Friday, October 16, 2015

Bringing Words to Life

Do your words dance?
When you write, does the story come alive and flit through your vision, almost… replacing the words with a vivid image?

It’s hard to do, this lively action. Especially while just writing the early drafts. However, it’s your goal as a writer to create a “movie” in your reader’s mind. They don’t want to see words on a page, they want to see a heroine battling her worst fears, an Ally they see themselves in sacrifice his life for the greater good, smell the smells and see the sights of your fantastically different yet vastly familiar world.

Today, I’d like to spend a small portion of your precious time on this idea of immersion. Taking the words on the page and turning them into a vibrant world your reader can’t put down. Ever.

I like to talk about worlds. I’ve got seven or eight posts buried somewhere in the blog in which I talk about worlds. The setting is important to your story, as equally important as the plot and characters. It’s often the less obvious one of the three, but without it your story is made of dull colors: black against stark white.
Ink and no world, paper as the only background.

The setting is the backdrop to your “movie”. Sure, the focus is on your hero’s quest to reclaim his lost identity. But just because the “camera” isn’t focused on the background doesn’t mean there is none.
Setting is often ignored or weakly introduced in novels. Characters enter a scene on a mission, without time to create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind of where they are. From dialogue to action to dialogue to resolution of the scene, we don’t have time to absorb the beauty that is reading of another place and time.

There are some very easy ways to create this vivid imagery, to immerse your read so completely they forget where they really are.

First, slow down. I know the dialogue is important. I know the action scene is important. However, if you take two paragraphs at the beginning of a scene, the setting can become crisp and clear to the reader. We’ll then be content to sit and read your stirring dialogue. Not before.

Have an example, if you want one (otherwise skip to where the word “second” is… not that I suggest skipping, but for you blog-skimmers, this is your queue to skim a bit):
This is a snippet of dialogue from my most current project. I’ve taken out all details regarding setting, including only the pure dialogue and tags:

Taynan shifted, relieving his knees from the strain of kneeling so long.
“When are we finished?” one of the boys asked.
“Hush,” he whispered.
The other boy sniffed loudly and cleared his throat.
“Come,” Taynan whispered to the two boys.

Wasn’t that fun and enlightening?
Please tell me it wasn’t. You’ve got the most important pieces of this scene: three characters, a bit of dialogue, a bit of action.
Can you see where these characters are?
If I told you these three miscreants are crouching in a sewer tunnel, listening to a parade marching in the streets above, would you be surprised?
Let’s try this again:

     He crouched low, the damp ceiling of the sewer tunnel brushing his close cropped hair. Behind him, two younger boys sniffled and coughed. Neither understood how to keep quiet, and both ignored his warnings. Above, on the streets of Imen, pounded a thousand marching feet. A parade for the day of Choosing, when the next heir to the throne would be chosen.
Taynan shifted, relieving his knees from the strain of kneeling so long.
“When are we finished?” one of the boys asked. His darlo voice was already deeper than Taynan’s human one. The boy’s near-black skin boasted the scale-like pattern of all darlo, setting him apart in the sea of humans. Too noticeable, for Taynan’s liking.
“Hush,” he whispered.
The other boy sniffed loudly and cleared his throat. Taynan clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. Much louder and the whole town would hear them, parade or no parade. At last - after an hour of sitting and listening to the stomping of feet - the end of the parade passed over the street: the clattering of hooves announced the final band of cavalry.
     “Come,” Taynan whispered to the two boys. He stood up as much as possible - his back pressed against the mold-covered stones - and shuffled down the narrow tunnel. A thin layer of water hung about the otherwise empty sewer. Every breath smelled of human waste and dead rodents; Taynan’s boots crunched little bones with every step.

Was that better?
Certainly not a piece of priceless art, but it’s decent for a first draft.
Take a moment. Hit pause, if necessary, and give us details. Not useless ones, not excessive amounts. Good, strong details will help your setting go a long way in surrounding your reader.

Secondly (blog-skimmers, this is where you can stop skimming), engage our senses.
Every novel uses our most common sense: sight. Every action in a novel creates a motion which we “see” through reading about it.
Wouldn’t the world be boring if we could see everything, but taste nothing? Hear, smell, and touch nothing?

Our world is interactive. It engages every single sense we have, often simultaneously. What you can see, you can touch, smell, taste, and sometimes hear.
However, writers have this tendency (yes, I include myself in this) to ignore most of our senses. We show readers action; we let them listen in on conversations.
Done. Right?

The best way to engage your reader is to tug at their senses. Make them not only see, but hear and taste and touch.
Instead of just seeing the countryside, let us pour into the reader an account of the character’s skin tingling as grass brushes her knees, the sounds of leaves rustling in the breeze, birds calling to one another. Let us convey the sweet scent of flowers and that tangy, metallic taste of fresh air.

Let us create a moving image, a constant immersion that produces not just sights, but sounds and smells and tastes.

What about you? How do you draw your readers in through settings? I’d love to hear about it, leave a comment and share!

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