Let’s talk about goals today.  I wrote about writing resolutions for New Year’s back in January, but maybe it’s a good time to revisit the topic–because after almost five months, it’s probably a good time to revisit goals too.

I’m in the middle of making some revisions to my writing goals–mostly because I’m not in the middle of revising my writing, and I should be.  I think one of the hazards of writing is that it’s easy to get caught up in the new shiny project, and never finish that one that’s already had so much work put into it.  Usually I have pretty good focus, but lately I must confess I’ve been flailing a bit.

I have two novel drafts that just need some revision.  One only needs one last final round, the other a few more passes.  But I’ve also started thinking about my next project, the historical fiction novel I want to do for NaNoWriMo 2013.  I figured between now and then is a good time for some research–which is good.  Except that lately, I’ve been shunting aside the other drafts in favor of research, which is bad!

My original writing goal for the year was to write every day.  I’ve done pretty well on that and I still am…only I don’t feel like I’m actually moving forward, because I’m not working on what I really should.  To avoid an endless string of half-finished projects and to move forward on larger things like, say, publishing, I really need to finish at least one novel draft before concentrating on the new one.  So I’ve been coming up with revised goals.

I’m a big fan of small-picture goals, like writing every day.  It’s immediately attainable, it’s measurable, it’s something you have to do now rather than putting off (as you could something that has a longer timeline).  However, I find I need to pair my small-picture goal with some bigger-picture ones, and set some deadlines.

Right now I’m giving myself a week for no-pressure, no-guilt fiddling about with the historical fiction novel.  But I set a date to begin revising my nearly-finished draft, and another date for finishing it!  After that, I’ll set new goal dates for things like querying agents and revising that second in-progress draft.

So that’s where I find myself on writing goals, not quite halfway into the year.  Did you set any goals at the beginning of the year (or some other time)?  How has it been working out for you?

CherryBlossomIn the following weeks, I’ll delve into how to take our writing to the next level. In the past months, I’ve written a lot about basic storytelling, shared best practices, shown how to hone our skills, and revealed a little about characters and world building. Here, I’ve broken out Advanced Storytelling into a number of important elements, and will detail each of these into individual posts in the weeks that follow. Hope you enjoy!

  • HOOK YOUR READER: From the first line in your story, it is important to suck the reader in by showing immediate tension with your protagonist. Next week, I’ll discuss what first lines we should avoid, which are overused, and what ingredients grill up an exciting hook. However, this goes far beyond that introductory sentence. When is it appropriate to relax the tension? When should we begin to delve into back-story? At what points in our story should we re-hook the reader with another twist? How do we end it in a way that is both satisfactory to the reader, and leaves them craving for more? Stay tuned, and we’ll delve into the details.
  • AUTHENTIC CHARACTER EMOTION – FLAWS, GROWTH, ARCS, AND TRANSFORMATION OF PROTAGONISTS AND ANTAGONISTS: I’ve shown in previous posts how important character emotion is. Emotion links us to our characters, gives us a stake in the story, and makes us truly care about what happens – connects us to fresh and new experiences. Might even have an impact on our world outside of reading. In this topic, I’ll discuss at what points in our story we should show character growth, (or the lack of), and dig into how to make this experience truly impactful to the reader. We’ll review best practices and the art of taking our characters’ arcs to the next level – both protagonists’ and antagonists’. I’ll explain the differences between proactive, active, and reactive characters. We’ll also dig into this scientifically – showing outlines and how this relates to our plot elements and increases tension.
  • TENSION, CONFLICT, AND THE DRIVING FORCE: To keep the story moving and our readers impulsively flipping the pages into the wee hours of morning, it is imperative to show the steady progression of plot and characters, the enticing details of hazards and wrenches, and the difficulties and growth that ensues. Some good advice: the more we torment our characters, the more interesting the story. When should we ramp up the tension and conflict? When should we relax? Sub-plots are at times necessary, but many times they are not. It is important to consistently progress the storyline, and at the same time, show the little steps and interesting details that keep the readers holding their breath.
  • YOUR WORLD – DETAILS, CULTURE, AND SENSES: It is easy to bog the reader down with unnecessary details, or do the opposite and not show enough. Where is the balance? This depends a lot on the story, style, genre, characters, length, and voice. But it is always important to make the world we portray real to our audience. Here, we’ll delve into the finer details and examples of great stories with interaction – and the differences of styles and how they relate to the overall theme and story structure.
  • THE THREE ACTIONS – ACTION, REACTION, INTERACTION: Characters and the world, the reader and writer, the plot and details. In this topic, I will discuss how we put it all together with the “Three Actions.” I’ll show how they interrelate and the parallels between them. I’ll reveal why these elements are so important and how they impact the storytelling experience.
  • STORY STRUCTURE AND THEMES – OUTLINING VS “PANTSING”: Hundreds if not thousands of books crowd the market, all showing the best ways to structure a story. Here, we will dig into why there are so many different methods, which to use, which to avoid, and why. Is there a “best” way, or does it depend on the style of the author? Should we conform to what the world is telling us, or enhance our natural strengths? There is much controversy here, and I will take a neutral stance in order to show the broadest picture, explain why so many authors are adamant that their own opposing and conflicting views are correct, and give my advice on how to proceed in this vast sea of style.
  • PROSE WITH STYLE AND VOICE – CLARITY, BREVITY, AND WORD CHOICE: Writing is an art, but with any art, the more knowledge and experience one has, the more likely one will succeed. The broader our experiences and perspectives, and the more we open ourselves to possibilities and ideas, the more likely we will achieve our goals. Our work ethic matters. Our passions matter. We must know ourselves, stay in tune to our strengths and weaknesses, then actively make ourselves improve and grow. Grammar might seem basic, but the more knowledgeable one is, the more command one has of language – not to mention an understanding of which rules are breakable and when. In this topic, I will discuss the differences between character and author voice, and expand on the importance of the words we use, and how we use them. There are many styles of storytelling, and I will show examples of some of the most common, and analyze their differences.

Like many, I have a passion for storytelling, but I’m also acutely aware of my strengths and weaknesses. The elements of self-awareness, knowledge, patience, understanding, wisdom, and work ethic are all fruits that set me on my path to success. To grow as a writer is to grow as a person. I look forward to your future comments and interactions.

Hands1I like action movies, spicy food, and long walks on the beach. Sounds like a dating site mantra, right? Well, there might be something more to this.

Real people have tastes, real people have likes, dislikes, and preferences. Real people discriminate both positively and negatively. Real people are unique. Shouldn’t our characters share similar attributes?

It’s easy to get lost in our plots, interactions, world building, story structure, prose, and a million other important building blocks of storytelling. But in any great book I’ve read, characters are at the center of it all. Characters who seem like real people.

My advice, learn about your characters. In an outlined, plot-driven story, it’s easy to forget about their decisions. It’s easy to make them do something because the plot requires it. But is that decision something our characters would make if truly given the option? Do we even know?

Spend some time building your characters. Get to know their families and friends. Discover what sorts of people they hang out with, and what they like to do in their free time. What decisions have they made in their past to get them to where they are today? What are their hobbies?

In addition, I recommend truly looking at whether they play inactive or active roles in your story. In other words, are your protagonists responding only to how your antagonist set them up, or are they actively progressing and growing based on their own motivations? Commonly, protagonists play inactive roles in the beginning of stories due to the antagonist’s inciting incident, then grow based on their experiences and interactions. However, most great stories I’ve read show the characters actively making hard decisions and progressing the story themselves – and from the very beginning – instead of being pulled along by the plot.

Now, should all the characters likes, dislikes, and preferences be included in the story? I say no. But as the writer, it is important you know them. Give hints to some, and reveal others. This will make a character jump out of the page and come to life.

In short, characters are people too! Know them better than your best friend, even better than yourself. You alone know their pasts, their present, and their futures. Show us who they are, connect us to them, and we won’t be able to put that story down.

I think as writers, the thing we lose sight of more often is what readers desire. People read or watch movies for the story itself and not the form (for the most part). The form being the mechanics and the tidbits, and some people will prefer all the flashy stuff over subtext–that is fine. But honestly, I have a hard time believing someone will put down a book and say, “Wow! What superb use of punctuation and grammar.” I’m not saying this isn’t important, but compared to the story itself, it takes a backseat. And writers can spend too much time agonizing over what is considered proper or accepted.

The story is essential. It is everything. If you cannot present a captivating tale, with a vivid world and characters, no one will even bother to find out if you can write properly. Your book will be discarded. And if you write with perfect grammar, follow every rule, and never show an ounce of imagination, your work will become sterile; your story will be lost in yawns.

And this transcends to any medium. For example, a couple years back, the video game Rage was released, and I was pretty excited to play it. I have always held a fascination for post-apocalyptic stories, and this one looked sweet. The story is thus: an asteroid is coming towards earth, and to survive, arks are created to be buried deep in the earth with people in cryo-sleep. So, the game starts off with your main character awakening 106 years after impact, and immediately you are attacked by Mad Max style bandits and saved by some duder voiced by John Goodman.

Now, the game itself had wonderful mechanics and tidbits. Beautiful graphics, great game play, interesting side quest and characters. However, the story–the reason for playing–was horrendous. The character outright accepts that the ‘Authority’ is bad without question, and all the free settlers are the good guys. Then you go on quests to help these people, and no where along the way do we really find out why the Authority is bad, other than a few scattered allusions. There isn’t even a main villain to fight. You just steal some trinket and game over. WTF! is what I said.

Sure, the game followed the accepted mechanics of creating a video game, but in the end, it will not be remembered (at least by me). Why? There is no substance. It is just a shiny cover with nothing inside.

So, write for the story first. Worry about the mechanics later. I have said this before, I will always say it: follow your instincts. If you write something because you feel the tingle of inspiration, you have probably struck gold, and it may not follow accepted methods of writing nor may it be what is popular. But damn it all, don’t ignore your inspiration.

Anywho, enough of this. Write and write with passion.

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Could have been an awesome story. Epic Fail.

I flew from Sacramento to Denver today, and during the flight, began considering the effects of traveling. Which got me thinking about characters in books. Naturally. (I know, I’m weird.)

Traveling is hard on the body and mind. Strange to consider, because all we’re really doing is sitting there, right? Wrong.

Anytime we’re taken out of our comfort zone, our subconscious heightens our sense of awareness. For some of us, the effect is more conscious. But the more we travel, and the more familiar the locations, the easier it is for our mind to predict. Thus, lowering our stress levels, and lessening exhaustion.

Traveling must be tiring for our characters also. It can be easy to see the plot, know what needs to happen, then write it. But, it’s important to reflect on how this impacts the characters. Are they accustomed to traveling? Are they used to the methods of traveling? Are they familiar with the locations they are traveling to? The journeys our characters take affect them, change them, mold them. But, how?

Look at yourself and consider the effects on you. When you take a trip, how exhausted are you when arriving at your destination? Or perhaps you’re so excited, adrenaline kicks in and you don’t feel the effects until the next day. Interesting, no?

Characters are people too! So write them that way. Show their exhaustion on their journeys. Show their excitement. Show how sore riding in a saddle all day makes them. Show them daydreaming while driving a great distance, then realizing with surprise that they’ve driven miles.

There are many ways to show the effects of travel, but above all, show their humanity. Show realistic emotions and reactions – this will create empathy and understanding. Create tension due to the stress of traveling.

How does this change them? You decide.

I love a good fantasy world.  I live in the real world (and I assume you do too!), so I love the chance to visit different worlds when I read.  When I look at my favorite fantasy books, many are favorites at least in part because I love visiting the place where they’re set.

As a reader, I love elaborate worlds–but as a writer, I must admit that my first thoughts are usually around characters and plot, and much less about the details of where those characters live.  Fortunately, I found a very helpful resource to get me thinking in those directions: Patricia C. Wrede’s Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions.

This is a great tool for anyone trying to jump-start thoughts about creating a new world.  The list provides dozens of questions, often on things I never really thought about–but which spark all sorts of ideas once they’re brought up!

It starts with the basics about the world itself, like physical laws and whether you’re even on Earth.  There’s a section with questions about the magic system, and another one for people and culture: What do people wear, do they have special holidays, what foods do they eat and how do they buy that food?  Do they have culture-specific greetings, and are they friendly to foreigners?  There are also questions about government, geography, and languages…to just scratch the surface.

There are tons of questions on all sorts of aspects of the world.  You may not want to answer every question, but I find that even just reading them helped me to at least keep some concepts at the back of my mind as I write.  And sometimes it was helpful noticing which questions weren’t so relevant–for instance, my novel isn’t about large-scale conflict between countries, so generally all my kingdoms get along reasonably well, and questions about political tensions aren’t so relevant.  But thinking about what a story isn’t can sometimes be as helpful as thinking about what it is.

These questions helped me notice that I have a prevalence of evil magicians in my world, and I’d better explain why so many magicians are evil.  I also had to sit back and look at just how common I wanted magic to be, and decided that for most people in my countries, any magic more powerful than a trinket or a charm was fairly unusual–but not a shock to anyone either.  So they probably don’t cook their dinner using magic, but if they live near a dark forest, an attack by a rogue hippogryph has about the same likelihood as an attack by a pack of wolves.  And they don’t see talking cats every day, but might every year or so.

We know so many details about the culture we live in, but they’re familiar so we take them for granted.  These worldbuilding questions are immensely helpful for making you think about the aspects of the world that we generally don’t need to think about–so that you can decide what they might be like in another world.  If you’re creating a fantasy world or even considering it, then you should explore the Worldbuilding Questions.

And two more suggestions at the end of this post: not only did Patricia C. Wrede write the Worldbuilding Questions, she also wrote the brilliant Enchanted Forest Chronicles, which I highly recommend if you enjoy light-hearted fantasy.

If you enjoy fantasy of any kind, then I also have to tell you about the Once Upon a Time reading experience currently being held by one of my favorite bloggers, Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings.  All you have to do to participate is read and review some fantasy during the spring–and it’s much more fun if you also read other people’s reviews, which are all linked here.  It’s a great community of readers, and a fantastic way to find some new books to read…and new fantasy worlds to explore!

EasterIshtarHappy Easter. Wait, hold on, back up. Easter? What is this “Easter thing” I speak of? Seems like a strange question, but the name alone inspires much controversy. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.

For Christians, it celebrates the resurrection of Christ. When I was a kid, the following questions always made me scratch my head. Where did the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs come from? Why is it always celebrated on Sundays? And finally, why do so many non-religious people observe it?

I won’t even begin to delve into this, but it has everything to do with old paganism. Disagree? Yeah, controversy.

Over the past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about Easter – what it means today, what it used to mean, and why it changed so much. This also got me thinking about holidays in general, which made my mind spin with creativity.

Holidays in writing. What a great opportunity to create culture in a story. So much richness, contention, and differing beliefs exist today in reality, why not transfer this over to world building?

Developing holidays gives us a chance to create cultures and conflict, back-story and religion. If you don’t know where to begin building characters, religions, or plots, you can start with holidays.

easter_egg_huntJust make something up! Call it Purple Tortoise Day! It sounds ridiculous, right? But to those of us unfamiliar, and even to some of us who are, painting Easter eggs and dressing up Christmas trees might also seem ridiculous. Call your new celebration Day of Milk Baths or create a yearly Carrion Carry!

Regardless what you choose, the more ridiculous the holiday you think up, the more interesting it will be, and likely, the richer the history. It will create conflict, religions, and tension potentially before you even come up with a protagonist.

Then, when you set pen to paper to write your story, your world will already be vast. Your characters will feel more real and relatable. Their adventures closer to home. Here’s a point I find very interesting. The majority do not know the true roots or reasons of common holidays, or understand the full picture of their histories. I find this fascinating. Holidays are traditions. Through the years, they change. Meanings lost or twisted. Reasons for certain games and their rules shift. But the spirit of the holidays can remain.

Christians, atheists, agnostics, and every other religion can celebrate Easter in their own ways, or can choose to not celebrate at all.

ChristianEasterThis is what makes holidays so intriguing. You do not need to write exposition in your story as to why it exists. You simply can show your characters celebrating it. The readers will understand your hints of meaning, and will be intrigued as to why certain traditions endure. As the writer, you don’t need to delve into the past to pique your readers’ interest. In fact, doing just the opposite can often help mold a richer culture, develop more tantalizing characters, and reveal hints of a lost history. If done correctly, you will have succeeded in sucking your readers in, and making your story feel more real.

So Happy Easter to all, whether you are Christian or Agnostic. Atheist or Buddhist. Celebrate this special day as you wish, but remember, each day is what you make of it. May you find happiness this day, and the next.

Like many a horror junkie, I went through a serial killer obsession stage.  Okay, not just like many horror junkies, but like many people period.  We, as a culture, have become fascinated by the monsters among us.  For most people, I expect the attraction is related to the same sensationalism that feeds the “what bleeds, leads” mentality of the mainstream news.  For others, I’m guessing there is a subconscious anti-hero worship where people identify with the taking of a desired object, even in the face of resistance.  Maybe because of resistance.  And finally, there are those who are intrigued by the different demons that possess these human beings and turn them into living nightmares.  What exactly drives someone to serial strangulation, necrophilia, cannibalism, or deadly sadism?  What is such a person’s motivation?

What’s fascinating is that serial killer motivations are our motivations.  Many of us feel the need to be in control in all situations.  Most of us accept that it isn’t possible, particularly in relationships.  A very few of us, Ted Bundy for example, decide to exert control in their romantic relationships by making corpses to have sex with.  We all know or have heard of the person with the domineering mother that makes a hell of low self-esteem for her children.  Most of us deal with this sort of thing through therapy or a bottle of Jim Beam (and sometimes both).  Edmund Kemper dealt with it by dismembering women as mommy proxies.  He’s especially interesting in that when he finally killed his real mother and stuffed her esophagus in the garbage disposal, he turned himself in.  Serial killers never turn themselves in.  John Wayne Gacy?  He hated that he was attracted to men. Once again, most of us would go the counselor or drug abuse route.  Not Gacy.  He killed what he desired and what he hated to try and reconcile his self.

You’re probably wondering by now what any of this has to do with writing stories, or if I’m just getting off on exposing you to the world’s ick.  It’s pretty simple really.  Characters in stories, including nasty little horror stories, need motivations believably enacted to be part of a good tale. Even stories about extreme events need simple motivations for readers to buy into them.  Serial killers may be the single best example of base motivations leading to extreme stories, and those stories are inherently believable because they happened.

Jeffery Dahmer is my personal favorite when it comes to thinking about basic motivations and extreme outcomes.  The primary motivation for his crimes is so familiar and so human that he becomes, for me, a monster that I can almost feel sorry for.  How, I can hear your outraged question, can you feel sympathy for a man that drilled holes in people’s skulls and poured acid on their brain in an attempt to create living zombies?  How can you be anything but repulsed by a person that ate pieces of other people?  The answer is easy.  I understand what was behind it.  You, on some level, understand it too.  Dahmer was buried at the bottom of a pit of loneliness he couldn’t escape and his attempt at solution was unspeakable.  Why did he try to make zombie love slaves?  So that his lovers wouldn’t leave.  Why did he eat people?  Because if he did, those people would be with him forever.  Now I’m not gonna make lobotozombies or eat people, but I do understand what it’s like to be desperately lonely.  Because of that I can connect to the horrific tragedy of Jeffrey Dahmer.  Believable motivation.  Extreme adaptation.  Real life horror story.

So how does understanding real horror apply to fiction writing?  In simple terms, reverse storytelling.  Dahmer has been very productive for me in this regard.  Especially because he allowed me to link loneliness and cannibalism.

Oh, yeah. Side note. Do not tell the sexy grad student who studies abnormal psychology that you have a thing for cannibalism and loneliness.  Definitely don’t tell her that on a first date.  There won’t be a second if you do.  Jussayin’.

Back to reverse storytelling.  Dahmer’s story led me to connect a basic motivation, loneliness, to an extreme response, cannibalism.  From there I simply disregarded the source material.  After all, Dahmer’s story is (quite unfortunately for everyone involved) already told.  Instead, I began to ask questions.  What would it look like if a mega-rich person came up with the same solution for his loneliness?  Would this sort of cannibal be different as a female?  What if the population of a small town decided to keep their favorite visitors around forever?  Could someone be so lonely they’d want to be eaten in order to be with someone forever?  All of these questions can lead to stories.  For me, a couple of them already have.

So pay attention to the world around you.  Motivation and its outcomes are everywhere.  They don’t even have to be horrific.  And all you need to do is take them and spin them back on themselves.  Happy writing!

Yesterday, I asked my three year-old daughter, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

She said, “Umm, I think a doctor or a fire chief, or even you, Dadda.”

Such a sweet moment. My heart warmed at the sentiment. Nothing is more important than family. But it also got me thinking. At what point in my life did I decide I wanted to be a writer?

Growing up, I had unrealistic dreams like any other normal kid. I wanted to be Superman. I wanted to play basketball for the NBA. When I got older, I wanted to be a professional singer. But when I got into high school, I started viewing the world differently – in a more realistic way. But still positively.

So NBA and Superman were out. I considered pursuing music and singing, but thought again. I didn’t want to be poor. So what other potential career paths did I feel I would love? I rolled it around in my mind and thought up a few possibilities: mechanical engineer, computer engineer, computer programmer, sniper for the military, nuclear physicist, math professor, music teacher.

But never once did I consider writing as a profession.

Yes, I always wanted to write a novel, but I took that as seriously as anyone else who wanted to someday write a book. I considered it would be more of a check-mark on my bucket list – like climbing Mount Everest or taking a pilgrimage through Africa.

So after college, I found myself in the military. Halfway through my four-year term, some friends introduced me to this game called Dungeons and Dragons. I was hesitant at first to try it out – as it was associated with only super-geeks, but I played anyway.

And fell in love with it.

That moment fired my passion for storytelling. Shortly thereafter, I decided to write a book for real. I got about two chapters in, and realized it was a D&D campaign, not a book. So I scratched that story, read a few series of Fantasy novels, and came up with a new idea.

That idea turned into a book. I finished it after my four-year term in the military, still unsure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I disliked what I did in the military, wasn’t passionate about what I learned in college, and wanted to try something fresh. However, writing novels still was not an option for me. Storytelling still excited me, but it didn’t appear I’d ever make any money at it.

Fortunately, I found a balance. Needing money to provide for my family, I quickly found a new job right out of the military, then eventually moved back to California. I discovered something I thoroughly enjoyed, which allowed me to make a decent wage – while allowing myself enough time to spend with the family and simultaneously, continue my writing.

I’ve previously posted about my journey of writing, how much I’ve learned and why, and the realization of being represented by an agent.

But it all started with a dream.

A dream that began late for me. I never thought I would be doing what I am today. Life throws unexpected curve balls and people change as they grow, finding new dreams, new hopes, new skills, and learning lessons that change value structures and entire belief systems.

I know I have changed, and I continue to grow. But that passion for storytelling still blazes in my soul. If you are a writer, and feel that passion, keep kindling that flame. Though I found mine later than some, that fire can never be extinguished.

Regardless of what happens during the process, if writing is something you love, don’t let others put it out. Don’t let self-doubt or opinions squelch that flame, because you will lose a piece of yourself. Grow, keep your mind open to change, open yourself to challenges that will continue to add kindling. Writing is an art, so find your voice, discover what you love about it, and grow.

Looking back to that question I asked my daughter yesterday, I can’t wait to see that passion in her eyes for what she loves, to support her as she grows, to help kindle that flame as she finds herself.

But she’s only three years old, and a part of me doesn’t ever want her to grow up.

Whatever passions I have, they’re all secondary to my family – something else I never saw as a younger man.

May you find what matters most to you, and protect what you love. Grow and adapt, keep your mind open to what the future might bring. Inspire those around you with your passions, and overcome your troubled feelings and obstacles without taking them out on others. I’ve discovered only one constant in this universe. Change. May we all make the best of it, because all matter eventually turns to dust.

Footsteps…

Posted: March 20, 2013 by K D Blakely in Karen's Words

For me, part of what makes a book interesting is being able to feel as if I am right there in each scene.  What helps me most  is a well crafted description.  The environment is the easiest, biggest, most in-your-face part of a description.   I want to know if:

I can feel the sun beating down on my head.

My nose is turning red with the chill in the air.

It is sunny, rainy, snowing, foggy.

Those factors can help to quickly put you in the scene.

But there are far more subtle descriptions that, if done well, can make a scene really come alive for me.

Take footsteps.

What is it about the sound of footsteps that make them so recognizable?

1) Tennis shoes on a basketball court.

2) Hiking boots on gravel.

3) Cowboy boots on a wooden floor.

4)  Leather dress shoes on concrete.

5) Rubber soles on wet grass.

If someone were to play a soundtrack of each of those footsteps, most of us would immediately recognize which we were hearing.

As a writer, getting those details on paper so someone can recall a specific sound can be incredibly frustrating.  Too much description will have the reader rolling his/her eyes and skipping ahead.  Too little description, and the reader won’t be able to hear those footsteps in their head.

There are probably a dozen ways to describe each of those sounds.  Here’s some quick examples:

1)      The high-pitched squeak of tennis shoes on a basketball court.

2)      The crunch of gravel under hiking boots.

3)      The rhythmic thunk-tap of boots striking wood.

4)      The scrape of leather shoes on concrete.

5)      Rubber soles squelching across wet grass.

Do you like it when an author describes sounds?  If so, do you have a favorite description?

I think smells are even harder.   How would you describe a scent to someone who has never smelled it?  For example:

The scent of warm buttery crescent rolls fresh from the oven.

Hot apple pie, thickly layered with brown sugar and cinnamon.

But how do you describe the smell of gooey melted chocolate, roasted garlic or eucalyptus?  Fresh mown grass?  Or something not quite so pleasant, like liver and onions, or the scent of coffee overheated too long?

I grew up near the ocean in Southern California and spent a lot of time on the beach near the Santa Monica pier.  You could smell that briny ocean scent a couple blocks away.  More than twenty-three years later, that scent is still instantly recognizable to me.

But I had someone who’d never been to the beach read my ‘briny’ description and they were shocked.  They’d always assumed the beach smelled fresh and clean.

I think she was disappointed to know the truth.

And I wondered, do most readers like to have descriptions of sounds or scents?  Obviously a detailed description won’t add value to every scene.  And sometimes, just calling it fresh mown grass can provide enough description.  So how important is a more specific description?

I know what I like, but what do you think?

I guess the real question is – does a more detailed description of sounds and smells really help other readers get into a scene?   If so, then the incredibly frustrating process of describing the nearly indescribable seems well worth it.