Sounds, sights, and smells are all part of creating an atmosphere.
‘The creation of the physical world is as crucial to your story as action and dialogue. If your readers can be made to see the glove without fingers or the crumpled yellow tissue, the scene becomes vivid. Readers become present. Touch, sound, taste and smell make readers feel as if their own fingers are pressing the sticky windowsill.
‘If you don’t create evocative settings, your characters seem to have their conversations in vacuums or in some beige nowhere-in-particular. Some writers love description too much. They go on and on as if they were setting places at the table for an elaborate dinner that will begin later on. Beautiful language or detailed scenery does not generate momentum. Long descriptions can dissipate tension or seem self-indulgent. Don’t paint pictures. Paint action.’ – Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction
Bringing in sensory detail is a way to enrich a story with texture to create the fullness of experience, to make the reader be there.
What about you? Do you use the senses, apart from sight, to create atmosphere?
Before the month ends, have a read of my 3 poems in December Quadrant magazine: ‘Survival’, ‘White Ibis’ and ‘When the New Boyfriend Nearly Died’. Big thank you to Literary Editor, Professor Barry Spurr.
When I used to teach classes to beginning writers, it was good. It forced me to think back to the beginning to when I first put pen to paper. The thing is, every time we sit down and face the blank page, it’s the same. Every time we start a new piece of writing, we doubt that we can do it again. A new journey with no map – like setting off towards the horizon alone in a boat and the only thing another person can do to help is to wave from the shore.
So when I used to teach a creative writing class, I had to tell them the story all over again and remember that this is the first time my students are hearing it. I had to start at the very beginning.
First up, there’s the pen on the page. You need this intimate relationship between the pen and the paper to get the flow of words happening. A fountain pen is best because the ink flows quickly. We think faster than we can write. It needs to be a “fat” pen to avoid RSI.
Consider, too, your notebook. It is important. The pen and paper are your basic tools, your equipment, and they need to be with you at all times. Choose a notebook that allows you plenty of space to write big and loose. A plain cheap thick spiral notepad is good.
After that comes the typing up on the computer and printing out a hard copy. It’s a right and left brain thing. You engage the right side of the brain, the creative side when you put pen to paper, then bring in the left side, the analytic side, when you edit the print out as you settle back comfortably with a drink (a cup of tea, even) and read what you’ve written.
Patrick White said that writing is really like shitting; and then, reading the letters of Pushkin a little later, he found Pushkin said exactly the same thing. Writing is something you have to get out of you.
Whether writing a story or writing a blog, start writing, no matter what.
A fantastic example of this writing advice is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.
Poignant and hilarious, threaded with compassion and, behind everything, the cataract of a thundering moral statement. – The Boston Globe
Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.
Don’t let the ease of reading fool you – Vonnegut’s isn’t a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, “There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.”
Slaughterhouse-Five is not only Vonnegut’s most powerful book, it is also as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author’s experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut’s other works, but the book’s basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy – and humor. – Goodreads
Am thrilled and delighted that my poem, ‘A Jogger At My Heels’ was published in last Saturday’s Canberra Times Panorama Arts section. Big thank you to Poetry Editor, Penelope Cottier and to The Canberra Times for retaining a Poetry Corner.
Have a read:
Did someone say that poetry is the purest form of art?
Poetry, the highest form of literature, influences us because it shows different shades of human beings. In fact, poetry is one of the most ancient arts and also the product of human imagination. It expresses different feelings such as friendship, love, death and other human emotions. In literature, poetry stands first even today because poetry has such power to influence this world. Poetry still dominates other forms of literature such as novel, drama, short story etc. Poetry is taught in schools and colleges across the world. The reason is that poetry can tap the emotions of students and their power of imagination. When it comes to English literature, poetry is the dominant form of literature from Chaucer’s period to Modern English Period. In the history of English literature, poetry has dominated other forms in Romantic period, Pre-Raphaelites period, the Metaphysical school of poets, the Classical Movement etc. Thus, poetry has a special place in English literature rather than other forms.
Have a read of my flash fiction ‘Sober Sixty’ first published in the Grieve Anthology, August 2020, Stories and Poems of Grief and Loss.
Samantha’s single women friends were envious, although she assured them Johnny wasn’t perfect. Mood swings, challenging stuff like that.
Nobody messed with Johnny. Nobody knew better than he did, he was always watching YouTube and learning new facts and figures. Also, he rode a motorbike and practiced shooting at weekends. There were Facebook groups for bike riders and a rifle range nearby. Johnny was proud of being a rev-head and a good shot with his gun, and not many people could disagree that he had unusual interests for a man his age.
Sober since forty and counting, he said about his sobriety. They didn’t talk about his twenties and thirties.
There’s a photograph of the two of them from Christmas day. Johnny had tried to lower himself to Samantha’s height for the photo so they’d be on the same level. Stand up tall, she’d said. Stand to your full height. That’s right, he’d said. You like things big.
What does ATP in ATP Cup stand for? was the type of thing Johnny would call out while she poured him a glass of water before setting out on a stroll around the block.
Samantha thought she knew the answer, but didn’t want to risk being wrong. She’d learnt to tiptoe around his wildness and dreaded the fighting when she wasn’t attentive enough to his needs. Dry drunk, AA called it. The unpredictable rages were doing her head in. She knew she needed the courage to walk away.
Now she’s getting by a day at a time.
Her friends say she’s one of the lucky ones. She’s dodged a bullet.
“Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning. But there’s another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives everything a second time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it. Looks at the texture and the details.” – Natalie Goldberg
Have a read of my prose poem ‘The Ladder and Its Dangers’. It was longlisted for the 2019 joanne burns Microlit Award.
Available for inclusion in a range of multi-platform activities organised by Spineless Wonders including #storybombing NWF20, podcasts, live performance and the Microflix Awards.
Hope you enjoy the poem.
The Ladder and Its Dangers:
It’s dizzying up there. You climb to the top shelves for whatever your mood requires: on loneliness, weight reduction, a book of Basho’s Haiku and find half a dozen books you forgot you had which side tracks the initial quest, since now that you’ve located them you have to consider them. Will I ever reread this, recycle it in the street library? Of course, your reading interests are very different from the interests you had when you placed it alphabetically on the shelf. Perhaps your interests have moved in a different direction now, maybe they’ve become more multi-cultural. Perhaps you think continuing to read Anita Brookner and her stories of loss and aloneness are not the best choice for you anymore. Your quest takes on a sedentary nature as you sit on the floor to search the lower shelves, scanning titles and author names. Possibly by now you’ve been up and down the ladder several times and been peering upwards for extended periods cutting off the blood supply to your neck. And you’ve stood up too quickly from the floor and are feeling totally off balance. Now you need to consider blood sugar levels, blood pressure, PEOPLE OVER SIXTY SHOULDN’T CLIMB LADDERS. Discombobulated for a while, you’re too preoccupied to recall what sent you up the ladder in the first place.
Show don’t tell is an old writing tip, but a good one.
What does it mean exactly?
It means don’t tell us about loneliness (or any of those complex words like dishonesty, secrecy, jealousy, obsession, regret, death, injustice, etc) show us what loneliness is. We will read what you’ve written and feel the bite of loneliness. Don’t tell us what to feel. Show us the situation, and that feeling will be triggered in us.
When you take your child to school on their first day you may find yourself teary and relieved at the same time. Put into words what you see: the child’s face, the wave at the gate, the other mothers saying their goodbyes, another child coming up to take your son by the hand. We will get what you’re trying to say without you telling us directly.
The how-to-write books tell us to use our senses when we write stories: sight, sound, smell, touch. Writing from the senses is a good way to penetrate your story and make friends with it. Don’t tell us about something, drop deep, enter the story and take us with you.
What about you? Do you consciously bring the senses into your creative writing?