Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Writing 3-D

"Hey, girl!"
"Mokie?" The blonde's eyebrows shot up to her frazzled hairline. "What'chu doin' here?"
"Just checking out the competition." Mokie sneered. "Looks like someone did a number on your hair."

What's missing in that teensy, tiny little scene? We know what's there.
Sight. We see what's happening.

But that's it. We ONLY see.

I think new writers, myself included, tend to write like we're watching a movie. One dimensionally. But a story needs to be more than seen. A reader wants to feel the character's emotions. The reader wants to hear, smell, taste and feel the scene. That's why writing three dimensionally is so important. You want your reader right there with your main character. Shove 'em in that scene. Punch the reader with the realness of it.

New example:
The funeral home stank. Not like disinfectant, but like something had died. Like something had burned to a crisp on the blood-red carpet.
In the viewing room a willowy woman swiped at her face with a wilted hankie. She shoved it into her pocket, the rustle of it the only sound in the silent room.
"Hey, girl!"
"Mokie?" The blonde's eyebrows shot up to her frazzled hairline. "What'chu doin' here?"
Her voice, normally scratchy from cigs she was always puffing on, sounded strangely soft. As if she'd actually loved Mokie's husband.
"Just checking out the competition." Mokie sneered, then her gaze lifted to the blonde's hairline. "Looks like someone did a number on your hair."

Okay, I know that is really lacking. But do you think it adds to the scene? There's the smell of something burnt (the blonde's hair) and the sound of her hankie being put away. Okay, I'm sure most women don't use a hankie, but for the life of me I can't think of what it might be called. Maybe I should have stuck to the crinkle of tissue paper?

Anyways, use your senses in your scenes. And don't go overboard. If you're going to go out of your way to show how something sounds, smells or feels, make sure it has a purpose. Let it tie in to the story.

For example, maybe your hero has warm hands, callused and strong. Maybe his fingers grip the heroine's and she feels those calluses and knows that he's a hard worker. That he can take care of stuff.
But the villain? His hands are cold. Smooth. When he shakes your heroine's hands, his palms are damp with sweat. Yuck, right?

Well, I think I'm diverging from the point of this post. Sorry.

The point is, delve deep into your scenes. Show the important things by using your senses. The reader needs to feel, smell, taste, hear and see everything the POV character does.

So how do you make your scenes deeper? Any favorite sensory weapons in your writing arsenal?

4 comments:

Sarah said...

Good post and so true. I tend to get so tied into my dialogue, that I completely forget to lay out the scene. This area is where I'm weakest.

Thanks for the tip!

tina gray said...

Great post, Jessica! I have a writing bud that writes all of her dialogue in a scene first--boom boom boom--then goes back in later and beefs it up with physical tags and sensory bits. I usually write sensory as I go along. It helps me stay in my character's POV to taste, smell, hear, touch, whatever they are at the moment. But I don't think either way is wrong, so long as you incorporate it at some point.

And I thought your examples were great! The "Like something had burned to a crisp on the blood-red carpet," was an awesome multi-tasking sensory sentence. Not only did I get a visual of the carpet at the funeral home, but I could SO smell that hair, and my stomach even gave a small jump of queasiness.

I agree that you should tag senses that are meaningful in some way to the story. I'd even go one further and say that you should write sensory tags that are important or personal for whatever reason to the POV character who's experiencing them.

Maybe chocolate cake reminds her of her grandma's funeral, because the old women who made the meal at the church kept slapping slices on her plate to soften her grief. So the character gets depressed and feels bloated when she smells it.

Or maybe the rough rub of a sidewalk on her bare feet reminds her of the time she and her brother threw sand on their slip and slide to make a "beach" and she feels nostalgic and misses him each time she walks barefoot to the mailbox.

Any way that you can tie the senses into something personal for the character is going to make them more multi-dimensional and sympathetic, which will draw the reader in that much more.

Again, loved this post!

Amy Clipston said...

Great post, Jessica!!! I just added your blog to my blog list. Thank you for listing me!

Jessica said...

Hi guys! I tend to get carried away by dialogue, too. I really have to work at descriptions and action beats.
Tina, so true about tying the senses into characterization. That's an important point that I often forget.