Thursday, November 29, 2012

Please meet Kathleen Pooler

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." 
William Wordsworth

Photo Credit: "Off Yellow" by Steve Sorrell uploaded from Flickr

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 Writingreinforces 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 Waxlerof 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?

Let's talk~

Photo Credit: "Evoking Emotions" uploaded from Google Free Images

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: 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.


Anonymous said...

Great article, Kathy. The use of acute sensory awareness that has always helped me to understand how my life coaching clients relate to their challenges, accomplishments, and failures nowadays come in handy in my new career as a writer and creative writing coach. The ability to draw your readers into your characters’ thoughts, emotions, internal conflicts, and behavior patters can only lead to works of great depth.
Thanks for sharing - Belinda.

kathleen pooler said...

Dear Madeline,

It is such an honor to be your guest! Your memoir is indeed a shining example of how sensory details bring the reader into the story and keep the story lingering long after the last page is read.

I'm looking forward to what others have to say!

kathleen pooler said...

Belinda. I appreciate your thoughts on adding depth and dimension to our characters and stories through the use of sensory details. We need to be able to be in touch with the details of our own emotions in order to convey the depth of the experience to our readers. Therein lies the challenge, getting past ourselves. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living said...

Kathy, You have become an "expert" on memoir, through your research, reading, and writing. I expect to see you as a workshop leader at conferences once your memoir is published. I met Angela Ackerman online several years ago, before she published her Emotional Thesaurus and it helped me while writing my memoir at the library.
Thanks Madeline for hosting Kathy. When are we having coffee or a glass of wine?

ShirleyHS said...

I loved this post, Kathy, and I used the link to send the emotional thesaurus to my Kindle. I'm always amazed --first, that such a book exists, and second, that I can get it in 30 seconds.

Madeline, thanks for being a great host and help to memoir writers on this blog.

madeline40 said...

I'm so happy to have you all stop by and read Kathy's wonderful article. Using the five senses is so important to our memoir - and novel - writing. Kathy's examples are superb.

Thank you so much Kathy for sharing your expertise with us.

Sonia - yes to that drink together. What's your schedule in the next couple of weeks. xo

I'm going to send the Emotional Thesaurus to my Kindle as well.

kathleen pooler said...


You are making my day! It is wonderful to be in the company of so many talented and fantastic women and writers as yourselves. I love how we all learn so much from one another.

Angela's and Becca's The Emotion Thesaurus is a superb writing resource and I'm happy you all are using it.

Sonia, I think we are all teachers. If we ever do a workshop , I hope you all will be teaching as well!

Yes, time for a "virtual" cup of tea or glass of wine,too. How about a Google+ Hangout? Let me know.

Thank you all for stopping by. I appreciate your ongoing support so much.

Karen Fisher-Alaniz said...

To be honest, this is something I have to work at. Even the most common; the visual sense, is easy to overlook. But the other senses, I have to really focus on making sure they're there. I'm thinking that would even be a good thing to look for in one of my "sweeps" (edits) through my next books. Makes sense. Thanks for the encouragement! Karen

kathleen pooler said...

Thanks for your comments, Karen. I feel the same way about including sensory details- I can always go deeper. I think the best way to connect with the reader is to first connect with the details of our own emotions. Often times when I write a scene, I have to keep telling myself, the reader wasn't there. How can I bring the reader closer to what I was experiencing? It's a conscious effort to incorporate a variety of senses. Best wishes on your latest project!

madeline40 said...

Thanks, Karen, for your thoughts. And I think Kathy's advice is great. I never would have thought of it that way. We must be able to bring our readers into our scenes so that nothing is missing from their experience.
I'm editing and revising my novel now and I'm going to go back and make sure I do that.