In today’s Journal
* Quote of the Day
* Topic: There Are Five Physical Senses
* Of Interest
* The Numbers
Quote of the Day
“When you find a writer who really is saying something to you, read everything that writer has written and you will get more education and depth of understanding out of that than reading a scrap here and a scrap there and elsewhere.” Joseph Campbell
Topic: There Are Five Physical Senses
Not one. Five.
One of the most obvious signs of a beginning writer is that in description, the writer focuses on Sight as the dominant, and often only, physical sense.
This morning I saw a post by such a writer, and more importantly, a writing coach. Unfortunately, in the post, she quoted from three celebrated works. Here I almost wrote “It’s difficult to argue with Emma Donoghue, Sylvia Plath, and Wallace Stegner.” And it is. Success is success.
But honestly, it isn’t difficult at all to argue with Ms. Verducci, especially given that she cherry-picked the passages to illustrate her point.
As you read the quoted passages in “3 Beautifully Descriptive Novel Passages” (Of Interest), ask yourself:
How much more alive might the scene from Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose have been had we been able to feel the cold cheeks and nose of the character or the cold, damp window under her fingers as she rubbed the circle on the window? How much more alive might it have been had we been allowed to hear the wind that was blowing the snow and the river rushing in the background?
All of that was going on in the background, but for whatever reason those senses didn’t make it onto the page in this particular excerpt. (That isn’t to say those senses didn’t appear before or after the excerpt, and I suspect they did.)
In the excerpt from Plath’s The Bell Jar at least we get to hear the figs “plop” to the ground. And that’s in a passage in which the setting is not physical but a metaphor. Yet in the OP (I clicked through), Ms. Verducci focused only on the sense of sight.
Likewise in Donoghue’s Room the author invoked not only the sense of sight but also tactile touch (“my eyes nearly melted off”) and sound (“a thing in the night nnnnng nnnnng nnnnng biting me”). Ms. Donoghue also wrote what I’m certain is an original sentence: “One minute they were alive and the next minute they were dirt.” Yet again, Ms. Verducci cites only the author’s use of Sight.
I’m certain all three of these celebrated authors included all five of the POV character’s physical senses in different ways in their books. If they hadn’t, chances are the works wouldn’t be “celebrated.” (Then again, there’s James Patterson, so….)
Yet Ms. Verducci, in her coaching of writers exactly like you and me, would have us believe only the sense of sight exists or matters to the reader. (I wanted to leave a comment on the OP, but comments were closed. I would love to have given her the opportunity to tell me I’m wrong. Few things annoy me more than a Stage 1 writer holding forth on a topic and so sure of herself that she doesn’t allow comments on her post.) I’m so very glad I never worked with her, at least not as a student of her very limited perspective.
It’s as if she believes the POV character has no sense of hearing or smell or taste, no sense of tactile touch. And if the POV character is deprived of the ability to sense physical stimuli to that extent, it would probably be a good idea to let the reader know that up front.
If you want to engage your readers and pull them deeply into the story—if you want to involve them in the story so they won’t be so likely to leave at the first opportunity—doing so is easy.
You really don’t have to go into great detail in your descriptions. Well, unless the POV character notices something about the scene or setting in great detail. Then, by all means, let the reader in on the secret in your mind. Don’t keep it to yourself and assume the reader will “get” it. Put it on the page.
But most often you can vastly enrich your descriptions with only a sentence that invokes each physical sense: Sight, yes, but also hearing, smell, taste, and tactile touch.
And if you add a sentence or two to invoke the POV character’s emotional sense—dread, for example, or unease or trepidation or joy or elation or that tingly feeling that drives a smile to your face with the certainty that everything’s going to work out—so much the better.
Talk with you again soon.
See “3 Beautifully Descriptive Novel Passages” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/3-beautifully-descriptive-novel-passages/. I would not work with Ms. Verducci on a dare.
See “32 Themed Calls for Submissions” at https://authorspublish.com/32-themed-submissions-calls-for-june-2021/.
See “A Fun Combination Idea” at https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/a-fun-combination-idea/. If you read between the lines, this is kind of a mini-class on revenue streams and multi-purposing your writing.
The Journal…………………………………… 840 words
Writing of WCGN: Assignment: Brownsville (novel)
Day 1…… 2890 words. Total words to date…… 2890
Day 2…… 3178 words. Total words to date…… 6068
Day 3…… 3124 words. Total words to date…… 9192
Total fiction words for June……… 18775
Total fiction words for the year………… 473264
Total nonfiction words for June… 4820
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 111050
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 584314
Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 9
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 3
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 62
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.