Sunday, August 30, 2009


In most books on writing fiction and in many articles on the same broad topic, the use of sensory detail is advised like the public campaigns for seatbelt use or nutritionists advice to eat more fruits and vegetables. The life you save maybe your own: buckle up. Live longer and healthier by eating more fruits and vegetables. Save your manuscript from anemia and a short shelf life: use sensory details.

Okay, I’m with that. I don’t want to die because I was too stupid to buckle up. Ice cream is a fruit, right? And of course I want my manuscript to be muscular and attractive. So more sensory details. I can do that.

But one mistake I made and I think inexperienced writers make when they hear this advice is to load their manuscripts with sensory details (like loading up with free ARCS at a library convention) indiscriminately. They force in those details of taste, smell, sound, touch so as to give life but they aren’t the right details and all they do is weigh the manuscript down. The manuscript becomes lethargic. If it’s done to the extreme, the manuscript loses focus entirely and the writer gets lost in details that lead nowhere.

It’s not enough just to stuff a scene with generic sights, sounds, smells etc. They have to be ones that add to what the scene is doing, what the character is experiencing. It’s back to that CHOICE thing. You have to choose the right details. Those details should do lots of work: add to character, reveal theme, add to the setting or mood of a particular experience etc…that’s when details really involve the reader. That’s when they save lives or at least make characters and their stories come to life.

Or so I think today.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice! My writing is always overloaded with unnecessary details. I will take a leaf out of your (metaphorical or physical?) book.

Brian Yansky said...

Appreciate your comment