Going with my theme of different articles for different days, I decided Saturday would be this:
A bit grandiose, no? Ah, well. Indulge me. I’ll try to make Saturdays look something like this:
Good writing is sensual. I don’t mean sexual, though if you write romance or erotica, it might go that direction.
What I mean is that our senses provide the best avenue into our readers’ minds. If we can appropriately describe the sound the wind makes, we can set or change the entire tone of a scene. Would you, oh gentle viewer, care for a for instance?
A child pranced over velvet grass, twirling a length of violet ribbon. Her cheeks shone pink, flushed. Her eyes gave a sparkle in my direction, and her tinkling giggle followed. Rays of sun dappled the roots of a nearby oak, the golden streams gently alighting on scattered acorns.
The wind rose, first a pleading whisper, then a sibilant hiss through the now-jerking leaves.
The violet ribbon rippled to the ground.
A whisper can be benign, but a hiss? A snake in the grass, maybe literal, maybe figurative. The choice of words not only inspires a sense of trepidation, but it changes the tone and mood of the scene from watching a child romp through a park to wondering if the child was snatched or vanished. Use your senses to surprise the reader. Give them what they don’t expect.
Sensual writing also rises out of experience. I am an avid reader (not to interrupt the grandiosity of today’s post, but…duh), and there are moments in reading that inspire knowledge that the writer has been there. One of the best pieces of advice about writing I’ve ever heard was not to go get that MFA in creative writing, not to go back to school for it. Get a passport, get your butt out of the country, or into the inner city. Go somewhere outside your comfort zone. Go sit and watch some animals at the zoo or take up horticulture. Learn jujitsu. Have experiences. Learn. Grow. Your writing expands with your base of experience, your style hones itself the more you absorb.
Some writers have led very traumatic lives. Trauma and grief are huge impacting factors of how we live. As a writer, I cope best with trauma and grief if I can write about it. Writing is catharsis. Whether it is a tribute to a loved one who has passed or using past memory to make your characters more responsive and real, it shines through the words that come out of us.
But I don’t understand! I don’t understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I knew her, and then she’s—there’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead … anymore! It’s stupid! It’s mortal and stupid! And … and Xander’s crying and not talking, and … and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever, and she’ll never have eggs, or yawn, or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why!
This is one of the most intense moments I have ever seen on television. Yes, it’s television, but it’s also writing. It’s writing that touches something deep and resonant and painful and raw. It’s a display that shows that the writer has known loss, has known the helplessness that comes from human mortality.
When it comes to writing, I always believe that truth is better. Whatever truth you know, put it in writing. I don’t want that to be confused with the vague-ness of the “write what you know” admonition, because I believe writers can write convincingly about things they haven’t experienced (I’ve never had a telepathic conversation or a vision, but I think I handle that in print okay). The ability to infuse writing with truth comes both from experience and empathy. I think all writers must be empaths, must be able to crawl outside of their own minds and into the minds of their characters, friend and foe alike.
Do you ever feel the moments where you know a writer is sharing past experience through a character in a way that makes that character resonate more? Have you seen it done poorly? What methods do you use to describe scenes outside the realm of your experience?
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