Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Can you smell it? by Cathy Ace

They say it’s all in the details. When you’re writing a scene, how much needs to be told?

Hmmm…it all depends on the scene…

Overall, I think less is more when it comes to description within a scene, and that can also apply to setting the scene in the first place. Which doesn’t mean I don’t describe settings, or people…but I do try to do as little of that as possible. When it comes to action, that’s a different thing, though I don’t think it means you need an unbroken stream of constant action which – even when it’s well written – suggests to the reader that they can skip to the end to see what the outcome is, rather than living through the experience with the characters. Better to break the experience into a series of smaller actions, so the reader works through them with the characters, I think.

I have quite often reached the third or fourth reading of a manuscript before I realize I have given absolutely no physical description of a character at all, and I have to address that; I might be able to see them as I allow them to speak/act, but I feel I have to give my reader at least a sketch of them so they can fill in the blanks for themselves and see their version of the person they are “listening” to.

“Show, don’t tell” is an adage that’s hard to understand, until you realize that the smell is what makes us (even some vegetarians, I understand) want to eat the bacon. Maybe that’s why I seem to have a lot of smells in my books…because (as a psychologist) I know that smell is the sense used to help those suffering from “recollective disorders” to remember. Freshly cut grass, bread baking in the oven, brewing coffee, woodsmoke on the night air…further description of the smell is unnecessary – it’s held so firmly in the grip of our memory we don’t need more than its name to allow recollection to begin.

If you’d like to find out exactly how much I show vs how much I tell, you could check out my books by CLICKING HERE.


Paul D. Marks said...

Cathy, your blog is making me hungry. I'm not sure why. ;-) .

Cathy Ace said...

Ha ha! :-)