Submitted by Bob Boze
When I write a scene, I don’t want my reader to be observer. I want them to be a participant.
I want them to feel, taste, hear, smell what my characters senses are feeling, hearing, smelling or tasting. I want to draw upon their imagination to pull them into the scene so they become the character.
In a restaurant scene:
When they take a bite of their salad, I want the reader to feel the cool crisp crunch of the lettuce. The sweetness of a cranberry mixed in with the crunch and woodsy taste of a slivered almond. As the brie, smothered in cranberry sauce is set on the table, I want their senses to light up and drool with my characters.
I want to describe the richness of the butter they’ve dipped their lobster in and the firm, slightly sweet taste of the lobster that blends and complements the butter’s saltiness. Make the reader hurry while sprinkling the vinegar on their chips because they see the crispness of the flour coating or breading on their fish and can’t wait to take their first bite. Then, describe that wonderful aroma of the vinegar mixing with the salt and oil on the chips that makes them grab a chip before delving into the fish.
But it’s not just the food that makes the scene, it’s the setting too. The ambiance of the room, the furniture. Are there dark wooden booths with soft warm colored cushions that scream comfort and “Stay as long as you want” or modern, uncomfortable, no personality chairs and tables that tell you “Hurry up, the next seating is waiting at the door”?
Is there a fireplace, a fire pit or standing heaters? Each creates a totally different feeling. Don’t forget about the attentiveness (or lack thereof) of the staff. Are they helping my characters enjoy a wonderful, relaxed meal or hurrying them along because they have a hot date at the end of their shift?
In a sex scene:
I want to carefully paint the room, the bed, the couch, the table, wherever they’re at. Making love on the table tells the reader something totally different about my couple than if one of them led the other to the bed. As does who led whom to the bed and what articles of clothes they lost, and how they lost them, on the way.
If I want to change the mood, I can plop them down bare ass naked on an imitation leather couch in the middle of the winter or set the mood with the throw Grandma knitted that one of them has had forever. Yes, each sets a totally different mood and tells a different story. Oh my God. If only Grandma could see me now!
Especially in sex scenes, I let my descriptions speak to the reader. Let the scene stir their imagination.
In a setting:
When they’re looking at a cathedral, a castle, a bridge, or a famous landmark I use all their senses to describe it. Anything that distinguishes it, that makes it unique, that piques interest. What makes it a castle and not a cathedral? Or is it both? The sounds it makes, traffic around it, trains at the station across the street or river. Boats sailing, chugging, or being rowed nearby.
Don’t forget smells. A nearby Starbucks, a coffee vendor on the Galata Bridge in Istanbul. A spice market, Christmas tree lot, the sea air smell of the ocean, a restaurant nearby, the fish market.
I not only want the physical details to come to the front, I want subtle and not so subtle feelings to build it into a vision of it and its surroundings. It needs to be appreciated, the feeling you get while looking at it needs to form in the reader’s mind.
The excitement and energy of the moving banner signs of Times Square or the flashing lights of Piccadilly Circus. The fascination of the London Eye as the cars slowly move skyward and the people in them wave to you as they disappear. The beauty of the Eifel tower as its lacelike structure disappears into the clouds.
I need to use all of my senses! I don’t just see the Eiffel Tower. What about the young people on the lawn of the park next to it? The lovers so involved with each other they don’t even know it’s there! Describe my amazement when the Tower Bridge opens like a regular bridge, instead of rising straight up, like I always think it’s going to.
Some would quickly call this show, don’t tell. But it’s more than that. Much more. It’s drawing on all of the pieces from all the senses to fit together to make the scene. It’s painting a picture with your eyes, ears, nose, fingers, feet, and anything else you can use to bring the reader into the scene.
One last thing: Once you start approaching writing this way, you’ll find that by changing one little sensory image, you can change a mood, take your character totally out of character or repaint the picture and send your reader in a direction they were not expecting! But that’s the subject for another time and another post.
Happy writing all.
What’s your approach to pulling your readers into your story?