Otherwise known as “I’m too busy reading books so I have nothing to review at the moment!”
Writing Tip #1
To be a good writer, you must read a lot of books. How else would you know what’s good and what isn’t? What’s your thing and what isn’t?
I just started writing again after a two month hiatus. I don’t feel like writing but I have a small group of people who enjoy my stories.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that I’m a whore for writing, not being able to write kills me. I’m an addict and no time in rehab can save me. That being said, life often puts you in positions where you can’t write or you don’t feel like writing.
Having experienced these two circumstances back to back, I decided to write anyway. If nothing is working out for me at least I should indulge in my guilty pleasure, right?
So in this first episode (?) of On Writing, I’ll like to share some writing tips and tricks I ironically discovered while abstaining from writing and reading for the sake of my education.
If you’re like me and you’re always hurting your characters then combing through Google to search for how they’re feeling, this is the tip for you. Good writing immerses a reader till they can’t extricate themselves. That’s how authors get praise like, “Fleshed out characters”, “Relatable characters”, “A realistic world” and all that.
It doesn’t matter what genre you’re writing, pain, happiness, all those ephemeral emotions that try to rip you out from the inside out are very important.
Everyone stubs their toes. You’ve done it. I’ve done it. Has your character done it? If you’re clumsy, you’ll have enough experience with pain in the little senses. Write it down. The fresher the memory when you do, the better.
Experienced heartbreak? Write down how you felt. Put it in words as detailed as you can manage. When you find your characters going through similar things, you’ll be able to draw inspiration from the experiences you’ve chronicled and that brings in a touch of realism that was lacking before.
Of course, it’s not only pain and negative emotions you can write down. Those are just the easiest because of their intensities. You can record your moments of happiness, joy, etcetera. In fact, you can take note of any of your experiences and keep them for the day they can be woven into a character. If you want to go more in depth with the exercise, start a mood diary and record the intensities of your various emotions during the day. You’ll find that you’re able to distinguish a slow anger from a furious rage and that makes all the difference when crafting an immersive story.
#2. The Five Senses
Show, don’t tell. It’s the writing advice that never dies though a lot arguing that telling is just as important as showing. I’m not here to give my input in that argument, I hardly think I’m qualified. What I’m here to do is tell you that it isn’t hard to breathe life into your character. If you’ve chosen to implement step one, your character has started to feel things on the inside. The reader can empathize with their emotions because they are obvious and clear.
But what about the sensations that the environment thrusts upon your character? Sight, sounds, touch, smell, taste?
Things get a little tricky here don’t they? Without all these things, the scenes in a book are in white hues or a matted grey at best. Even if a reader wants to spice things up with their imagination, they wouldn’t know where to start.
Let us begin with SIGHT. This is the one of the five senses that almost nobody forgets when they write. How else would you convey what’s happening to the reader? But there’s such a thing as too much. A reader doesn’t need to know the position of every piece of furniture in the room when two characters are talking but it would be nice if they were told whether the conversation was taking place over an oak table or a steel desk. Are the walls covered in wallpaper or paint? Is the decor simply awful?
Those little bits of information build up the space in a reader’s imagination and a little goes a long way. I know it’s tempting to pour out everything you’ve envisioned but alas books aren’t movies, and even movies never exactly match up with what its author imagined.
Give your reader enough to know what’s happening, the details that would take from the essence of the book if they went missing, and leave the rest up to them.
If you don’t know how much description is too little, read what you’ve written pretending like you don’t know anything about the scene. Is there a nice picture in your mind or are there blank spots you need to fill in?
Next to sight, I think SOUND is the most important and the only one of the five senses I always forget. Can you imagine living in constant silence?
Fun fact: Put someone in white clothes, place them in a silent room that’s completely white and feed them tasteless white food and they’ll slowly lose their minds.
Can you imagine doing that to your readers? Torture them? Of course, we aren’t that cruel. Color and sound are constant in our lives but sound is the hardest thing for me to pinpoint. I simply don’t care what my characters can hear apart from dialogue.
While preparing for my exams, I downloaded an app for “relaxation, sleep and meditation” for sounds to listen to while studying. One day it suddenly hit me that I could use it to write too! I just needed to set the sound to one that matched the scene I was writing and I’d be able to describe it and add another layer of realism to the chapter.
Atmosphere has over 100 sounds and you can layer 10 of them to create your own unique series of sounds. It’s the best out of the apps similar to it, and it’s free on Play Store.
After sound is TOUCH. Hot, cold, soft, rough, we feel all these on a daily basis and usually don’t pay much attention until something hurts, is uncomfortable or pleasurable. Clever integration of this sensation adds another dimension to how a character is reacting to a certain situation. Think about it.
What does your character feel when their fingertips brush against something? Are they ticklish?
Smell and taste go hand in hand. If you’re tasting something, there’s a good chance you’ve already smelt it. Without your sense of smell, food would taste bland, and that’s the whole horror of colds summed up in a sentence. If your character is eating something, please tell us what it tastes like unless it something ‘obvious’ like honey or sugar. I put obvious in quotes because what’s obvious to you will not be obvious to everybody. Like you can’t write “Tastes like cheddar” and expect me to know what that tastes like. While taste can only be applied to limited situations like eating food, getting punched in the face and tasting blood in your mouth, smell often gives range to descriptions.
Imagine your character is walking through a garbage dump, what sort of horrid smell would they encounter? What if they are going through something and just got a hug from someone they like? Do you think they’d notice their crush’s perfume/cologne?
As a rule of thumb, I include at least 2/5 of the senses in each section (or chapter) I write. I try to aim for 3 but that’s not always possible without going overboard. What are your favorite sensations to describe? Leave a comment and tell me which techniques you use to add description to your writing!