT THIS SHOW: Legendmakers
Interviews, convos, and community news about LegendFiction, the creative community for Catholic & Orthodox fiction writers! We talk creed, craft, and co-creation, rooted in grit, grace, gods, and dragons. Let’s inspire your faith and your fiction.

ABOUT LEGENDFICTION
The creative community for modern Catholic & Orthodox authors. Discover new worlds, support your favorite authors, share your works in progress! Share your stories for free, or join our private community.
https://legendfiction.com
About: https://legendfiction.com/about/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/legendfictions/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/legendfiction/

00:00 Why Mary is a Dinotopian Skybax rider
02:35 Mary’s origin story
05:46 Markmaker
11:22 Traditional publishing with Chrism Press
15:13 Faith-inspired fiction
27:00 Mary’s fandoms that influenced Markmaker
33:00 Mary’s writing process & revisions
40:00 How Mary’s growing her brand
44:33 Mary’s 1 minute message to authors

FREE COURSE: How to be a Catholic Author
Helping authors write exciting novels, connect faith with fiction, and be a better Catholic! https://legendfiction.com/free-course

read more
Welcome to LegendFiction (formerly CatholicAuthor!)

Welcome to LegendFiction (formerly CatholicAuthor!)

ABOUT THIS CHANNEL
Interviews, convos, and community news about LegendFiction, the creative community for Catholic & Orthodox fiction writers! We talk creed, craft, and co-creation, rooted in grit, grace, gods, and dragons. Let’s inspire your faith and your fiction.

ABOUT LEGENDFICTION
The creative community for modern Catholic & Orthodox authors. The creative community for modern Catholic & Orthodox fiction authors. Discover new worlds, support your favorite authors, share your works in progress! Share your stories for free, or join our private community.
https://legendfiction.com
About: https://legendfiction.com/about/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/legendfictions/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/legendfiction/

FREE COURSE: How to be a Catholic Author
Helping authors write exciting novels, connect faith with fiction, and be a better Catholic! https://legendfiction.com/free-course

read more

Pin It on Pinterest