Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Write with Your Senses Wide Open


I don't have trouble putting down a book. I can do it for an hour, a day, a month, a year, or never pick it up again. Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monninger (available from Simon and Schuster in February) is different. I couldn't put down, not because of the tragic love story, the spunky heroine, or the honorable hero. Monniger's strong sensory images drew me into that world. I felt the fine spray of paddles dipping in the racing river, tasted the first bittersweet sip of hot coffee on a brisk morning, saw sunlight filter though the pines to awaken iridescent colors from a black bird wing.

To show rather than tell, we must use all five senses to draw the reader into the story. I love camping, so the images in Eternal on the Water, appealed to my senses stimulating emotion. Emotion drives the story. The more our senses are awakened to the emotions we once experienced, the more we feel a part of the story. Senses not only connect us to the story, they announce the emotion. Slimy things crawling on the floor hint at something unsavory afoot. Champagne bubbling on the tongue telegraphs happiness and celebration.

Fit the images into the story. Long paragraphs of description are unnecessary. The trick is to pick the exact image to bring the story to life. A shower of sparks erupting from the campfire when a pocket of sap in a pine log bursts, the murmur of the river drifting through the pines, the smell of bacon frying over a campfire on a windy morning, streams of water twisting like dark rope in the current: these images tucked into the movement of the story bring us into the world and make it ours.

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