Hello dearest duckettes!
I’ve found that as we work on our craft we need to hear the good stuff over and over. Have it presented to us in different ways, from different angles and perspectives. What didn’t stick last week, might stick this week.
As we paddle along together I’ll often repeat myself. But I’ll do it in the nicest possible way. And I promise to only repeat stuff that bears repeating. If you get my drift.
Which brings me to sensory imagery. And Elf.
Elf is one of my favourite films. In one fabulously silly scene near the start, Will Ferrell (aka Buddy the Christmas elf) sculls a bottle of Coke.
What follows is the loudest, most ludicrously long burp in the history of cinema. It goes on and on and on and…
After which, Buddy turns to the kid beside him and says, ‘Did you hear that?!’
Man, it’s funny.
It’s that burp that makes me think of sensory imagery. You know, writing that draws on all our senses.
Writing gives our imagination strict boundaries. Channeling what’s in our heads onto a page is tricky. It takes loads of practice.
If only we thought in words alone. We could just think ’em up, then copy ’em down. Transcribe the words in our heads and voila. We’ve got ourselves a book. Ching, ching.
But our brains aren’t QWERTY keyboards. They don’t clonk out thoughts and insights in beautifully crafted sentences. Our brains are loads more sophisticated than that. Sure, words and sentences float through. But we also, simultaneously, think in ‘feeling impressions’ and ‘thought blocks’.
And this is where we writers stumble.
When we’re dreaming up stories, what’s going on in our heads might seem perfect. But try putting it into words and the experience gets lost in translation. When we only have words to capture the vision, everything quickly turns to slush.
And sometimes we can’t see that it’s slush. We’re too close to it. We know exactly what we’re trying to say. When we read over our drafts we have the lingering bonus of feeling impressions and thought blocks to flesh out the scene.
We were there. We were in our head when the story unfolded.
We have to remember our reader was somewhere else entirely.
It’s like reaching the top of a mountain and taking a photo. The photo will only mean something to the people who were there. The folks back home will be polite. But let’s face it, the moment we pull out the brag book they’ll groan inwardly. Oh look! they might say. Sky, rocks, dirt!
It’s not the camera’s fault. The problem is of course that there’s loads more going on. The camera lens is shackled to one, fairly mechanical, point of view. It can’t capture the nuances —the cry of an eagle, the warmth of the sun, the relief of dropping one’s backpack. The annoying way our companion kept humming that Cindy Lauper tune. All the way up. And all the way down.
All this colours our experience. And none of it can be captured in a snapshot.
Ask yourself as you write, am I evoking a real world for my reader or am I giving them a flimsy polaroid? Does this prose reflect what I’m experiencing in my head or I am leaving too many gaps, expecting too much of my reader?
How can I bring my ‘story photos’ to life?
Sometimes we need to spell things out more clearly. Sometimes we need to burp really, REALLY loudly then say to our reader, ‘Did you hear that?!’
Words are pedestrian and magical, expansive and restrictive, mundane and evocative. Writers play with these paradoxes.
Don’t give your readers empty words. Give them a sensory experience.
They’ll love you for it.