Right now the boys (one mine, one his friend who stayed over for the night) are fixing the cushions on my sofa. They made a fort to sleep in for the night and my living room was a mess of brown pillows and mismatched blankets that I had to step over to get to my computer. There’s also a plastic Bat-Cave sitting near my fake fireplace with the Millennium Falcon parked right next door.
All the evidence of a night well spent with two 7 year-old’s.
The world we live in is not static. There’s color and shape and the blatant trace of human contact embedded in our environment. And while there is something to be said about a writer allowing room for the reader’s mind to build a particular setting in their own imagination, these details are also integral to telling a story right.
We’ve all heard the “show, don’t tell” mantra told over and over again.
“I want to feel the ocean spray on my face!”
“Let me taste the apple! Don’t just tell me he bit into the apple!”
But I’m going to tell you to stop.
Don’t write hoping to make your reader feel the ocean spray, or taste the apple. These are not helpful in telling your story. It’s actually really distracting and can draw your reader right out of the story. And the last thing you want is for your reader to be jolted out of the story.
Instead, let’s alter that mantra; show what is affecting your character.
Your character walks into a room – what impacts them the most? What jolts them? Based on who they are, what would they notice first?
I’m going to use Megan Shepherd from my current WIP, Persona, as an example.
Early in the book she comes to the home of Victor Von Buren, a very austere Naval Captain. When writing the scene where she first enters his home I have to consider not one but two voices – Megan’s and Victor’s.
Even though Victor isn’t present, he has left his fingerprints on his home. So as Megan is wandering through different rooms (which, I confess, I might have been giving a slight homage to the Von Trapp family in Sound of Music) she is not only reacting to the room itself, she’s reacting to the man who lives there.
A writer’s job isn’t to just paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind, it’s to make that picture important. It doesn’t matter if they feel ocean spray on their face, what matters is the emotion that can be hooked onto it.