Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Drown all the boys and girls inside your head...

* not the actual line in a My Chemical Romance song, but that's what I thought it would be and I like my version better.

What seems to me a common piece of advice often given to aspiring writers is that of using all the senses when writing. Far be for me to talk back to the Powers That Be in the publishing world. On one occasion at my writers group, months, if not a year or two ago, one of the women there asked me how I remember events that occurred in my life.

That is how I remember to include the other senses in description.

The look of something is important, a symbolic splash of red or a flash or light or a poignant solitary blue flower in a gold vase.

But scents and sounds, I think, are perhaps tied for the second sensory method of remembering.

I’m not sure why I started thinking about this the other day, only that I did as I tried to fall asleep. One or two notes from a song on the radio (a song from a few years ago, but totally unrelated) elicited a memory of something. I can’t remember the memory now, it was a few days ago, but it was just this sudden and obscure memory.

That of course, led to my thinking about my own personal, “classic” example: listening to Ace of Base (not their “The Sign” album, but the one after) brought to mind “The Last Vampire” series I read by Christopher Pike when I was in 6th grade. I listened to that album a lot as I lay on my bed and read those books. I can’t think of one without the other, especially because I felt the mood of those songs seemed to fit the protagonist of the book series so well.

[small, unrelated side note: I’m typing this on Word and the dreaded green squiggly line has appeared under ‘lay’, which reminds me of a fairly recent post by Writtenwyrdd on the difference between lay and lie. Go, find it and check it out, while I try to figure out if this is actually wrong or Word is being fickle.]

[and some guy on Judge Judy said “tooken,” as in, “where he had just tooken my dog.” Interesting. Of course, in AIM a few days ago, I said “fighted” and didn’t even realize it at first.]

back to my original topic—

When my writing group member asked me how I remember things, I thought of scents, which, I believe, is a powerful way to add a sense of realism to a story.

I have no idea how to describe the smell of my mother on her pillows, but whenever I am changing the bed and catch a whiff of that scent, I think of being a little kid and curling up in her bed or on her rocking chair and that sense of warm protection and comfort.

Or catching a whiff of ‘something’ as I’m walking down the street and even if I can’t figure out what the odor is, it brings to mind some other memory.

So keep I mind those scents, fragrances and odors that elicit memories in your life and think about using that technique in order to bring realism and another layer of detail to your story, but don’t forget particular sounds. If your story is set in the contemporary world, a line or note from a song can have strong implications to a character, or the intonation in a stranger’s voice might remind them of someone they knew closely years ago, though this stranger looks nothing like the person brought to mind.

Play around with it, and try not to rely too much to a single sense in your descriptions.

Happy writing.

And I leave you with an awesome line from Heroes: "Life evolves, Father...Now I have to go save the world." *Hiro (whom we love)


writtenwyrdd said...

Asking yourself key questions is a really important tool in your writer's toolbox. You have to think like two people when you write: the editor and the reader. The writer part isn't thinking, it is doing the right-brained flowing.

Have you ever heard about tuning a waterfall? Moving rocks in a stream to tune the sounds? I think it is a Japanese zen garden trick, but I am not positive. Anyhow, the questions are like moving the rocks to direct the flow of creativity. Ask the right question and Bingo! you have some fantastic bit popping into your head.

And sensory things come up like that. Ask yourself what has happened to you that was similar, or what it might be like, tune that thought stream, get the sensory details. (I'm going to have to use this in my blog, lol.)

Sabrina said...

It's a real balancing act to think like both reader and editor, though. Right now I feel off-balance towards the editing side in terms of this one story. But I love that image of "tuning the thought stream" I'm picturing it in my head like different colored waters and you know you have all the components right when the color is the hue you want.

Thanks for the image. I like that way of putting it.