My husband is twice my size and very animated. Let’s just say he makes an impact on his environment. As a result, I always know where he is in the house. This got me thinking about all the ways a person registers on our sensory radar. By taking a careful inventory, I discovered lots of new ways to “show not tell.”
PROMPT: Think of someone in your life that has a strong affect on you, positive or negative. List all the ways that you know that person has entered the room, whether or not you can see them. Does a cloud of perfume precede them? Do they come down hard on their heels, mutter, jingle pocket change? Does your body heat up? Do you have the urge to run? Don’t worry if it’s interesting or even true. Stay curious and keep your pen moving. 6 minutes.
Peek into the hidden corners of your characters by having them do this prompt.
As always, you’re encouraged to post your unedited response(s) to the prompt in the comments section of this post. By doing so, you stand up for this important, but oft-neglected, wild and wooly part of the creative process.
The problem-solving rut sneaks up on me. It happens to me in a few different ways.
Scenario I: I’ve gotten my characters into some nice trouble and the resulting tension is thick. Without my noticing, my mind shifts into analyzing mode and goes to work solving all the problems. Bye, bye tension.
Scenario II: I wake up from a dream and, wonderfully, I understand the theme of what I’m writing. My mind excitedly latches onto the goal of expressing the theme and, yikes, my characters are pronouncing platitudes and proverbs in a landscape of ham-fisted symbolism.
Not a lot of stories about happy meditating people
Once my mind gloms onto a goal, the juicy tension and heat dry up into analysis, evaluation, organizing and strategizing. Images and experiences are examined for their personal growth value. Characters start verbally therapizing themselves and others, become self-actualized and happily sit down to meditate.
When you meet one of these mental ruts, and feel the urgency evaporate, check in with the senses: sights, smells, sounds, textures, temperature, tastes. This will give your mind the concrete task it seeks, while leading it away from the linear track it’s so attached to.
- Have your character look out the nearest window and describe whatever is in view.
- Search your character’s car, the top shelf of their closet and the back of their sock drawer.
- Have your character talk about a smell or food they hate and how it affects them.
- List 7 sounds your character hears every day.
- Smell your character’s favorite bathroom products. Are they clean and antiseptic? Spicy? Herbal? Cheap? Expensive?
- Have your character talk about the kiss they’ll never forget.
You get the idea. The senses are a direct line to emotion, memory and meaning. Draw your mind out of the problem-solving rut with something that it can dig into and things will get lively real quick.
Let me know how it goes…
PROMPT: Describe the room in which you are sitting in terms of what it’s doing to you. How is it affecting your senses, emotions, energy? How is it changing you? 6 minutes.
PROMPT: Take a memory from yesterday’s list and turn it into a still image as if it were a snapshot or a framed picture. Place that picture on the inside wall of your forehead where you can see it, and describe it in as much detail as you can. Write everything you see – what the subjects are wearing and doing, what’s in the background, etc. Don’t try to write brilliantly. Don’t try to capture the essence of the moment. Just describe the image. 6 minutes.
PROMPT: Choose a smell from yesterday’s list and write a new list of “Memories that Involved the Smell”. No need to elaborate, just list any memory that surfaces, no matter how insignificant it seems. Get as many on the page as you can in 6 minutes.
PROMPT: Write whatever goes under the heading: Everything I Know about Heat. Remember, you get no extra points for good spelling, gorgeous prose or the truth. Just move your pen and stay curious. 6 minutes
Don’t forget to give these prompts to your characters. You’ll find out something new about them, guaranteed.
DAILY PROMPT: Choose a story from yesterday’s list. Mentally walk into the room in which that story happened and write down the strongest sensory detail that you notice. Spend a moment with that sight, smell, sound, taste or texture. What does it do to you? Now tell the story. Continue to allow yourself to notice and record the affecting sensory details in the environment. 10 minutes or more
DAILY PROMPT: Finish the sentence, “In my grandfather’s car…” 6 minutes
If you never met your grandfather, you can either use the exercise to re-imagine him or you can substitute another evocative car.
DAILY PROMPT: Finish the sentence, “In my grandmother’s kitchen…” 6 minutes
If you never met your grandmother, you can either use the exercise to re-imagine her or you can substitute another evocative kitchen.
DAILY PROMPT: Everything I Know about His/Her Touch. As always, keep your pen moving. Don’t stop to think. Let go of trying to be creative, interesting, deep or funny. No need to make sense or be truthful. 6 minutes