Thursday, July 7, 2011

Be a Sponge!

No fiction story takes place in a vacuum. No matter how witty your dialogue, no matter how fascinating your characters, no matter how complex your plot, your story takes places in some sort of locale. But how much thought do you give to the places where your scenes take place?

True, not all scenes need or deserve intricate descriptions down to the minutes details. However, if you as the writer don't inject at least some semblance of location, your readers won't be able to "experience" the locker rooms, pine forests, chilly underground caverns, and other places where your characters interact with one another. So how can you paint places with a brush of reality? By being a sponge.

You may or may not need to keep a journal of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feeling of places you visit, but the idea is to record all of the above in your memory. Are you camping in the woods with family? Then use that opportunity to soak up your surroundings. Be still and notice the natural scents that waft through your campsite. Note the sticky feel pine bark where the sap oozes out (and notice how hard it can be to wash that stuff from your fingers!). Stare into the fire and imagine what words you can craft to describe those ever-shifting orange and yellow tongues of flame that leave behind glowing orange and red embers. Recall the cool dew that seeps into your running shoes as you walk through the damp grass. Notice the smoky smell that permeates your clothing. Impress all of these on your mind so that you can apply them later.

The same principle applies when you drive your neighbor to the hospital ER and you're waiting. The sights, sounds, and medicinal smells will be quite different.

Taking a trip by jumbo jet? Watch your fellow passengers and remember how some will slump in their seats with their mouths hanging open. Recall the background noise of the engines and rushing air as you cruise at 630 miles per hour. Don't forget your emotions when you're in the middle of your meal and the thoughtless nut in front of you suddenly reclines his seat backward into your face, nearly spilling your coffee.

By being a sponge and soaking up your life experiences, you'll have a steady supply of the raw materials to construct your own scenes. You'll be writing fiction with the feel of reality.

Say, while we're discussing the topic, do you have any favorite sights, smells, sounds, or tastes that you've "soaked up" to save for your writing?


  1. I had one moment on an airplane and built an entire story from that moment. It's still my favorite. The visual prompted a "what if" that grew and grew. Thanks Rick

  2. This post made me chuckle because I'm recovering from a slipped disk in my back. When I went to the ER on the 4th of July, I reminded myself to remember how it felt and the sights, sounds and smells of my experience so I could use it in a book. Writers are always soaking it up -- or should be. Nice post!