Wednesday 21 September 2022

Done any good thinking lately?

 If a writer wants to build up their practical skills there are all kinds of course and resources available - plotting, character development, editing, the nitty gritty of grammar and punctuation, world building - you can get good help on everything you might need. When I was an aspiring writer I soaked up all the talks, courses and books I could find and afford, some of which did not suit my writing style - I know that now, but it took a while to find out and that is another story anyway. 

Some of those courses cover the idea of writing with all the senses - excellent advice. And that got me thinking. As well as building practical skills, what about thinking time? Do we overlook it in favour of learning something we can measure? 

Is there value in setting some time aside to build up your own library of sensations? I think there might be. Just sitting outside can start a list. The buzz of insects - I have some fat and friendly bumble bees that are very interested in my fuchsia bush at the moment. There's the scent of jasmine - one I'm particularly fond of as it grows like weeds in my garden. The noise made by a bird's wings - have you actually listened to how noisy a sparrow can be, simply flying from bush to bush? Sitting quietly can produce a soundscape - children playing, a barking dog, a noisy motorcycle, seagulls on the roof. All of that can give you atmosphere. There is also the power of silence - absence of sound can be just as useful. 

What about scents? The nice ones, of course, but just mentioning the smell of burnt toast can tell you that a character was under pressure at breakfast time - or maybe they are not very expert at cooking? Unusual ones - the distinctive smell of a library or bookshop, of an underground garage, of a garden shed. Scent is a powerful component of memory too and a good way of taking a character back into their past in quick flashback. What or who does it conjuror up, and what were the circumstances? And don't forget how things taste. And what about colour? I have a navy blue bowl full of small red tomatoes on my kitchen counter and every time I catch a glimpse of it it says "Mediterranean" to me - even here in Barry Island! Mind you, the South of France style sunshine probably helps. 

One of those things that are undoubtedly dealt with in those skills courses is the need to cut down on description. These days readers - and editors, particularly editors, dislike it. The languid scene setting of previous decades will earn you a red pencil comment in the margin.  But stories don't happen in a vacuum. As a reader I get irritated when a book might as well be taking place in a white box of the type that was beloved of theatre directors in the 60s and 70s. So - we have to be short and sneaky these days. a bright colour, a waft of scent, a background noise and you are there, in maybe a dozen words. But they do have to be the right dozen words. Words you have collected - hoarded - for just this occasion. 

Gaining skills is great, but spending some time staring into space simply absorbing might be another way of adding depth to your writing.

Just a thought. 


No comments:

Post a Comment