Images of Characters, Part III

Continuing in the same vein as the first and second parts of this post…

When writing, it’s easy to forget all your other senses in favor of sight, which is the main way most of us perceive the world. That’s why many character descriptions are of the “hair color/eye color” variety and why descriptions of settings can go on and on forever about how things looked, but in the end, the reader does not get a clear image.

Any good writing advice book will tell you to write with the five senses, but it does require some thought, especially when you’re just trying to get through a first draft. Besides, when you’re actually writing, all you’re doing is seeing what’s on the screen in front of you. I think “visceral” is what a writer should aim for. It’s one thing to see a gunshot wound, but it’s another to get inside that character’s skin and feel pain, hear bones crunching, taste blood, and smell adrenalized sweat.

In this way, you can get inside the scene and inside the character’s head. The reader has a compelling reason to keep reading because the author’s use of the five senses has made the characters and settings tangible.

But as with anything else, the five senses should be used in moderation. Not every setting or character description requires the use of all five of the senses all the time, otherwise the reader has too much to go on, and it all becomes overwhelming. A little goes a long way.

2 thoughts on “Images of Characters, Part III

  1. This reminds me that I really need to describe characters’ voices more than I do (which is almost never).

    I think it’s a mistake to describe things you don’t notice in real life — you’re just going to be awkward about it (I never notice anybody’s eye color, and I’m not 100% sure of my own). Voices I do notice, though, so I should use that more.

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