FAVORITE WRITING ADVICE:
“Slow down & SEE it.”
WHO SAID IT:
Ann Hemenway, fiction writing professor (& University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop grad so she knows her stuff)
Sometimes going fast is the best thing to do the first time through so you can get it all down on the page. Moving fast, writing and not editing, is a great way to keep your forward momentum going. But you miss a lot of the details ~ how the floor was old and buckled in spots, perhaps, or how the smell of sausage frying in the kitchen made your character’s stomach clench down, maybe, or how the gold buttons on the dresser, which you never even noticed the first time through, caught the afternoon slant of sunlight.
If you want to fully see whatever scene you happen to be in, you’ll have to slow down, way down. You’ll have to see in your mind’s eye everything that’s happening. If you want your readers to be in the story, to feel like they are a part of it, to make them remember it long after the book is closed, then you have to engage all their senses. The only way, IMO, to do that well is to slow down and see everything in each scene ~ to tell the most rich and full story that you can.
Does that mean you’re going to use every single detail? No. Actually, please don’t because then you’ll lose readers by boring them with stuff that doesn’t really move the story forward. But it does mean, as the writer, you’ll have a much better sense of what’s going on & a much better idea of how to convey the most important details to the reader. Because, remember, it’s the little details that will make your readers believe.
HOW IT CHANGED MY WRITING:
I took the time to put myself in my character’s place and started asking questions like these:
- What sounds do you hear, both close-up and far away?
- What sounds don’t you hear that maybe, given the situation, you should (for example, a car accident and no one is yelling or crying or making any noise at all, why not)?
- What does whatever you’re touching feel like (soft, bumpy, scaly, etc.)?
- How do you feel touching it (happy, grossed out, curious)?
- What objects are around you & what characteristics do they have (shiny, flat, sharp)?
- What’s going on in the environment/setting where you are (forest, warehouse, boardroom)?
- Who else is there with you & what are they doing?
- If you’re eating, what does it taste like (sweet, bitter, brings back a memory of first grade)?
- If you’re not eating, what can you still taste (for instance, the tinny taste of blood when you bite through your lip or the wicked taste of bile scuttling up your throat or the flat aftertaste of mint gum after you spit it out)?
- What can you smell, both faint and strong?
- What do you wish you could smell in that moment (for example, an old girlfriend’s perfume, your deceased child’s skin, the roses in front of the house where you grew up)?
- What does your body feel like (tense, nauseated, sweaty, elated)?
- What’s the weather doing (raining and cold, so hot sweat is beading on your hairline, wind screeching and chafing your cheeks or dead calm)?
Anyway, asking these kind of questions took my writing to a whole new level, no more on-the-surface telling but instead I put the reader right down in it. I focused on making readers feel what it was like to be there, doing my best to make it more than a story, to make it feel like real life. If you want to write that way too, then, as my former professor said, you need to slow down, way down, and see in your mind’s eye a full & complete picture of each scene.
So do you let yourself slow down & see it? Please feel free to share your thoughts & experiences in the comment box below.
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