Using the Five Senses to Show Rather Than Tell: SIGHT

My first major writing assignment, besides the hundreds of reaction papers in my undergraduate years, was an interesting undertaking called a dissertation. There are many ABD’s (All But Dissertation) who completed all the requirements for a doctorate but never could focus on this massive project that was fairly close to 100% telling. I completed mine but only after unplugging from the world and pursuing this in solitary over a long summer. The only similarities to actually writing a novel were the frequent edits.

It has been refreshing to flip over to the creative side of writing and use the five senses.  At first it was difficult. I was an expert at telling. I didn’t know how to let the readers experience a story through my words. Telling was so much easier and took up less space. Eventually I learned by reading not only other novels, but also books about writing. Here are the changes I made with each of the senses.

SIGHT I want to clue my readers in on what I am seeing in the story. For example, let’s say your story revolves around a mischievous dog named Ralph. Initially I tell what is happening: Ralph jumped out the open window. Now, before expanding the scene, I make a list of what the reader should see through my words.

  • It’s raining outside.
  • Ralph loves rain; Ralph is a black and white springer spaniel.
  • Ralph licked his paw first before looking at me, wondering if he should break the rule of no jumping out the window. He stretches.
  • Ralph put his paws on the open window frame, looks back at me one more time, and leaps.

The final step is to use these descriptions to involve your reader in the action:

20moThe rain falls like a soft mist. Ralph, my springer spaniel pup, licks his black and white front paws. It had been a good day so far with no rules broken. His long ears stroke the ground and getting up he stretches while his nose turns to the window. I am confident he will stay. Training him to not jump has been our number one goal.  Ralph’s gazes at me as if to say, “Please, just this once.”

 I don’t say a word as he places both front paws on the open window frame. It’s okay for him to look. His tail wags. I return to my work on the laptop and within seconds there is a sudden surge of energy. I yell, “No, Ralph,” but it’s too late. Hind legs and a tail fly out the window. Ralph is gone.  

Not perfect yet, but as you can tell by listing the details first you can make the scene live in the reader’s mind. Next up, the sense of hearing.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
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