- November 20th, 2010
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Storytelling, and by extension, writing, is about sharing experiences.
Either something that actually happened or a product of imagination. You accomplish this by using description and vivid imagery. You are in effect painting pictures with words so that your listener or reader can see what you see.
Except the picture you paint with words is far more detailed than an actual picture. Pictures are two dimensional and limited in the message they convey. They do not have sound, smell, taste or the ability to impart what the subject matter feels like. Movies do better at getting the job done, but even they still fall short. World War II veterans who watched a screening of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan said it was the most accurate depiction of the Normandy invasion they had ever seen, except for one major detail: Smell. You couldn’t smell the gun powder, smoke, blood, and burning flesh. Writing has no such limits. With words you can make the blind see. You can make it possible for someone who was blind from birth see a fuzzy white rabbit.
How is this possible? What kind of paintbrush would you use to accomplish that? What sort of canvas? What manner of paint? The tools at your disposal are simple and effective. They include using rich adjectives that revolve around the six senses (yes, six, I’ll explain this soon), comparison, and your imagination. With these tools you can make anybody see anything.
It’s easiest to use comparison by simply offering up an alternative image that is fairly universal to which you know most everybody will relate. For example, a heavy duty four wheel drive truck could be called a “tank,” which naturally evokes a classic image in everybody’s mind.
Humans are sensual creatures. We perceive the world around us through our senses, and that is the best way to share a complete experience. Paint with the senses. Make wide strokes with your sound brush. Dab the canvas with your taste sponge. Spray the walls of your story with a can of touch. And more often than not, if you’re trying to describe a sensation caused by one of the senses, you’ll use the others to accomplish it.
For example, “The sound of the alarm going off felt like an icy blade if adrenaline stabbing my heart.”
Or, “The taste of rich chocolate in my mouth felt like silk on my tongue.”
Or, “The smell of ammonia felt like an ice-pick being shoved up my nose.”
Or yet still, “The sight of the field of flowers was like an explosion of color.”
A good literary example describing the sensation of taste comes from my own book, Echoes of Avalon:
“Though he had drunk the Ambrosia elixir many times before, it always felt like his first. By itself, Nektar was heavy and sweet and imparted a deep-seated euphoria. With Mizkift added, the sweetness was tempered by the metallic bitterness of the powder, which transformed the Nektar euphoria into an acute awareness of the universe.
Lokutis was vaguely aware of handing the cup to Akahamet as his eyes rolled into the back of his head, which lolled towards the sky. The taste assaulted the back of his tongue, first smothering it with an overwhelming berry-honey taste, and then followed it by a metallic tartness that drilled ruthlessly into his taste buds. As the euphoria settled in his chest and loins, the tartness shot through nerves like lightning to his brain. A simultaneous burst of light exploded at the center of his mind and across his vision, leaving an afterimage even as the initial explosion turned to sputtering shooting stars. As the initial sensation receded, Lokutis opened his eyes and looked around.”
And finally, there is the sixth sense. That almost intangible sensation we receive from our emotions and feelings that triggers a sensation in our heart that is just as real as any of the five senses. When we see a parent hold his or her newborn child for the first time, that tugs on our heart strings. That sensation makes for a great tool in our painter’s kit.
With techniques like this you can describe that fuzzy white rabbit to a blind person by saying something like:
“It had the absence of color, a beautiful emptiness that made you feel as if your hand might pass though it. That is until you felt the warm, soft fur that hummed with the rapid beating of the tiny heart deep inside. The only thing twitching faster than that heart was it’s little moist nose framed by coarse whiskers. Holding that bundle of softness you’re tempted to pull on the extra-long dog-like ears, but their delicateness persuade you to merely stroke them. When the bunny’s heart calms down and it settles into your caring embrace, you can’t help but think that this must be what grandma was feeling when she held you as a child.”
Now that you’re equipped with all the tools you need to paint magnificent pictures, be sure to use them when telling your next story. Tell your story with images painted with wide colorful strokes that are so rich in texture your reader will hear them loud and clear. And if that doesn’t work, hit them so hard with details they can taste it.