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:
- While adjectives are useful for adding colour or depth to a sentence, think of them as pepper; too much can spoil the scene. If using more than one to describe a noun, familiarize yourself with the rule of order for adjectives.
- Use action verbs rather than passive/being verbs with adverbs. E.g. “She stumbled down the hill” rather than “She went unsteadily down the hill”.
- Most importantly: Read your sentences and scenes aloud! I cannot stress this enough – if it sounds choppy or stilted to your ears, or doesn’t sound like something your character would say or do, then change it!
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!