Friday Morning Pages: Sensory Detail Practice

Now we’re going into the nuts and bolts of how to practice writing. At this point, either you’ve bought my argument that you need practice, or you haven’t. I hope you have, no matter what your skill level currently is at.

How do you practice? Notice what I’m doing on this blog? In the last days of 2016, while I’m writing this post, I’m setting up three writing challenges for myself.

The first is already ongoing—Siren’s Garter, a periodical erotica collection, needs to be filled with short stories and novellas. I have three issues already out, now I’m focused on Issue Four. Hopefully I start on Issue Five before New Year’s Eve, we’ll see.

Second, my challenge to post a short story every week to this blog. At this point, I have January filled with backlist titles. I want to turn in new titles for February by around end of December and beginning of January. We’ll see if that challenge stands the test of time. Not all challenges do.

Third, is what you’re reading now, this weekly post on some kind of writing topic. This is definitely more of an educational activity for me—I often learn by figuring out how to explain stuff. Again, we’ll see how long this lasts.

Come to think of it, all of these challenges have an educational component to them. The erotica challenge is part productivity, as in “how do I complete 40k to 50k words every two months?” And part studying the romance story structure, which is a good way of studying reader expectations. The short story challenge came about because I wanted to write more fantasy and science fiction that what I did in 2016. But also, for me, it’s a great way to figure out the magic systems and world building problems that plague some of my existing series.

And then there’s the smaller details that come with writing this many stories. How do you handle plot twists? How do you flow information in an on-going series? How are cliffhangers used to heighten tension?

You see, you learn to write by writing. Story by story, one after another. All of what I said last week—figuring out your word count average and building it up—do exactly that to write more stories. But what about the inner workings of stories? How do you learn to tell stories?

The short answer: read writing advice books, analyze your favorite novels and short stories, and take classes if you have the means.

For the rest of this series, I point out some of the specific things you can practice in your fiction, to help get you started. This week, I’ll discuss depth and sensory detail. Read my post on depth, if you haven’t already.

The lesson here is to add details from all five senses at least once every five hundred words. Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. The trick is, the sensory details must be from your viewpoint character’s head. Climb into your hero’s head, and stay there. Never type one word that doesn’t belong to the character. The author’s voice can’t intrude into the point of view.

Once you master all five senses, your characters will become more alive, your settings richer and thicker, and the story itself will be more interesting.

If you’re stuck, start with this prompt: Write 500 words of the beginning of a story about a character named Steve (or Judy, if you want a female character). He/she is in a restaurant, and waiting for someone. Don’t type a word of plot, just sensory detail and the character’s opinions.

Or come up with your own prompt. Character in setting, with a problem.

Have fun with this assignment. And great job if you actually do it.

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By David Anthony Brown

Indie writer and publisher. Among other jack-of-all-trade skills...

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