Details, details, details

The smoky odor from a too-hot furnace…a hint of honeysuckle…the racket of bullfrogs—these were the details that brought last week’s writing to life. I had an idea for a scene, but I found myself pacing instead of writing. Ideas are oh-so-heady, so thoughtful, so conscious, and as the scene continued to elude me, a bit of VCFA wisdom came to me: brainstorm the sensory details. Make the subconscious conscious—the smells and sounds (not so much the dialogue, but the other noises—running water, tip-toeing feet, rattling tires, inner-thighs rubbing fabric against fabric). Taste the air. Feel the ground.

I hadn’t yet decided on the exact location for this particular scene. So I got a map, then stalked the location via Google street view. I realized a creek ran beside the road in this scene—not that the creek mattered to the characters, but it was there—the mold and decay along the bank, the crayfish hidden under rocks, the wet earth. When a minor character appeared, I smelled the smoke on his trousers. As the sensory details emerged, so did my protagonist’s misgivings, his awkwardness in strolling down a street where he didn’t belong, and the scene began to write itself…

While a student at VCFA, I’d read Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction, and it’s probably time for me to re-read it, time to get back inside my entire body when I write, not simply inside my mind and its grand ideas. I can think my way into almost anything. But can I taste it? Can I dream?

2 thoughts on “Details, details, details”

  1. Anne, you just unstuck me! I’m in that exact place, stuck in my head instead of in a place. Time to head to a gym and smell the locker room, hear the squeak of the shoes and the bounce of the ball . . .

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