Get out and touch things…

Just last night I was sitting on the couch, reading a few printed-off manuscripts with a glass of rum and coke when my five month old Miniature Schnauzer ran around the kitchen corner and leapt onto my lap. Luckily I didn’t spill my drink, and managed to juggle the glass, my papers, and the dog long enough to push him off and settle back against the overstuffed cushions.

I took a sip, paused, and glanced down at him. Big brown eyes below droopy ears stared back at me. I sighed and set my glass down on a coaster, fixed my stack of papers into a neat, even-edged pile, then reached down to pick it up. I sighed and lay back, absently rubbing the lines of his breed’s standard haircut, realizing he needed another trim. I sat there for nearly five minutes, marveling at the texture of his over-grown coat, his happy panting the only sound that broke the living room’s silence.

It was then my head rocked back as I was smacked in the face with the realization…that I couldn’t remember what he felt like.

I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I’d actually touched my dog. When I’m reading, or writing, my natural reaction tends to be “Leo (Leopold, yes, that’s his name) down!” Now, I don’t mean that I never pet him. I do, all the time. But I mean really touch him. Feeling the density of his coat, the hard scar tissue on the end of his tail stump, how long and soft his ears had grown. It actually brought a smile to my face as I sat there with my growing puppy on my lap, and I ended up sitting there for the rest of the night before I headed off to bed with puppy in tow.

As an editor, I spend so much time at my desk in front of my computer that I sometimes don’t take the time to take pleasure in the simpler things in life. I know, it sounds so cliche that it makes my teeth hurt. Regardless, I realized last night that it is true.

As a writer, one is supposed to be able to detail a universe, a world, a country, a field, a tree. Detailing it so that readers can “see” whatever it is you’re describing as if they were there. Writers do this to draw their reader in, to make the world “come alive,” and to really “set the scene.”

As an editor, I’ve found there is a problem in this. Not that the writers are trying to describe things – no, not that at all – it’s just that writers don’t describe enough! Of course not all writers will fall into this category, but for the sake of my post, lets focus on the inexperienced or fledgling writer. Most new writers do a wonderful job describing the multicolored robes of the king’s magician, the sun glinting off the trooper’s polished helmet, or the length of the monster’s “razor sharp teeth.” But then they stop, and move on. Let me be honest – it’s not enough.

To truely immerse a reader into your story, you need to describe not only sight, but all of the five senses. You remember learning about them way back in grade school, don’t you? Sight, touch, smell, hearing, and taste. While most writers have both the sight and hearing senses down, few regularly use touch, and even fewer writers ever use the sense of smell and taste.

Why? I’m not quite sure. The world around you (or your characters for that matter) is alive, constantly moving and changing from second to second. To fully create and successfully describe a new world in which a reader has never been, you need to describe everything about it. Below are a few questions I’ve received from authors after my commenting on their lack of “sense”:

Q. How am I supposed to incorporate smell into my novel if all the characters are doing is traveling? (Fantasy genre)
A. Well, when they stop to rest in the shade, simply let them breathe. Things to smell: pine trees, sap, a dead animal carcass, one of the guys fart.

Q. I never show my characters eating. How do you expect me to incorporate taste?
A. …Remember that carcass I mentioned earlier? You’ve all smelt something so terrible that not only do you smell it, but it crawls into your mouth and clings to the back of your throat? That’s one way. Another is if you do have eating scenes, describe the food. The spices, the sweetness, whether it’s sour.

Q. I describe touch a lot in my book. But you still said it wasn’t enough.
A. It’s not. Saying that the metal was hot, or that the brook was “cool against her legs” is not enough. By describing touch I mean going beyond the obvious boiling water = hot! example. When she kisses him, is his face smooth or rough with a two-day stubble of beard? When he stepped into his armor, was the wool padding soft or did it scratch against his skin? Was the moon rock bitingly cold, or did they need rubber-handled tongs to pick it up?

Go outside. Take off your shoes. Step in a mud puddle and splash around. Run your fingers against the rough bark of the ancient oak tree out back. Kiss your dog on his wet nose. Stick a piece of grass in your mouth and lay on your back to stare at the passing clouds.

Go on. Get out and touch things…

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2 Responses

  1. cat urine odor

    The best way to remove cat urine odors and stains…

  2. What’s the best way to remove irrelevant comments?
    Sorry, was that rude?

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