Sense – how do you immerse your reader?
A story is not just a description, some actions, a bit of dialogue and a resolution. If it is, that is when it gets used as a doorstop, or to tilt a baby’s cot when they have a cold and need to sleep on a slight incline. Yes, sacrilegious as it is, I, an author, have used books to do all of this. Books I might hasten to add that I considered not much more than the brief description I gave above.
Fast-paced action will draw the reader along. A gripping horror will have the reader afraid to read on, yet compelled to despite what might happen. A thriller might have twists and turns, betrayals and alliances that engrosses the reader. But I can guarantee that the one thing any successful author will have in there, the one trick that they can pull out at any time, will be the way they appeal to your different senses.
Look around you. What do you see? What stands out? Is it aesthetically pleasing? Are the colours subtle shades, does the light gleam off of a bottle, a screen, the bald guy who is sat in the next bay’s head (his name is Jim in my case)? Is something moving in and out of your vision? The differing shades of green on a plant, the writing you can’t quite focus on at the bottom of a notice. A word uncompleted because the object on which it is printed is hidden behind another, the way a corner of a piece of paper is slightly bent and full of pin holes.
This is what I see sat at my desk. If your character ‘sees’ things in the story, it is not enough to note this. It has to evoke a sensory response in the character (presumably your protagonist) and when it does that, it will evoke a response in the reader.
If you consider your daily life, we get bombarded by a myriad of sounds. Right at this moment, the creak of someone’s shoes, the gentle yawning he is making, a guy 3 bays down on the phone, the whirr of the photocopier, the sibilant push of the air conditioning. A cough. Someone at the other end of the office laughing moronically. A drawer slams. A water cup fills. Sense overload!
This is just 30 seconds in an office. Your characters will, in their reality, sense so much more, but you have to filter through to what is really important. Along with sight, this sense is probably the most obvious, and also the most used. But you can’t describe it all. The key is to describe enough at regular intervals to keep the character engaged, and make them engaging. How do these impressions of sense make them feel?
This can be a very important sense when describing setting. ‘Yes’, you might well say, ‘but aren’t they all?’ True. Every sense needs to be accounted for, but some sensory descriptions might outweigh others.
In my mind, the feel of a whitewashed wall, the texture, the temperature, bits crumbling out, is a much more evocative feeling. The creak of a leather steering wheel as the protagonists grip tightens combines sensory description. It shows that there is a reaction to an action. Why are they grabbing the wheel so hard? Are they nervous? Being chased? Got a spouse in labour in the passenger seat? How would you describe the feel of the grass when Russell Crowe’s Maximus is walking through the fields in the dream scene of Gladiator. Sharp kernels catching on his skin would provide a very different emotional response to the gently-yielding bundles of seeds we experience through him. The wind passing through his fingers: How do you capture that? In the best way possible. It could warm the hands. It could dry the sweat. You have the power to alter sense with your words.
The key is to use them all regularly, and link them to how they make your character feel.
Next week: More sense!
The Hellbounce cover has a new addition to it. See below: