I’ve read back my descriptive writing exercise from yesterday and realised that I rely very heavily on the particular sense of sight. Only very briefly do I mention sound (frost crunching beneath my feet) and touch (the chill in the breeze and being perched on the damp banking). Not once do I provide any hint of scent that could trigger recall in the mind of a reader (isn’t smell supposedly a trigger for memory?). Nor do I use taste to emphasise the fresh, cold air or the claggy, musty flavour of early morning teeth yet to be cleaned. Granted, some senses are easier to include than others depending on the situation: but I do find it interesting that my main focus in the language was demonstrated through what it was the character was actually seeing.
It highlights my reliance on a tool that, all too often, can be unreliable. We see things all the time: the objects are there in front of us, the reader doesn’t necessarily need a detailed description of exactly what this might be. What the writing should portray is how it makes the character feel, what effect does the surrounding have on the character in question; what is the defining feature of that place at that moment for that character. We take our vision for granted and it’s often the additional senses that truly create atmosphere, conjuring up vivid imaginings to build up a realistic understanding of a place and what it really means to someone. I appear to be far too removed from these. People see the same images and objects everyday, but what makes them personal is our reaction to them, our individual interpretations of each.
So, I’m learning. I know now that I need to release my desire for the description of a scene and focus on the action of actually being there: the taste, sound, smell and feel of it – not just what it looks like.
Perhaps I ought to do some testing: sit in the train station with my eyes closed and note down all the idiosyncracies which confirm to me that, yes, I’m located in a train station despite not being able to see anything: the clickiticlick of the old carriages pulling up to my right; the tangy, metallic smell underlined by a slight whiff of stale sandwiches that works it’s way into your throat and dries out your mouth; the computerised voice that drones how ‘they’ are ‘sorry for the late running of this train and apologise for any inconvenience this may cause‘; the shuffle of dozens of feet hurrying up the stairs – the low scuff of trainers mixed with the tap of high heels; the lone flapping of a pigeon’s wings followed by a whoosh of a train pulling in; the sticky, close warmth of a space inhabited by hundreds of people for just a few moments, feeling as though your blood is boiling inside your chest and your skin radiates heat.
All of these things make up a scene; they bring it to life rather than just paint that flat, two-dimensional image on the page. This is what I want to create – not just a picture, but rather a whole world of experiences.