Monday, June 25, 2007

Description: Engage All the Senses

In writing descriptions of settings and characters, it is imperative to engage all of the senses of the reader. Descriptions of these new parts of the story warrant more than merely "outside" or "a solemn man." Describing what a place or person looks like is great; it's engaging the reader's visual sense. However, what you see isn't always what you get. The visual description alone isn't enough. It doesn't give the reader a full sense of what the place or person is like.

If you walk out of your house in the middle of summer to get something from your car, are you going to notice what your car looks like? Maybe, but you'll likely first notice the heat beating down on you as punishment for leaving your climate controlled house.

Notice what your characters notice in relation to their situation in the particular scene that you're writing and describe that. For example, a character who's extremely hungry and waiting for his lunch date likely won't notice the crowded parking lot or the row of restaurants on the street. He will notice the succulent smells emitted from the restaurants. How we sense the world is how we need to describe our fictional worlds as they relate to the characters in each scene.

Each new scene requires a certain amount of description. How much description is needed will depend upon the point of view character in that scene. What is he or she doing? What is his or her emotional state? What is his or her intention in that scene?

Subtle sensory detail can sell your scene to a reader. The description of a character opening an oven door who feels the heat push back her bangs can be more compelling to a reader than a mere visual description of what is in the oven.

This doesn't mean that each scene requires descriptive input concerning each of the five physical senses. Consider what the point of view character's senses might be telling him or her at this moment in this place. Find one or two details from the other senses to supplement what can be seen with the eyes. Don't forget the internal senses - hunger, nausea, joy, dread, regret, etc. Also be mindful that certain settings can elicit internal feelings in your reader, too. For example, those of us who have had less-than-pleasant experiences there can have our stomachs affected by the smell of a dentist's office.


Blogger Elizabeth Parker said...

Wow, Diana, you've hit the nail right on the head! It's so important to engage all the senses in writing description. And to do it from the character's POV, not the author's.

Thanks for another great how-to-write article. Things we should remember!

2:53 PM  
Blogger Diana Celesky said...

Thanks, Elizabeth.

4:03 PM  

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