Making it Real

We hear a lot about showing versus telling in fiction writing. How showing a character’s actions and reactions is better than telling what he/she is feeling. But there are other ways of drawing the reader into the story, too. One of the best ways is to make the place and situation real. To do this, provide something tangible the reader can relate to by triggering an internal response to the senses. The writer brings the story to life by finding ways to draw the reader into the story so far that they actually smell the cigarette being lit, or the sweet scent of baking cookies. It is helping them hear the click-clack of stiletto heels on ceramic tile floors. It is tasting the powdered sugar on the donuts as it melts on the tongue. It’s feeling the scratchy wool blanket against the skin.

When setting up an action scene, perhaps a fight in a parking lot, don’t just tell about the hero falling to the ground. Help the reader feel the gravel under the hero’s palms as he slides along the ground. If the heroine is walking along a city street on a Sunday, what does she hear? Does she hear the hustle and bustle of life? Or does she hear church bells that are slightly flat, mingling with the laughter of children, and the scattered conversations of people, and their footfalls as they walk to church?

Showing the character’s responses helps the reader identify with the character. Making the setting real by triggering sensory memories brings the reader to the places in the story where the character goes.

Hone this skill by picking a sense and experiencing life through that sense for just 10 minutes at a time. Are you sitting in your car during a rainstorm? What does the sound of rain on the roof remind you of? Are you sitting in Starbucks writing? What individual smells can you pick out and what do they make you think of? As you’re gardening, perhaps kneeling on the grass, what do the blades of grass feel like against your bare legs?

If you start noticing things according to your senses when you are doing things other than writing, it will become like second nature to you to think in terms of the senses. That, in turn, will give you something to draw upon when you are sitting at your computer or curled up with your notebook and pen.Then, instead of simply telling what happened and showing your character’s reaction, you will be able to bring the reader into the scene to experience it from inside the character’s perspective.

Give it a try – start paying closer attention to your senses when you are out and about; that is, not writing. Think about how you would describe various things you encounter as you walk through life and see if it’s not just a little easier to describe a scene the next time you sit down at the computer.

If you want to be a writer, you need to learn to always think like a writer. Don’t tell a story that will be read . . . tell one that will be experienced.

For more information on building atmosphere, I found this site helpful:

DC Metro Orange Line: What does the train sound like as it leaves the station?


2 thoughts on “Making it Real

  1. Rosalie Lario says:

    What a great post, Kay. It’s the use of those senses that makes a story come to life. I love the thought of tuning in to those senses in real life. So simple, but it makes such a huge difference.

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