The painter uses paint. The writer uses words.
Since we are tasked with presenting a story primarily with words, conveying enough information to create a scene in the reader’s mind is an important skill to develop. When done well, the story feels like a portal to some other place. You’ve got to make it real in the reader’s mind for there to be that *magic*.
So how do we do that? That’s a huge task! And it sounds kind of intimidating, not gonna lie.
To quote Steven King, “Telepathy, of course.” In his book, “On Writing,” this is his definition of “what writing is” (103). And he presents this paragraph as proof:
“Look–here’s a table covered with a red cloth. On it is a cage with the size of a small fish aquarium. In the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink-rimmed eyes. In it’s front paws is a carrot-stub upon which it is contentedly munching. On its back, clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8.”King, 105
Do you see it? I can. And we probably see something roughly similar.
This is how you draw your reader in. Giving them something vivid to “see” makes them feel like they are IN your story. Developing your telepathic writing powers takes practice, like most things. I sometimes find myself bogged down in plots and characters’ thoughts when I am writing, and I have to remind myself to continue setting the scene so the story continues to have someplace to exist.
It is important to not overdo the details, but to also do enough. This is part of the skill building part–knowing how much is the *right* amount. Just like spices in your favorite dish, if you put too much of one thing, it’s not going to taste right. It’s all about the balance.
Telepathy Exercise: Photo Observation
The basic gist of this exercise is to look at a photo and describe what you see. You are trying to get the reader to see roughly the same image. Use language that pulls the image into the reader’s mind. Try to hit at least five details. Now, imagine the sounds and scents. What does the weather feel like?
And then, try moving further into your imagination. What is this place? What is around the corner? Who is that lady? Who is that other person farther away? Who is behind the camera?
If you are working on a current writing project, perhaps do some research and find a photograph that applies to your story for this exercise. Or work this image into your story, somehow. Is it a memory? Down the street from the protagonist’s office? Where she’d meet her grandmother for brunch?
An additional facet of this exercise could be having someone who hasn’t seen the photo read your work. Then show them them photo and ask how closely they got to *this* image.
Good luck sharpening your telepathy skills! Let me know how it goes.
Citation: King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Scribner, 2010.