Could You Be More Specific?

Creative writers share one goal: to capture life on the page.

It’s a goal we can never reach. For how can we possibly build a living, breathing, dimensional world out of insubstantial, dimensionless bits of language? Yet the power of the imagination can carry us pretty close.

To imagine is quite simply to think in images, not only visual images, but those of sound, smell, taste, and touch. Strong writing moves from one sensory image to the next, each one an exotic island in the narrative flow, describing the journey as accurately as possible. Later these images will trigger the reader’s senses, creating the illusion of concrete experience.

Here are some tips for writers for enticing the reader’s senses to invest in your story:

–Write with conviction! The imagination must be bold and assertive rather than timid and vague. Your imagination, after all, is god of the world you’ve created and should know every detail: the proper names of things, the furnishings of every interior, the contours and weather conditions of every exterior, the backstory of every character. Get those specifics onto the page.

–Give everyone a body. A specific, unique body. Watch out for generic images: tall, dark, handsome men; women with blond hair and blue eyes. Sit in a public place with your Writer’s Notebook and try to transcribe the facial and physical idiosyncrasies you notice.

–Beware of summary. How many sensory details are being glossed over in the following? “He followed the man and the teen-aged girl for an hour, snapping pictures.” Chapter 26 in Satan’s Chamber illustrates the suspense and atmosphere created by expanding that summary and being more specific!

–Keep your language honest, that is, factual. Notice how many descriptive words present a conclusion rather than the data that led to the conclusion. Instead of “She was overjoyed to see me,” let’s hear the specific facts. “She raced down the walk, screaming, ‘He’s here, he’s here,’ then danced around in the street as I unloaded my luggage.”

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