Thursday, January 31, 2008

Writing to Activate the Reader's Imagination

Writing to Activate the Readers Imagination
Theresa Chaze

Although novels are written in two dimensional black and white, the story actually happens in the four dimensional realms of the reader‘s mind. Multi-sensory books are the ones that become the most successful. Capturing your reader's imagination, by helping them to be able to see, hear, smell and feel every aspect of your story draws them and helps them experience the story through the characters.

Sight involves more than what the characters see or don’t see. It involves the subtle shades of color, shape, dimension and distance. A writer could write about “a new green leaf” or just as easily write that the “slow unfurling of the heart shaped leaf, contrasted against the darker older foliage of the plant.” Giving details doesn’t necessarily mean a long string of adjectives or adverbs, but a creative use of description that shows instead of tells.

Hearing is the most versatile of the senses. Sound or the lack of sound can also add to the story’s dept. What the character hears can extend her or his awareness beyond the immediate environment. Sound’s ability to travel great distances, allows remote action to be brought into a scene without disrupting the point of view. A wolf howling from somewhere in the night will be heard both in and out of the cabin. The characters inside don’t have to see it to know that the wolf lurks some where outside their door.

Touch can be experienced as a caress or a punch along with everything in between. However, touch is more than skin on skin, but it also includes any contact that is important to the story. The soft fur of cat rubbing against the character’s leg feels different than a skunk brushing passed while trying to escape. In the same way, the rough scales of an alligator feel different than the bark of a tree, so are reactions the images elicit in the reader.

The sense of taste is the most personal and individual. What one person finds appealing, another could just as easily find repulsive. How the character reacts will further define her or him. Most people are aware of the more common foods and drinks. If an author introduces something out of the ordinary, it is simple to you use comparisons to give the reader a sense of the taste and texture.

The sense of smells is the most effective way to activate memories and emotions. The two areas of the brain are closely related in location and synaptic connection. Using odors, either pleasant or unpleasant, is the fastest way to get a response out of the character in such a way that the reader will be able to relate.

Perception or intuition is the sixth sense that is frequently over looked by writers. This is not a reference to ESP or psychic gifts, but how a character sees or judges her or his world and everything in it. By showing how the character perceives her/himself and others, you define her or him without long descriptive sentences. The best example is a character that is afraid of other people; she or he may be paranoid or someone might actually be out to get her or him. By contrasting the perceptions with the reactions of the other characters, the writer reveals more about the personality and the inner motivation of the character.

In addition, similes, allegories and contrasting comparisons can add texture and set the mood. Sarah was as graceful as a bird is an example of simile. Like Amazon warriors of old, she marched into the room would be an allegory. While looking dapper and smart in his new suit, Dan smelled like down wind of a pig farm would be a contrasting comparison. All three examples give added information about the character in a pro-active way that allows the reader to visualize the character.

It is unusual for one sense to be used alone. More often than not, they are combined to give layers of images and sensations. Sight and hearing are frequently combined. A character hears a noise and starts looking for the source or a character smells something wonderful and decides to taste what is in the pot. By coalescing the senses, the author creates a four dimensional world on a two dimensional medium. It makes the characters and their environment more real and relatable for the reader, which in turn makes the novel more popular.

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