It’s been my experience that one of the hardest things for new writers is how to be a good storyteller without actually telling, but in fact showing, which is what editors love to see floating across their desk. A story that is well shown. And how does one go about that exactly? Showing something rather than telling about it? Through well versed descriptions involving all of a reader’s senses, that’s how.
That’s right…today we’re taking a trip down memory lane. Remember when we all learned the five senses way back when in, what was it, first grade? The teacher would drag out the great big chart and pin it to the cork board that hung then in every single classroom in America. Remember how it was riddled with pin pricks and holes from one too many things being pinned to it for demonstrations? It smelled funny, too, like moldy wood out of Granny’s basement. Or like that moth ball tart air of the attic. Oh gads! And couldn’t that tangy moth ball smell invade the back of one’s throat and make you cringe and your jaws pinch up until they ached? The paper on which the five senses were etched was the brightest, glossiest white you’d even witnessed and made your eyes hurt and little black dots dance before them until you squinted and looked away only to reprimanded and told, “Eyes to the front.” “Yes, ma’am.”
The body parts on the big shiny paper were huge! There was an enormous nose, which you caught yourself tipping your head sideways to look up, as if you could see anything in there anyway. Did yours have a bit of hair sticking out? Yick! Then there was a giant eye. For some reason it was always some blue that you could never quite name and which sure didn’t exist in that big 8 pack of crayons. In another corner was an ear that resembled Grandpa’s and you caught yourself not paying attention to the teacher anymore because the little boy that sat next to you was making a goofy noise and poking his finger in his ear as if to prove he could. And gross, you hated to think what was on his finger now. Ever wonder if that tongue belonged to a cow and not a human? Yes, it looked that extreme, all swollen and red and bumpy. Then you’d stick yours out and try to see it only to go cross-eyed trying and again black spots would swirl in your line of vision. And lastly there would always be a hand on the chart which looked like it came off a cadaver. No one you knew was that pallid shade of…well, what was it exactly? Orange-ish? Yellow-sort-of?
J Were you there? Did you see, hear, taste, smell and feel all that. Again? That’s how you show, not tell, through description and the use of all five senses.
Often I think writers may get stuck using only a couple of these, particularly in romance where it’s easy to fall back on taste and smell alone because we do a lot of, well, things with our hero’s and heroine’s tongues in romance and we always seem to describe how these people smell. It’s usually musky for him and fruity for her. So how do we avoid this pitfall?
Here’s a little trick I learned as I was getting a certificate in Children’s Literature. I know. Far cry from writing what I do now, but the trick works just as well.
When I think I’m neglecting a sense I get five different colored highlighters and assign each sense a shade. Then I go through the scene, passage, or chapter and highlight the times I use that sense in describing something. The result should be a rainbow.
Give it a whirl…I guarantee you’ll be more descriptively showing in not time.
Thanks for coming by today!