“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.”
I try to read a book a week; it’s usually on a Saturday, when I have time to sit down and read a good chunk at a time. This past weekend I read a book which prompted thoughts around this concept of “sensing” a scene, and reading it aloud to hear any howlers that might have crept into the writing. The author of that book obviously did neither, though her editor might have told her to beef up descriptives – so they were clumped all together, staggering me as a reader to a halt while I tried to figure out the context of the pages of descriptives before remembering what the characters were doing there in the first place, and often the dialogue sounded very stilted (e.g. using “vocalized” instead of “shouted” – the latter of the two would have fit into the character’s time and place far better) – a good reading-aloud editing session might have done wonders for the novel.
This image is one I have printed out on a card and hung near my desk when writing; it reminds me to apply all of my senses to a scene, to enrich the imagery and draw the reader in. Describe the sights, smells, sounds, feelings and taste of a scene; make it a sensory experience and it will be far more memorable; this is done through sentence structure and the pacing of those elements, but sometimes also through “camera angle” – looking at the scene from a particular perspective. How does your character feel in the moment? What are their perceptions? Does a smell remind them of something or someone? Here are a few tips to achieving these goals:
Writing is a dynamic process, and being a writer means constantly striving to improve oneself – building vocabulary and learning how to use words effectively, building your knowledge through research, studying, and reading, reading, reading! Keep on writing!
If you’re bored with the subject you’re writing about, it won’t work to try and think your way out of it, or to convince yourself to write. I know all too well that when that’s the case I can find a million things that are suddenly far more pressing, like cleaning out a (clean) cupboard or repairing a household appliance. But often, boredom is an indication that we don’t know enough about our subject matter, and that our writing has simply subsided into going through the motions.
There’s a simple solution: Find out more! Read more on your topic; travel to the location; find maps from your time period; investigate the place with Google Earth Street View; go to a museum; ask questions; look for original documents; engage your senses to gain more knowledge and understanding about your theme. As you find out more, write scenes to inform your work, or a dialogue between characters that will inform you about their situation, setting, personalities or role in the story as a whole. Beware of your motives in extended periods of research, however: Are you procrastinating, or percolating?
I look at it this way: If I’m not getting anywhere with a manuscript, I can either give in and call it “writer’s block” and allow it to paralyze me, or I can proactively work against that block in what I call “percolating mode” – thinking around the problems that I’ve run into, and use the time to inform myself, learn about the time period, and investigate aspects of the story that I am interested in. That block may be like a boulder in the stream’s path, but my writing, like water, will eventually find a way around it.
Let that boulder of a writer’s block make you stronger and more diversified – and keep on writing!