Here’s what we are tying to get at with the sample paragraph in this lesson: more senses. I’m giving you the suggested edit tips before you even see the paragraph, so you’ll recognize what is not in the Before example when you read it.
Visual – What does this place we are in look like? Colors, textures, shadows, light. Mix it into the narrative – be sparse in this but show it to us in small ways and do that right up front, don’t keep us waiting. Use the senses to show the reader dimness, or silence, or the feel of residue of old, past spilled drinks on the table or the glasses. The time of day.
Smells – the same as above, if someone is taking a drink, don’t tell us that, “Jeri took a drink.”— have the character smell that drink: not in words like acrid, show us the reaction of acrid. Also, smell that ‘seedy bar’. See the sweat of the unwashed patrons – machine oil and welding fumes. The amber lights, that conceal in their shadows.
Touch – Is a fan blowing? The air still? Is the glass in her hand cool? The bar none too clean? The bar or table where they sit – is it still damp from a rag carelessly swiped before she sat down?
Tastes – not in words “The drink tasted awful.”— in motion — Show us the reaction of the word acrid. Mime to yourself drinking and hating it. Pushing that swallow down. Then write that for us. What did your body do as it mimed? Put this in new ways. Not the tried and true [acrid stench] but in your words for a mouthful of something you’d rather spit out. Write that feeling. Show us.
Sounds – Did ice tinkle when her friend laughed? Did she slam her drink down in disgust? Did the strength of her grip make the glass squeak as she shuddered from the taste? Did she stifle a noise? Is there music playing, have they heard that song before? Is the music from this galaxy or from back home? Have they heard this song 50 times before, this month alone? Make this place come alive. Then do this for every instance when we are now in a new location of your story. Show it to us.
- Example Toggle
Take a look at the paragraph below. This is a writer telling the reader things. You write well when you are showing a reader stuff, not reposting it to us. And the best way you do that is using senses.
Again, like with most writing advice — this is aimed at showing and not telling: Telling is saying your character is in a seedy bar, having a drink she doesn’t want. And that she is not used to solid foods or drink for that matter. Everything in these paragraphs tells right now, and with the five senses they can show us all that instead.
Jeri sat down at a table in the seedy bar, picked up the drink before her and took a deep breath. She paused for a second once it reached her lips, already able to smell its acrid stench. Gathering herself she tipped it down her throat, balking at the harsh taste.
The sound of laughter filtered through to her as she realized she had scrunched her eyes shut in disgust. Opening them, she shot a withering look at her companion who was chortling to himself.
“That is their mildest drink, and still you can’t hack it,” noted Tom with a shake of the head.
“It is…offensive,” Jeri replied, looking disdainfully down at her glass. It was nearly a year since she’d been discharged and graduated to human interactions from the Android Group home and still she had trouble with simple things like eating and drinking.
Do you many of the listed senses did you find in these paragraphs? Did the writer show or tell the reader about those senses?
For instance, can we hear the bar around this character? Or are we told what we should be hearing?
First, look at our rewrite. Then ask what can you do with your own paragraphs?
- Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle
Lesson Exercise 1:
Look at this rewrite for this lesson’s example paragraph. We added maybe 80 words or so to our Before example, but in the final expansion, we also showed much more of this world via senses in the writing that weren’t there in the first draft.
Jeri sat down at a table in the dim bar, her shoulder blades meeting tightly as she hunched, she picked up the unwanted drink before her and took a deep breath. She paused for a second once it reached her lips, already able to smell its inevitable stench, like some caustic chemical stored in drums in the mechanic’s bay. Gathering herself she tipped it down her throat, her shuddering intake of breath bringing its fumes into her sinuses, so that the torture lingered.
The sound of laughter filtered through to her as the noises in the bar bounced and magnified, mingling with the jukebox tunes; the rough scuffing of stools and the angry click of pool cues on ivory. She realized she had scrunched her eyes shut in disgust. Opening them she shot a withering look at her companion who chortled to himself.
“That’s their mildest drink, and still you can’t hack it,” noted Tom with a shake of the head, his eyes on his own sweaty drink.
The burning sensation had reached an area just behind her sternum. “It is…offensive,” Jeri replied, looking disdainfully down at her glass, her elbows tight at her sides. It was nearly a year since she’d been discharged and graduated to human interactions from the Android Group home and still she had trouble with simple things like eating and drinking.
Give it a try, rewrite your own work using senses and showing verbs. Do it quickly and with the best word choices you can. Don’t be heavy handed with it. If you come up with five ideas for each sense, select the best of the 25 ideas and add those to your first round scene edits.
Take any one of your own paragraphs and try this exercise. Make sense additions that will show us what you see when you visualize your story in your head. The goal is never just MORE WORDS.