I’m so happy to introduce my guest today, Kathleen Pooler. Her discussion of the sensory details needed to bring readers into our scenes is spot on. Please click on all the links Kathy provides for very powerful examples.
The Power of Sensory Details in Memoir Writing
by Kathleen Pooler
"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart."
It's a well-known expectation in writing circles that the key to a compelling read is to use the five senses – sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste – to invite the reader into the scene. What better way to evoke emotions than to enable the reader to see the setting sun behind the snow-laced trees or to see a character's facial expression and the color of his eyes, to hear the calmness in his voice, to feel the softness of his skin, to smell the aroma of baking bread then to taste the steaming bread as the butter melts into it...
When I have an idea for a story, I'll admit, I begin recounting the scene as I remember it. The problem with that has been, I forget that the reader wasn't there. I have to remember, if I care about involving my reader, to stop, slow down and find ways to bring the reader closer to my experience.
Through the constructive feedback of many mentors and fellow writers over the past few years, I have learned about the importance of using sensory details to evoke emotions, both as a reader and as a writer.
And there's no better way to learn about writing than to read many different books. Here's an excerpt from a fascinating novel by Elizabeth Kostava,The Swan Thieves (a psychiatrist with an interest in painting tries to unlock the secrets that torment his patient, a renowned painter) which illustrates the power of sensory details:
"Well," I said, and my boldness alarmed me because deep down I knew-I knew-that it was not me, that it was inspired entirely by Robert's presence and the way he was gazing into my face. "Well, I think this is where you invite me to come home and look at your etchings."
He began to laugh, His eyes lit up, and his generous, ugly, sensuous mouth brimmed with laughter. He slapped his knee. "Exactly. Will you come home with me now and see my etchings."
Through Kostava's sensory detail, I am transported into this scene. It is being in the moment with these characters, feeling the awkwardness and excitement that keeps me turning the pages. I look forward to reuniting with the story each day and have the sense that this story will linger in my mind long after I finish the book.
Now, don't we all want to write stories that will evoke emotions in our readers?
Here are a few enlightening resources I'd like to share that elaborate on how to accomplish this:
L.L. Barkat, Managing Editor of High Calling.Org and author of Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity and Writing, reinforces in this blog post "6 Things Your Writing Must Have to Wow Readers" that "the best writing activity revolves around the same six emotions ~Anger, Love, Sorrow, Joy, Fear and Surprise." She advises us to "use solid details to create a very clear picture while leaving something uncertain to have some intrigue."
And here's another eloquent post by L.L. Barkat, "Feel Your Way Through Words" on her blog, Seedlings in Stone, about capturing the sensory details in the moment and weaving them into our own story.
Memoir coach, Jerry Waxler, of Memory Writer's Network posted an excellent interview with Indian writer, Bhaswati Ghosh. Treat yourself to her story, "Love in Hyderabad," a beautifully written escapade into her culture, her city and her experience of falling in love.
I am learning to pay attention to my surroundings in the moment, to notice the details that make the difference both in what I am reading and in what I am writing. I guess there really is something to the adage, "the devil is in the details." Getting in touch with the details will be the first step in using them to bring my story alive to my reader.
I have recently discovered an excellent resource for describing emotions called The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.
How do the details work for you? Do you feel you are able to evoke emotions through sensory details in your writing? What stories still linger with you long after you finish reading or writing them?
About Kathleen Pooler: I also met Kathy on a Google+ hangout about memoir writing. And it was "like at first sight" for both of us. How could it not, just look at her beautiful smile.
Kathleen Pooler is a writer and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner who is working on a memoir about how the power of hope through her faith in God has helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments: divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer, and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.
She blogs weekly at her Memoir Writer’s Journey blog: http://krpooler.com and can be found on Twitter @kathypooler and on LinkedIn, Google+, Goodreads and Facebook: Kathleen Pooler
One of her stories, “The Stone on the Shore,” is published in the anthology: “The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys From Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment” by Pat LaPointe.