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This was inspired by Peggy’s comment on my last post:
As for me, I’m a very dry writer when it comes to time and sensory details; I have to make it a point to add it in. Why? Because I write like I live, and I rarely notice light/dark/weather unless it inconveniences me or it’s particularly striking, like a sunset over the mountains, or in a really cloudy sky.
I had a terrible time doing sensory details of any kind when I was first introduced to depth (or deep POV by another name). It was weird because, in the early days of the internet, I said, “You have to do more than say a character entered a bar” and then I promptly ignored what I was saying. Or maybe in my head, I was doing more than what was getting down on paper.
Yet, it’s also actively discouraged in the lower levels of writing. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s because the people teaching it at that level don’t understand it, and they’re also trying to write actionable steps for the beginners.
Depth does not have actionable steps. While a beginner can try it, it’s also challenging to do.
When I was first introduced to it by Dean Wesley Smith in his Ideas workshop, I struggled a lot with it. He recommends doing the learning and letting your subconscious process it into the story. Mine kept defaulting to none at all.
So I started by making sure in every scene, I hit the setting first. It was painful because I felt like I was rewiring my brain. I’d never been that good at details, and between my day job and trying to write a story, I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was defaulting to no details because I was getting too much of everything.
But setting was easier than the five senses. Setting, at least, could be anchored at the start of every scene. In a 1,500-word scene, I had to circle back to each sense at least three times.
I felt like I would never get it. Certain senses were particularly problematic. I have allergies, so I lose my sense of smell a lot. Plus there aren’t a lot of good ways to describe smell like you have with the other senses. It feels inadequate to say, “The cool breeze carried the sweet fragrance of tulips to me.” (and that gets two senses in). I’m less audio-focused, so that’s sometimes a challenge as well.
I approached it rather mechanically at first. It was like, Oh, they’re in a park…what are the names of the trees? I even tried writing down everything I could think of about the setting first because it seemed so difficult to conjure up images that I saw every day.
Or maybe I didn’t see them.
Technology has been eroding our focus ever since we heard the phrase “Got mail?” It’s so bad that business books now have people writing summaries of them—and selling them online. People cannot focus long enough on anything. Technology encourages us to fly through things and keep scrolling. The worst part is that we subconsciously absorb this and bring it to everything else in our lives.
It makes us not pay attention to the world.
And it makes it very challenging to simply notice and absorb details. It’s like eating food without tasting it, or chewing for that matter.
I’ve gotten better at adding the sensory details and the setting. Some of it is practice, but I’ve studied several writers who do it really well, and in different ways from each other. I’ve also cut off a lot of the technology, and it’s helped.
Surprisingly, I’ve gotten better with details, too. Who knew?