Wednesday, 22 September 2010

WRITE: WEDNESDAY The importance of empirical evidence

Everywhere out there, I find advice to cut description, to trust your reader to see the world you have created with a degree of flexibility. But as a teacher, one of the main tasks I set the children in my class was to learn from the texts they were reading. They magpied away finding nuggets of gold: selecting sentences to use as a scaffold, until they too could write sentences, following the models of their choice. Their higher order punctuations skills improved immeasurably however, children reported that, in some best-selling novels, they couldn’t find anything to help them write descriptions.

Writerly advice?  

Build concrete descriptions so your reader can live in the story as they read. You can still “show not tell” when your picture is painted with sense impressions, your character's reactions, their perceptions of the world around them.

The things a characters sees and the sensation of touch, tends to be written most often, whereas smell and hearing get sidelined to the highs and lows, only deserving a mention when an extreme is required. As for taste, that sense is overlooked and underwritten.

I find the idea of anything inhibiting our senses intensely fascinating. Synaesthesia too, when one sense manifests as another (musical notes smelled or tasted,) offers a world of possibilities.

The human experience is based on sensory perception, the need to make our understanding concrete is fundamental. Ask any child who licks windows to check out a view, smells the grossest things, because they just have to do it. Have you ever run your hand over a glistening surface, and felt the need to smell your fingers so you can see it?

So, my writerly advice is to include some description, people just have to know.


  1. LOL great images of kids licking windows...I agree the five senses are important, and I've noticed even in books I read at school or for fun there's alot being relied upon sight only and not much else in the senses department. thanks for posting.

  2. Hi Summer
    Kids have to taste the things adults can not bear to look at or smell, ;)
    People trail their fingers over every surface they encounter, smell scents with the ferocity of a bloodhound - it is a shame authors forget to describe using a full range of senses.