Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Using the Five Senses for Evocative Description


Writing description is a delicate balancing act.

Too little, and your readers are left hungering for character and setting details that would bring the story to life in their imaginations. 

Too much, and the action slows to a crawl. Worse, you might be accused of writing “purple prose.”

Too late, and by the time you reveal the important details, readers will have made up their own. And believe me, when they discover the image they’ve locked in on doesn’t match your description, they’ll be completely thrown—maybe even mad enough to throw the book aside!

It takes practice and skill to know when description will enhance the story, what kind of description fits this particular scene, and how much you need to draw the reader in.

The Five Senses are the basic building blocks of description, so let’s take a closer look at each one. (And just because I can, I’m going to indulge in some shameless self-promotion with brief examples from Castles in the Clouds, book 2 in my Flowers of Eden series, now available for pre-order and scheduled for release next August.)

1. Sight. This one’s the most obvious. We take in vast amounts of information just by what we see around us, so it’s important not only to effectively describe the appearance of our story characters but also to place them in very specific settings: a café, a forest, an art gallery, the beach. Here’s how Larkspur Linwood describes her literature professor:

He would look so fine today, dark hair slicked back and shiny, broad shoulders tugging against the fabric of his starched white shirt.

And here’s an example of a visual description as Lark’s younger sister sees a dust storm approaching.

“Oh, no. No, no, no!” Standing in the middle of the cotton field, Rose Linwood looked west toward the darkening sky. 
Not rain clouds, which would have been bad enough this close to the cotton harvest. Not clouds at all, but a roiling reddish-brown mass of topsoil blown in from the drought-parched farmlands of Texas and Oklahoma.

2. Sound. In analyzing our surroundings, the sounds we hear are right up there with what we’re seeing. Voice tone and cadence give us vital clues to a speaker’s meaning. A noisy neighborhood lawnmower can drive us to distraction. A wailing siren warns of danger. In this brief example, Lark and her family have just enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with new friends.

As the ladies served dessert following the simple but delicious meal, a pattering on the roof alerted them to the light rain beginning to fall.

3. Smell. It’s a proven fact that our memories are tied very closely to the sense of smell. I’ve even heard real estate agents suggest that their clients bake cookies right before a house showing to create a homey and welcoming ambiance. Here’s what Lark experiences when friends welcome her with a home-cooked meal:

The mouthwatering aroma of roast beef filled the kitchen. Lark and her family hadn’t had to tighten their belts quite so much at the farm in recent months, but even so, she hadn’t smelled anything so good in ages. Her stomach growled in response.

4. Touch. Temperature, texture, dryness or dampness—all these play into our sense of touch. In this snippet, Anson, the story hero, comforts Lark during a difficult time.

She felt so good in his arms, so perfectly right. If only the circumstances were different. If only it hadn’t taken a moment of need for her to let him hold her this way. He tipped her head back, cradling her messy bun and wishing he had the right to loosen the pins and lose himself in those silky golden tresses.

5. Taste. When it comes to description, taste is probably the most underused of the five senses, but it can be a valuable tool. Here’s how taste is used in a scene where Rose Linwood must deal with the aftereffects of the dust storm described above.

How many meals had they eaten that grated between their teeth and left their mouths tasting like a sandy creek bed?

And for something a bit more romantic, here’s Anson imagining a kiss with Lark.

Could he bear to be near her every day and keep things strictly platonic, when there were moments—too many of them lately—when all he could think about was how her lips would taste beneath his kisses?

Are you taking full advantage of all five senses in your story description? One way to do a quick spot-check is to gather five different colors of highlighters or colored pencils, then print out several pages of your manuscript. Assigning a different color to each sense, mark descriptive words or phrases with the appropriate color for whichever sense was used. A visual survey will tell you very quickly which senses you rely on most often, as well as which ones you haven’t used much and might want to consider working in. 

When using description, be specific. Choose the most accurate words.

More tips for using description effectively:

  1. Describe only what your viewpoint character is consciously and logically aware of in the scene.
  2. Use concrete nouns and active verbs, avoiding adjectives and adverbs except as necessary to flesh out the image.
  3. Don’t go crazy with your thesaurus. Use it wisely to find the best and most accurate descriptors. 
  4. Especially don’t go hog-wild finding unique words to substitute for “said” in dialogue tags. Better yet, skip the “said” phrase and instead use a beat (character action) to identify the speaker.
  5. Be selective. Decide what description really matters in any given scene. Leave the rest to the reader’s imagination.
  6. Work description smoothly into the forward-moving action; don’t do a “description dump,” especially not in your opening scene!
  7. When describing your viewpoint character, try to be a little more creative than having her looking in a mirror or other reflective surface.

What other tips would you offer about writing effective description? If you’re brave, share a line or two from your wip where you’ve used one or more of the five senses.

Join the conversation for a chance to win your choice of one of Myra’s published books (including The Sweetest Rain, Flowers of Eden, book 1), OR a copy of Word Painting Revised Edition: The Fine Art of Writing Descriptively, by Rebecca McClanahan 

Award-winning author Myra Johnson writes emotionally gripping stories about love, life, and faith. Myra is a two-time finalist for the prestigious ACFW Carol Awards, and her Heartsong Presents romance Autumn Rains (November 2009) won RWA’s 2005 Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Romance Manuscript.  Myra and her husband are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters who, along with their godly husbands, have huge hearts for ministry. Seven grandchildren take up another big chunk of Myra’s heart. Originally from Texas, the Johnsons moved to the Carolinas in 2011. They love the climate and scenery, but they may never get used to the pulled pork Carolinians call “barbecue”! The Johnsons share their home with two very pampered doggies who don’t always understand the meaning of “Mom’s trying to write.”

Find Myra online here:

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153 comments :

  1. Very helpful article. We were just discussing this at my writers' group. Please put my name in the hat. Thank you.

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  2. Great post, Myra. I've been challenging myself to include more sensory details in my stories. They add a richness to a story that I appreciate as a reader.

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  3. MIchelle Matney, welcome to Seekerville. Where are you and your writer's group from??

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  4. Well, once upon a time I let Vince Mooney beta read for me and boy did he nail me on this.

    So now when I start a story I try to smell and taste and hear and touch and see the story.

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  5. Myra, how did you do those 3-D book covers. They look so cool!

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  6. I do love to immerse myself into a story using all of my senses.

    Count me in thank you.

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  7. Great post Myra! As a reader, i love it when my senses are brought into the story. Not all authors can do that effectively. As a writer, I have to really work on getting the senses conveyed. I'm in a season of not writing right now...waiting on the Lord. But this post is one for my keeper book. Thank you.

    I would love to be entered into either giveaway.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

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  8. This post is a keeper, Myra. I love all of your examples. I'm thinking I'll write about the sounds of my crown hitting the tile last night, as I flossed my teeth. Looks like a trip to the dentist is in order. :( Your covers are so beautiful!

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  9. Thanks for the examples, Myra. A nice little romantic hook to get us excited about reading your new book. I've got the first one in that series on my reading list, so please count me in for the draw.

    I guess I'll be brave and share this little segment from a science fiction project I've momentarily set aside:

    "Their fingers brushed as she grabbed for the cup, still full in his hand. Filled with nervous energy, her arm shook, sloshing coffee down the sides, some splattering the table, some rolling in trickles toward the crook of his arm. When he jerked back abruptly, Telianna lost her grip and the mug dropped to the table, its contents rushing toward his lap. He jumped up instinctively, knocking his chair behind him with a screech and a twang. The dull roar in the diner went dead as all eyes fixed on them." (touch, sight, sound)

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  10. Would everyone count touch here? I don't say how their fingers felt when they brushed.

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  11. Oh, Jill!!!! BAD CROWN!!!! I like the Diva crown so much better! Sorry, my friend.

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  12. Good morning, Michelle!!!! Welcome aboard!

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  13. I brought coffee and buterkoek from Jan Drexler's post yesterday in Yankee Belle Cafe... and I'm in love with it!

    Myra, I love the list, what a concrete way of seeing the difference between the description and the simple noun.

    Wonderful!!!!

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  14. Hi Myra,

    Thanks so much. I think description is one of my weak points. I've been told our characters need to do more than sit around eating, and then I'm told to include the sense of taste. I have a lot of allergies and often can't smell things. So taste and smell are often left out of my stories. Your post reminds me I need to work on this. A lot! I appreciate you and what your shared today!

    Have a blessed day!

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  15. I tend to love dialogue and so description is sadly lacking. I try to make myself the lead in the movie in my head to invoke the senses better but I find that I just want to talk with everyone around me!

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  16. Interesting post, Myra - thank you!! I love reading books with sensory descriptions.

    Please include my name in the drawing for a copy of 'The Sweetest Rain'. Thanks!!

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  17. Thanks for the advice on using all the senses. It really does make a difference. And please put my name in the hat for Myra's book! I can't wait to read THE SWEETEST RAIN!

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  18. Hi Myra
    First, I LOVE your book covers. Yours are always so awesome. I really appreciate the reminders on how to weave in the senses into description, which is usually my weak point. That list on how to be specific is great for me. I love your examples as well. Thanks!!!

    I'm always willing to be in the draw for a Seeker book. Guaranteed awesome stories!!! (apologies for too many exclamation points, but they seem so necessary to me)

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  19. Jill, I am so sorry about your crown.

    Myra, here is the opening scene for the book I am currently editing. I have tried to include the senses in describing the scene. Is there something more I could add. This story is taking place in the North Carolina mountains in a small town.

    Dressed only in her lacy, white slip, Grandma stood in the middle of the yard with a mop.

    "Grandma, you need to come back into the house. Now!"

    "I need to finish mopping the floor first."

    "Grandma, please come inside. It's two in the morning."

    "No, I won't!" Grandma stomped her foot.

    Dreama Bracket could see the headlines now: "Pastor Matthew Bracket's Mother Gives Grass a Good Mopping" She raced through the door letting the screen slam behind her. Her bare feet sunk into the wet grass. The crickets shirped and the lightning bugs lit up the yard. She grabbed her grandmother's arm being careful not to bruise the delicate skin. No easy task considering her grandma's angry, determined, confused state. Finally, with Grandma in bed and the mop put away, Dreama collapsed into her own bed. Her tears refused to stop flowing.

    How much longer could she endure her grandmother's disease?

    In a few short hours, Dreama struggled to get out of bed when her alarm went off. She heard a pot bang and leaped into action. What was Grandma doing? She stood in front of the stove, stirring a big pot of oatmeal. It was as if nothing at all had happened last night. Grandma was in her right mind again. What a relief!

    I just noticed I have 3 exclamation points in this first scene. Looks like I will have to change them, but which ones and what can I do to make it be the same intensity.

    Please enter me for either drawing

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  20. Good morning, Seekerville! You know by now I'm NOT a morning person, so keep chatting amongst yourselves and I'll be back with you as soon as I pry my eyes a little farther open and don't have to attempt typing on an iPad screen!

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  21. This is a good reminder, MYRA. I'm going to go back to my WIP, both of them, and brush up on some of these. I always use at least one sense, but I don't always incorporate all five.
    I have "The Sweetest Rain," but would love to win one of your other books.
    Kathy Bailey
    Using her senses in NH

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  22. Good Morning Myra, You are too funny. Not a morning person. Hmmmm. Better grab some of Ruthy's coffee. It is nice and strong. Hey Ruthy Thanks for bringing some of Jan's buterkoek. I guess we're awake if I can say that word. LOL

    Isn't it wonderful that we are all different. That way we cover all bases.

    I love your post as I always need to be reminded to use the senses. I like the idea of colored pens. I've done that in workshops before. They tell you to print your manuscript in the tiniest print and then highlight action, dialogue, etc and it really shows gaps and holes. So this would work well with senses also. Thanks Myra.

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  23. Thanks, Ruthy and Wilani.
    WILANI, I enjoyed your opening. :)Is your setting based on a real are in NC?

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  24. Always fun to see a new face. Welcome Michelle.

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  25. MYRA, thanks for the reminder of the importance of grounding the reader with description using all the senses. I especially like the tip to use details. Details bring the description alive.

    Love your examples from Castles in the Clouds and those gorgeous covers! My favorite example was touch: She felt so good in his arms, so perfectly right. If only the circumstances were different. If only it hadn’t taken a moment of need for her to let him hold her this way. He tipped her head back, cradling her messy bun and wishing he had the right to loosen the pins and lose himself in those silky golden tresses.

    so romantic.

    Janet

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  26. Myra,

    Just what I needed to read today. I'm working on edits from my local (GRW) critique opportunity and one of the comments was that I write extremely short. I need to describe the surroundings, etc.

    Thanks a bunch and I would like to be entered in the drawing!

    Stephanie

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  27. MICHELLE, so nice to have you here! Tell us more about your writers group.

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  28. Jill it is a fictional town but I do mention some places in Asheveille that are real, Mission Hospital and the Biltmore House. I also have the characters going on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Grandma is based on my real grandma who I lived with and took care of. She really did mop the grass in her slip at 2 in the morning and another scene in the first chapter is of Grandma taking the fridge apart. That really happened as well.

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  29. Wilani, you've come a long way, baby! You have applied every lesson you've learned to this scene, and it's wonderful.

    The only suggestion I have is to go a little deeper into Dreama's emotions during the confrontation and upon awakening. She's living a see-saw kind of life right now, and I want to feel that in my gut through her reactions. Nothing over the top, but that little bit deeper to make us feel what she's feeling.

    GREAT SCENE IDEA.

    Mopping the grass.

    Wonderful.

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  30. KELI, it does sometimes take a focused effort to work more of the five senses into description. Since writing this post, I've definitely been more deliberate about using all the senses in my wip.

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  31. TINA, so VINCE called you out on using the five senses? I don't know any other way to do it except to immerse myself so fully in the POV character that I can envision (and hear and taste and smell and touch) everything he/she might be experiencing in that moment.

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  32. 3-D book covers. Well, RUTHY inspired me when I saw hers on her Facebook banner. So I did some Googling and found a template and some directions. However, my PhotoShop Elements program doesn't want to perform like some instructions say it should, so I downloaded Gimp and did the covers that way.

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  33. Thanks, MARY PRESTON! Incorporating the senses really does bring the reader more fully into the story.

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  34. CINDY W, those seasons of writing and not writing are just part of life, and we all cycle through them. You're wise to recognize which season you're in and trust God for direction.

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  35. Thanks, JILL! Oh, no, so sorry about the crown!!! Hope you can get an appointment soon to get it fixed!

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  36. LARA, what a great snippet of description! I can easily imagine myself in the scene, especially when the other conversations all stopped and they knew all eyes were on them. BTW, which character's POV is this scene told from? Possibly it's made clearer in the surrounding passages, but a deeper connection to that person would strengthen this even more.

    Thank you for adding my book to your TBR list! I'm honored!

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  37. LARA, to answer your question about touch, brushing fingers can be considered touch, especially since it evoked the nervous reaction. Also, the POV character might feel the heat of the spilled coffee.

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  38. Hey, RUTHY! Thanks for bringing coffee and goodies. I will have to pop over to the cafe and find out exactly what "buterkoek" is! Something . . . cooked and buttery???

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  39. Yes! As an editor, I love this post! Myra, this is something you certainly do in your stories :) Thanks for sharing. This is a post I'll be sharing with some of my clients.

    Please throw my name in the drawing. Thanks.

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  40. JACKIE, I have realized my characters spend a lot of time eating and drinking, too, so I've been trying to get them OUT of kitchens and restaurants more often--LOL! Hard to do when eating is such a natural part of life and so many interesting conversations take place around tables.

    Easy to understand why you might not always think about taste and smell if your own senses aren't as attuned to them. Maybe post some reminder stickies around your computer?

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  41. SHERRINDA, you must be an extrovert--LOL! I do the "movie in my head" thing, too, when writing a scene. But since the speakers need to be identified regularly during a dialogue exchange, I use the dialogue tags to insert small bits of description. Like maybe something the hero notices about the heroine or his surroundings. Sometimes it's visual, sometimes a scent or one of the other senses. Just a little bit here and there can add so much!

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  42. Good morning, Myra!

    I loved you examples. Thank you for sharing them. I know I've been guilty of both overuse and underuse of descriptions. Your examples read like sprinkles of spice--just the right amount for my palate.

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  43. Good morning, Myra!

    I loved you examples. Thank you for sharing them. I know I've been guilty of both overuse and underuse of descriptions. Your examples read like sprinkles of spice--just the right amount for my palate.

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  44. Hi, BONTON! Thanks for stopping in today! Yes, well-written description does so much to bring a story to life, and there's nothing like being carried away to new and interesting places within the pages of a novel!

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  45. Thank you, KATE! Hope you found some helpful tips today!

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  46. Excellent post - very helpful!

    Thanks,
    Edwina

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  47. DEB H, I really have been blessed in the book cover department and couldn't be happier with how Franciscan Media gets them right--so much in line with my personal vision of my characters and settings.

    Glad you found the tips useful, and you can use all the !!!! you want to in Seekerville! We have NO LIMITS!!! :)

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  48. Myra, this is a perfect post! Working on the correct words for description...and the timing...is my current challenge. I'm becoming a word collector. I need to move from walk, look and smile. I've started a note on my phone to remind me to expand my expressions. I need to add touch more often and be more specific. Thank you for your ideas!

    From my current WIP:
    Raton, New Mexico Territory, was nothing like her beloved Kansas with its green fields and fresh air. Coal smoke and oily fumes from the nearby locomotive hovered in this dry air, along with the hisses of steam the iron beast emitted.

    Please enter my name. Thanks!

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  49. Myra, Congrats on your new book...love the cover!

    I would love to be in the draw for Sweetest Rain! As I undergo knee replacement tomorrow, I will have plenty of time to read during rehab/recupe! All prayers appreciated!!

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  50. Hi, WILANI! You did a great job bringing out sensory detail in this scene--visual with the lacy white slip, sound with the slam of the screen door, touch with the wet grass, and so much more. I didn't see any obvious opportunities to include taste, but Dreama might notice the smell of cinnamon in the oatmeal, or coffee brewing, or some other breakfast aromas that next morning.

    As for the exclamation points, they didn't overwhelm me in this scene and seemed appropriately used. One thing you can be watching for when you want to eliminate an exclamation point is whether the words themselves and/or the character's action provides the necessary extra emphasis. For example, you might not need the ! after "Now."

    And possibly Grandma's words "I will not" followed by her foot stomp could do with just a period. But "What a relief!" seems to demand the exclamation point.

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  51. Michelle, welcome! Thanks for dropping by!

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  52. Glad the reminders are helpful, KATHY B! Some senses just fit more naturally into our scenes, but it's good to stretch our brains a bit and see if any of the lesser used ones might enhance the description.

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  53. Tina, the same happened to me when Janet started critiquing for me. She kept having to remind me to set the scene. Now I usually think of that each time I start one! So thank you, Janet! :)

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  54. Myra, I LOVED this post. Description is one of my weaknesses. I loved the examples you shared. They particularly showed how you don't have to go into loads of detail. It's best to be light handed with it. So thank you!

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  55. Jill, I'm so sorry about the crown!

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  56. Nope, SANDRA, totally not a morning person! I rely on my 2-3 cups of Earl Grey every morning, and sometimes an afternoon pick-me-up of chai tea or special flavored coffee mix. I just read somewhere that regular caffeinated coffee helps prevent depression and stimulates the imagination.

    Hmmm, that explains a lot about RUTHY, doesn't it! :-D

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  57. Lara, yes, I would count touch there. That brush of fingers. Nice job!

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  58. Ah, JANET, that was one of my favorite scenes, too! Thank you!

    And may I say, your stories are so vividly brought to life with description--characters, setting, everything!

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  59. STEPHANIE, you can certainly use descriptive detail to flesh out a story. In fact, I know several writers who just get the bare bones down first, then go back and find places to work in description and other details during revision.

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  60. Wilani, I loved your scene and noticed several of the senses in there. Nice job!

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  61. WILANI, it's great that you can use those memories in your stories. And I LOVED visiting the Biltmore a couple of Christmases ago. I really, really want to go back in the spring when the gardens are in bloom.

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  62. Nice job, Sherida. I definitely could hear and see and smell. Could almost feel the oiliness.

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  63. You're welcome, LESLIE! I'm honored you'd like to share this post with clients! Thanks for all you do to support and promote Christian fiction!

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  64. Exactly, RENEE. Just a sprinkle here and there to spice up the scenes without overwhelming the reader's mental palate!

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  65. Sherinnda, I'm the same way! If I'm just plowing away writing, I'll end up with talking heads! :)

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  66. SHERIDA, exactly. I remember from a critique group many years ago that one of our members frequently wrote lines like, "He looked at her." Well, I kept asking, "How did he look at her? Be more specific."

    So while we don't want to go crazy with the thesaurus, there are so many more accurate verbs and nouns we can use.

    Love your snippet! Great use of sight, sound, and smell! And I like how you contrasted New Mexico Territory with her Kansas home. Good job!

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  67. Oh, thank you, JACKIE S! And I hope the knee surgery goes well. Project Guy had his knee replaced a couple of years ago, and he's so glad to be rid of his painful old joint. Just do everything they tell you to in rehab--no more, no less--and you'll do great. Prayers and blessings!!!

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  68. Right, MISSY. A light touch with description, appropriately placed, is the best way to keep the reader engaged.

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  69. Stephanie T, you must've taken part in the March Workshop at GRW! :) I love doing that! It's a wonderful benefit of our local chapter.

    I will never forget my first March Workshop. It was the first time a published author had ever read my work. I was so terrified I was almost sick! Ann Howard White critiqued my chapters, along with Anna Adams's chapters. I was a nervous wreck! I could hardly speak when we sat down to discuss those critiques. :) But Ann was very kind and encouraging. She gave great feedback. Now, years later, Anna Adams and I both write for Harlequin. :) :)

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  70. Sorry, Sherrinda! I spelled your name wrong!

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  71. WOW, Myra, this is EXCELLENT, my friend, and a keeper post for sure!

    Here's a sentence where I used more than one of the senses, and I have to laugh when I noticed the one I use most is "touch." I guess I'm a hands-on kind of gal! ;)

    Her shallow breathing warmed his skin [hear and touch] when she pressed a kiss to his cheek [touch], and almost by accident, he turned into her silky caress [touch], their lips so close he could smell the hint of hot chocolate [smell] they’d enjoyed around the fire.

    Hugs!
    Julie

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  72. Yep, JULIE, you are definitely a hands-on kind of gal! :) Love your snippet and all the meaningful ways you brought in the sensory detail! One of the most fun ways I like to use taste and smell is when the H/H are kissing or about to kiss. Hopefully they've both recently brushed their teeth or had a mint--LOL!

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  73. I'm having fun reading people's examples. :-)
    Thanks for the tip on POV, Myra. I'll have to think about that.

    And just because it's fun to share, here's another clip from the same story.

    "Feeling like a tag along, Telianna followed the two men down the unfamiliar avenues. In the cool of an alley's twilight, shadowed brick enclosed them and brought the scent of must and moisture. With an echo, their footsteps scraped across the pavement, sounding their progress toward the distant aperture of light. There, the quiet isolation ended. But for now the muted sounds of voices and engines and the occasional flash of reflected light from a passing trans-cab was all that reached them from the busy street beyond."

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  74. Good morning, Myra! Looks like I'm late to the party. I'm so glad you wrote this post. I call myself a "layer" writer. I see my scenes as a movie, and often, it's the dialogue I hear first. I've learned that if I try to use all the senses in my first draft, I slow myself waaayyyy down. Now I crank out the words--dialogue, some description, etc.--and then I go back and layer in all those other delightful details. It works for me.

    And yes, please throw my name in the hat for one of your books. :)

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  75. Wow, LARA, this clip is jam-packed with sensory images! The depth of detail, along with the specific images you chose, slows down time in the scene and evokes an otherworldly feel. Makes me curious about the characters and the story--can you give us a little hint as to what it's about?

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  76. Hi, BARBARA! Layering is a great way to make sure the right details are placed where they're most needed. I admit, I can get too hung up on "getting it right the first time" (ha!!!) instead of forging ahead with the story. That's why it can take me all afternoon to make my minimum 1K word count. :(

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  77. MISSY, I didn't read your post from yesterday until this morning, but it was great advice. I guess I must have figured out intuitively that I'm a "chunky" writer. I set up a six-day schedule on my laptop with my daily goal of 1,200 words, keeping track of how many I actually write and a running total. By the end of my last full-length novel, I could crank out 1,500 wpd, but not always. My goal of 1,200 wpd is attainable for me six days a week. I used to compare myself to those 5,000 words a day writers, but no longer. I'm kinda like the turtle that plugs along until I crawl over the finish line. :)

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  78. Myra, I used to get hung up on the perfect word/sentence, editing until I got it right, but I think Ruthy, Seekerville, and SPEEDBO all encouraged me to just throw it on the page. You'd be amazed. When I go back to edit now, it's really not as awful as I remember. ;-)

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  79. I'm trying, BARBARA, I really am. My last couple of writing days I actually neared 2K each day!

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  80. First, Myra, GO YOU!!!!!! 2K/day is AWESOME.

    And Barbara, YES!!!!! If I can get the ideas down and not lose track of them, that's huge for me, because I can doll it up afterwards... and I'm not silly enough to think that editors aren't going to want edits/revisions, so I leave myself open for that.

    And it works for me! I'm so glad you're doing that, my friend!!!

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  81. ha! Found it. Now I officially have way too many online graphic designers on my computer

    Seven.

    THANK YOU!!!

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  82. Oh, TINA, I'm sorry! I know how easy it is to get sidetracked playing amateur graphic designer. It's just . . . fun! (When it isn't driving me insane because I can't figure something out!)

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  83. Great suggestions, Myra. I never thought to use highlighters or colored pencils to underline and make sure I'm using the five senses in each scene. I try to think through these before I write a scene, but I am certain I don't always manage to stick them in there, especially not in my first draft. :)

    Here's a short piece from my MS. :) "The timer beeped. Danielle grabbed potholders and opened the oven door. The tangy scent of baked pizza billowed on the escaping heat, making Tiana’s stomach grumble."

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  84. It actually is fun.

    Okay, manuscript example: Working title: Redemption in Paradise.

    The breeze rustled the aspens and a whiff of something warm and comforting drifted to her. Patchouli and cedar? Sam had cologne on? She allowed herself to linger in the captivating scent a moment longer before tilting her head back to assess him beneath the soft glow of the street light.

    Abi eyed his crisp, blue dress shirt and teal paisley tie, beneath a tweed blazer and black slacks. He’d shaved and yet a slight shadow of beard remained.

    Without a ball cap or Stetson on his head, she realized how thick and almost wavy his brown hair was. Except this was Sam, so of course his hair was trimmed neatly, in an effort to suppress any shenanigans.

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  85. Nice, JEANNE! Now I'm hungry for lunch! ;)

    Highlighters can be handy tools for analyzing your manuscript. It isn't something you need to do with every page, but it can be enlightening to try occasionally as a visual check of how different aspects of your writing are playing out on the page. I've also tried the highlighter method for marking dialogue, action beats, POV references, etc.

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  86. Myra, thanks for a wonderful post. Love your advice and excerpts! And oh, that next cover hooked me immediately. Beautiful, actually fetching.

    I have to laugh about smells. Seems I can't have anyone brewing coffee without the smell wafting through the kitchen. It's an immediate response...I think coffee and the rich aroma of coffee beans fills my head and gets typed into my story! :)

    Others I use frequently:
    The silky softness of the heroine's hair...from the hero's POV.
    The acrid scent of copper during a bloody death scene.

    Taste is more difficult, isn't it? Love your example.
    I've used something about the sweet crispness of apple pie just like his mother used to bake.

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  87. Oh, TINA, I love your sample!!! All the important senses are included, and so vividly! Wonderful!!!

    My favorite line: "Except this was Sam, so of course his hair was trimmed neatly, in an effort to suppress any shenanigans."

    Wondering about those shenanigans!!!

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  88. Barbara, thanks for reading yesterday's post! It sounds like you have a good handle on your chunks! :)

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  89. Okay, that's it, DEBBY. Now I absolutely must go have lunch!!! Except there won't be any pie. Just canned soup, cheese, and crackers.

    Oh, and Trader Joe's dark chocolate. I can taste it now!!!

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  90. THANK YOU, MYRA!! Another "just what I needed right now" post from Seekerville. :)
    Need to polish a manuscript I finished a while back and was thinking I definitely need to add more descriptions---I usually use smell a lot (yes, especially COFFEE, LOL) but need more. Loved these examples here today - - except I had to stop reading comments because now I'm hungry! ;)

    Please put me in the drawing for the word painting book.
    Thanks again for this much-needed (for moi!) post!
    Hugs, Patti Jo

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  91. p.s. Should've mentioned the reason I didn't ask to be put in the drawing for YOUR book, Myra. I buy Myra books. ;)
    Setting out a pineapple upside-down cake I baked (really baked---not virtual, LOL)for anyone who needs a sweet snack! :) Hugs, PJ

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  92. I am in the minority of having no graphic design desires. None. That ship sailed without me or my ticket...

    BUT I DO HAVE TINA'S WOMAN'S WORLD MAGAZINE!

    I swung by a different Walmart last night, and there it was, literally jumping into my hand!

    I can die happy.

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  93. Hi, PATTI JO! Just had to break for lunch, too, thanks to all this evocative description of food! Project Guy warmed up some leftover pizza to have with our minestrone. Nice combo!

    And a slice of your pineapple upside-down cake would be a sweet, sweet touch to top it off--YUM!

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  94. Oh, yes, I picked up TINA's WW issue on Sunday! Loved your story! Love the short but engaging simplicity of introducing a budding romance! You rock these, TINA!!!

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  95. Hi Myra:

    Loved this post on descriptions. I also love, love, love descriptions. I think you are one of the best writers when it comes to creating great descriptions that can accomplish so many different writing objections in so few words.

    While your example selections are fine, I do think it would be hard to beat the opening lines of "Autumn Rains":

    "The Greyhound bus lurched to a stop in a swirling cloud of diesel fumes. Healy Ferguson heaved his long legs into the aisle and slung his ragged duffel bag over his shoulder. When he stepped off the bus, the heat slammed into him with the force of a 250-pound linebacker.

    “'Welcome to St. Louis,' he muttered. Still, he hadn’t seen so much sunshine in the past sixteen years, and it felt good. Real good."


    Just amazing:

    Lurched: touch & motion

    Swirling cloud: sight and motion

    Diesel fumes: smell, taste (I can actually taste 'diesel fumes'), touch (my eyes felt the sting of the fumes)

    Long legs: the guy is tall

    Ragged duffel bag: state of the guy's life

    Heat slammed into him: temperature...which some would call a sense; emphasis -- it's really hot

    250 pound linebacker: touch, visual, and creates an 'ouch' response in reader - a three-fer!

    So much sunshine in the past 16 years: weather condition, also foreshadows background revelations about the hero -- why 16 years?

    It felt good: feeling -- which is sense-like; emotions are also very important along with 5-sensing.

    Yesterday Missy wrote about not comparing ourselves to other authors for speed in writing. I never do that. Speed is way over-rated. However, when I read great descriptions like yours above, I do feel like giving up trying to match anything like that.

    Also fantastic about descriptions:

    Horror: H. P. Lovecraft -- even before anything happens in the story, you can feel the horror.

    Anna Kavan: "Ice" (A modern classic) When I read this I was shivering with cold in July heat!

    Elizabeth Lowell: landscape that mirrors the events in the story. Amazing.

    Betty Neels: interior of great homes so interesting I call her a 'descriptionist'. She may have written the same plot 130 times but the descriptions are a different delight every time!



    Descriptions are not pictures. They are actions. They can do dozens of things to move and supliment the story and often they can do this without adding any additional words:

    Foreshadowing, mirroring events, set clues, lay red herrings, set emotional moods, tell a lot in few words about characters, delight readers by letting them vicariously visit places they may only have dreamed of seeing.

    Now, if we could just get you to describe your writing virtues as well as you use descriptions in your stories, there may be no limit to your future successes.

    Vince

    p.s. Of course, I'd like to win your next 'rain' book.

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  96. VINCE, thank you so much for all the praise for Autumn Rains. It remains one of my personal favorites, and I'm honored and delighted to know you enjoyed it so much!

    I love what you said: "Descriptions are not pictures. They are actions. . . . Foreshadowing, mirroring events, set clues, lay red herrings, set emotional moods, tell a lot in few words about characters . . ."

    That's the real key to effective description--making it DO something besides just take up space on the page. Description needs to MATTER.

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  97. Thanks for the good advice Myra. I struggle with writing descriptions because as a reader I will skip over descriptions if they are too long. I am going to bookmark this article to come back to while I work on my WIP. Thanks for the giveaway as well.

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  98. Exactly, LORAINE! Lengthy descriptions with no forward momentum can really drag down the pace of a story. Hope you can use some of these tips for your WIP!

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  99. Myra, Here's the teaser I wrote for my sci-fi way back when (probably about a year ago now). I'm sure it could use improvement, but just to give you an idea for what the story is about ...

    DEEPSHAW
    *Sometimes it's not good to see stars*

    Struggling to make ends meet and pay off the debt accumulated by the treatment of her ill twin, Telianna Kalenne is stuck in a dead end waitressing job with no prospects for advancement, trapped on the planet she and her family came to in the hopes of saving her sister. But now all of them are dead, and even the doctor who attended them—in whom she found an unexpected comfort—has been called away, himself a prisoner to the duties required of him as “property” of the Realm. Telianna is alone in the world—in the galaxy—with little hopes her life will ever change … until a mysterious patron, Mr. Deepshaw, shows up in the diner where she works and ends up getting her fired—by accident? Her roommate is gone, her rent is due, her loan officer wants to raise her minimum payments: For Telianna Kalenne, things just keep getting worse and worse—until Mr. Deepshaw offers to take her debt and hire her as a worker aboard his spaceship. It seems too good to be true.
    And perhaps it is …

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  100. Wow, LARA, fascinating! I could tell from your snippets that this was a different kind of story. Yes, the sci-fi angle fits perfectly with your writing style! Cool name, too--DEEPSHAW--and I love the tag, "Sometimes it's not good to see stars." Very compelling!

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  101. Vince, great stuff from you today, as usual!

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  102. Thanks, Myra. :-) I hope to get back to it one of these days but I was struggling a bit with the physics. I've been considering partnering with my husband on it since he has a background in physics and engineering ... but for now I've got another project in the works.

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  103. Nice to have a live-in physics expert, LARA! Hope you can get back to the story one of these days!

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  104. I am stunned. Apparently today is National Grilled Cheese Day. Did anyone else know this?

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  105. MYRA, I enjoyed your descriptions post! As a reader, I appreciate this element of the story.

    Please put my name in for a chance to win my choice of one of your published books (including The Sweetest Rain, Flowers of Eden, book 1)

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  106. Yeah, I saw that it was National Grilled Cheese day. I vote we all go out for a grilled cheese sandwich made with Havarti and bacon.

    Right now!!!

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  107. Thanks, CARYL! We love our readers in Seekerville!

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  108. My grilled cheese tastes run much simpler, TINA. Usually plain whole-wheat bread and a slice of 2% sharp cheddar. Project Guy will throw dill pickles and a second slice of cheese on his.

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  109. Myra....thanks for the post! This is what I LOVE as a reader in a book, all five senses being used in the right places and in well-balanced proportions. Kind of like a nice dinner, a good nutritional dinner that is! Not too much of something, not too little :-) One that definitely satisfies this readers palate!

    Ok now I made myself hungry....and it must be lunch time....yep (looks at the clock) just now noon on the West coast!

    I'd love to be in the draw for one of your published books, throw my name down on the platter....and with that, I need to go scrounge something up for my rumbling tummy :-)

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  110. Myra, great post! I like the idea of using highlighters...especially the scented ones like Blueberry and Banana...oops...trying not to lick the page...just kidding!

    Love the list also...and fun reading all the comments.

    Thanks for the offer to win one of your books.

    Grilled cheese is one of my all-time FAVORITES...didn't know there was a National Day to celebrate!! YAY...

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  111. So right, TRIXI--sensory detail in well-balanced proportions. And why does talking about the five senses always seem to lead to food discussions??? I just came back from my afternoon popcorn snack with Project Guy! Salty-sweet kettle corn and a glass of orange-mango flavored sparkling water!

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  112. Wait, now there are scented highlighters??? Thanks for the heads-up, KATHRYN!

    I think I need to Google a "National ___ Day" list and see what other observances I should be aware of!

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  113. Tina, I picked up your issue of Woman's World this morning. Can't wait to read your story.

    Thanks for the suggestions for my first scene.

    Now I must get back to my writing and editing.

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  114. TINA
    I can do the 3D book cover thing in Photoshop for you if you ever get frustrated doing it yourself. Actually, that's an offer for any of the Seekers. Just be sure to let me know you need help in Seekerville comments - there are times I forget to check my email, but I never forget to check in to Seekerville...

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  115. What a great offer, DEB H--thank you!!!

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  116. National Grilled-Cheese Day? I could have made one for lunch! Instead I had plain old peanut-butter on a rice cake.

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  117. Sorry, but that does not sound very appetizing, BARBARA! Grilled cheese would have been so much tastier! :)

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  118. Myra,
    Thank you for this. I'll be printing and reading again.
    Most helpful for me was #1.Describe only what your viewpoint character is consciously and logically aware of in the scene. That gives me a better idea of what to think about, rather than try to run a description of the whole setting.

    Okay, here's my attempt at a sense:
    Pushing through the door of The Biscuit, the smell of fresh coffee and fried bacon slapped Jason in the face. His stomach growled and his mouth watered. A quick perusal of the cafe revealed Santo seated in the back.

    and of course I'd love to be in the drawing

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  119. Hi, BARBARA FOX! Yes, it's important to describe only what your viewpoint character would actually notice in that situation. You definitely don't want to describe the entire scene all at once but can work details in during a conversation or while showing characters in action.

    Great detail in this snippet, especially the use of smells! However, Grammar Queen sneaked a peek over my shoulder and couldn't resist a teensy grammar correction. When you begin a sentence with a participle phrase ("Pushing through the door of The Biscuit"), the very next noun--the subject of the sentence--is what the participle phrase is really modifying.

    So . . . in your sentence, it reads as if the smells pushed through the door!

    Here's one way to avoid that problem:

    As Jason pushed through the door of The Biscuit, the smell of fresh coffee and fried bacon slapped him in the face.

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  120. Myra
    Thank you, Thank you. I'm learning lots today!

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  121. Marianne Barkman, check your email. I have emailed you x3 with an important message.

    XXX you are entered in the draw for Myra's book!

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  122. Thanks, Wilani,

    And you should write a story for WW and submit it yourself.

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  123. And good to know Missy has a good handle on her chunks..lolololol. Out of context that is a very odd comment.

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  124. Myra, thanks for this post about using description. I need to be mindful of using all five senses in my novel about a tornado. I need to be working on that.

    Please enter me in the drawing.

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  125. MYRA, thanks, but I will remind you that you beat me out in the Golden Heart. :-}

    Janet

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  126. Hi, SANDY! Describing a tornado sounds like a fun challenge! Be sure to blend the sensory details into what will probably be fast-paced action!

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  127. Yes, JANET, but remember who sold first. 😉

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  128. I could feel the grit between my teeth when I read this description: How many meals had they eaten that grated between their teeth and left their mouths tasting like a sandy creek bed?

    Thanks for such a helpful post, Myra -- especially the reminder to be specific in description.

    Nancy C

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  129. You're welcome, NANCY! Glad to be of help!

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  130. Very helpful post, Myra. I sometimes struggle with repeating action words. I love my thesaurus!

    I would love to be included in the drawing. Thank you!!!

    Dana

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  131. Sorry I'm late to the party, Myra! (Doing edits, so I'm reading through my manuscript several times with red pen in hand!) Great post! You're so good at layering all these things into your stories. :)

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  132. Hi, DANA! Sometimes it's hard to find the right alternate word in order to avoid repetition. I spend a lot of time in my thesaurus. Couldn't write without it!

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  133. Thanks, GLYNNA! Hope the editing is going well!

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  134. Great post Myra. I love descriptive lines. There is a fine line between the right amount and superfluous ones. The right amount makes for a full on experience for a reader, and that makes the best kind of books, because the words make it feel like you are a part of it.

    Please enter me in the giveaway! Many thanks!

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  135. Thank you, MYRA! This was fascinating, and so timely for me! I will keep this post open tomorrow as I tackle my WIP and incorporate some of your suggestions.

    Also, you said: "Too late, and by the time you reveal the important details, readers will have made up their own. And believe me, when they discover the image they’ve locked in on doesn’t match your description, they’ll be completely thrown—maybe even mad enough to throw the book aside!" As a reader I agree completely, so as a writer I try to make sure and get at least some description in there early on. Thanks again!

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  136. Hi Tina:

    I was hard on that beta read about five-sensing because you had done such a great job five- sensing in that scene at the Tulsa airport in an earlier book.

    You had the sights and sounds and even the smell of pizza down so well, it was like being there. Of course, we have both been there; I've been in the airport many times.

    The vivid descriptions triggered actual memories I have and these memories in turn triggered sensory-experiences, somewhat like a kind of deja vu experience.

    This makes me think that if a writer does a good job of five sensing, people who have actually been at that same location will get an even greater 'being there' feeling when reading your descriptions.

    So, maybe, it would be a good idea to use some settings that millions of people have visited. You might stimulate 'after feelings' which I would say are very much like 'after images' are to sight. It is something to think about.

    Please tell the Grammar Queen that I really intended to write 'objectives' and not 'objections' in my post about Myra's descriptions.

    Vince

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  137. What a great post. Thank you so much for sharing. I'd seen one basic example of this where a man was crawling in a grotto or something like that, and it used all five senses to relate the pain as the rocks dug into his hands and knees, the smell that left a bad taste in his mouth, and the sound of water near by.

    Here's my first attempt at this, taken from my debut novel, Stella's Plea. The second edition releases late this summer. Stella is frantically looking for her daughter who just disappeared from the local playground.

    Stella gasped and dashed toward the bushes where Kayla was pointing. She shouted her name over and over even though Alexis was deaf. Fear gripped her tighter with each passing second, making breathing difficult. Thrusting the
    branches away, she flinched as her finger slid against the sharp edge of a thorn. She brought it to her mouth, and spit when she tasted blood. Stumbling, she managed to steady herself and pressed on. The babbling water on the other side of the thick bushes brought horrific images to her mind. The mere thought that Alexis might have fallen in made her stomach turn, causing a sudden wave of nausea.

    Blessings,

    Renee-Ann

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  138. Exactly, JUST COMMONLY! Writers really do have to work at finding the ideal balance, with enough description to draw readers in without drowning them in unnecessary detail.

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  139. LAURA, I've been "that reader" too many times! When a characters walks onstage, I immediately start forming a mental image, and if the author waits too long to correct that image, it stays stuck. So if I've already pictured a tall brunette, no matter how many times the author later describes her as a petite redhead, I just mentally correct the wording and keep my original picture in mind.

    That's IF I haven't already given up on the story!

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  140. RENEE-ANN, what a vivid passage! Great use of all five senses, plus the terror this character had to be feeling! Thanks for sharing!

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  141. Myra,

    Excellent article! I have some editing clients that I'm going to recommend they read this post!

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  142. I would love to read The Sweetest Rain..Interesting post today!

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  143. Thank you, EDWINA! I hope they find it helpful.

    You, too, DEANNA! Thanks for stopping by!

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  144. Great post, Myra! I love being pulled into a story on every level. Please toss my name in the drawing.

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  145. Great article! I'd love to be entered in the drawing. May God bless you and all of Seekerville!

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  146. Great examples of each sense. Please enter me in your draw.
    Jan

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