As the weather in Missouri finally begins to warm up and allow for impromptu writing sessions outside on Saturday afternoons, I find myself subconsciously bringing my characters out into the warm, inviting sunlight more often as well. I simply love being able to translate the sights, sounds, and smells of the real world into what I write, and while the cold and dreary winter tends to leave my writing a little darker, the spring-like sunshine inexplicably leaves its own, more uplifting shadow over my work.
Such descriptions of the world around us, however — the children laughing, the feel of the grass on your bare feet, the smell of petrichor — can often be hard to translate into words. Sure, writing what we see can be easy enough, but what about what we hear or feel? How about what we taste or smell?
I have heard from many English teachers over the years that a good writer has to “show, not tell” the reader what is going on. When a writer is able to describe what is occurring in a scene using imagery rather than stating it outright, it can be much easier for the reader to become immersed in what they’re reading. Yet, this is, for many, a challenge in and of itself.
Recently, however, I found an interesting writing prompt to help combat such a problem. It challenges the writer to write from the perspective of a character who is blind. Describe the world they live in. While there are no sights, there are an infinite number of sounds, smells, and textures that they must come across on a daily basis that, for the reader, can be just as helpful at making what they read seem real.
So, if you ever feel the need to stretch your brain’s descriptive vocabulary or hone your skills in using imagery in your writing, try practicing to write without the aid of visual description; rather, write only with the other four senses. You might just find yourself bridging the gap between a fictional story and another reality that sounds, smells, tastes and feels just like our own.
“Jessica leaned forward, anticipation building as she shortened her reins ever so slightly. Then, with a short command and a swift kick to her horse’s side, she was off, zooming around the arena in a rush of adrenaline and excitement. I watched as she rocked back and forth in time to Hootie’s hoofbeats, his body language matching the look of delight on his rider’s face. The two were a perfect fit for one another, I thought with a smile, turning back to Legs and her path around the outer circle of the ring. Despite the difference in species, the way one’s personality reflected in the other proved as much.
“After a few short laps around the arena, Colby told the pair to slow back down to a walk. ‘Good job, Jessica,’ she said with praise, coming to stand next to the two of them. Hootie shook his head in impatience at having stopped. ‘You kept your hands positioned nicely. You need to work on tighter thighs, though. You’re very loose. And remember to breathe.’ Jessica gave a slight nod, panting a little from the exercise as she pulled Hootie toward an open spot on the rail.”
By Nicole Schroeder