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 Describing an Environment

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Jae Baeli
Jae Baeli

Number of posts : 103
Age : 57
JOB/HOBBIES : Author, Editor, Artist, Webmaster, Singer-Songwriter
FAVORITE AUTHORS : Dean Koontz, Jeff Lindsey, Laramie Dunaway,Darian North, Richard Dawkins, Raymond Obstfeld
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Registration date : 2008-11-22

PostSubject: Describing an Environment   Fri Dec 05, 2008 4:55 pm

Just like using Who, What, Where, When, Why, & How can help you discover connections, plot points, there's another set of elements that can help you with description. That's Taste, touch, smell, see, hear. If you have a psychic character, that list would include "intuit" as another sense.

As I've said before, visualization is hard for me. My brain works on emotional memory and sensation. The only visuals I get are largely snapshots and I can't hang onto for very long. But I still manage to describe scenes in an ambient way. So if you think you can't write because you don't visualize well, think again. If you are naturally visual, especially if your visuals are advanced, like a running film, you have an advantage.

When visualizing a scene, it is a good idea to try to place yourself there--if not visually, then emotionally. If I have trouble with the ambiance of a scene, I will go to a similar location and experience it viscerally. For instance, imagine your scene is taking place in a coffeehouse. Try to pay attention to what you'd notice. What do you see? Waiters and waitresses? What are they wearing? What's their general age-range? Does one stand out more than the others? Can you guess what each person might be thinking about? Can you guess what their story might be? Perhaps you notice a waitress with a slight discoloration under one eye. Does her boyfriend or husband hit her in anger? Is she merely clumsy, and the mark is from a door that got in the way? You have to think like an investigative reporter or detective. There are clues all around if you know how to find them.

You are the character drinking coffee. What does the texture of the coffee mug feel like? Is it still hot? Is it smooth, or gritty from being hand-thrown on a potter's wheel? What flavor is it? What does it remind you of? What color is the coffee itself? What could you compare it to?
Are there any ambient noises? traffic? The tinkle of spoons on saucers or stirring coffee? The susurrant spitting of a drip coffeemaker? A burst of outside noise when the door opens? Who just came in? Why are they here? You have to continually ask questions.

Again, the mindmapping technique works here, but in a slightly different way. This exercise is even more helpful if you know ahead of time you'll be writing about a coffeehouse. Then you can actually go to one and mindmap it. (It may not be a good idea to take your humongous blank desk pad, but, I guess they can't stop you. But a blank sheet of regular paper works just fine). Do this exercise by closing your eyes and really listening. Try to count how many different sounds you hear, and jot them around the circled word "Sounds." Make a circle for "See" and look around and jot down items, decor, or people you see. Do this with the other senses, and you shall have created a descriptive ambiance for your scene. You can also put a circle on your pad for "Dialogue" and shamelessly jot down some snippets you might hear between people.

When you learn to do this, it translates to complete immersion in your environment, and that allows complete immersion in your story. This is a condition you should strive for, so that your prose will come alive and create that same vividness in your reader.

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