Welcome to the fourth day of MARCH BOOK MADNESS! (Full explanation and schedule here.)
My friend Charissa Stastny is here today to talk about some great ways to energize our writing and make it sing. Charissa write’s romantic suspense novels that will get your heart racing, so if you haven’t read her books, check them out (links below her bio).
Here she is:
Charissa Stastny: As human beings, we all have times when we need to be energized. Spring energizes after winter; exercise rejuvenates us when we’re feeling sluggish; chocolate energizes almost always (hee hee). But for a writer, the best tool for energizing writing is to create Sensory Images.
Artists deal in color and composition to create images.
Musicians deal in math and sounds to bring images to your mind.
Dancers deal in movement to symbolically depict stories.
But Image is the Energizer Bunny of writing.
Writers deal in the abstract medium of words to depict images and incite emotion. A skilled writer must learn how to conjure up powerful emotions in readers by painting images on the pages with words. The key to doing this is to utilize all 5 Senses in your story. Help your readers SEE, HEAR, SMELL, TASTE, and FEEL a scene.
Now, let’s go camping.
If you don’t like camping, pretend you do and wipe that frown off your face. It’s a WRITING CAMP…and you get to choose where to set up your tent.
On one side of the meadow, is the FLAT campground for lame, boring writers. It’s on a plain with no mountains, hills, or even a cactus to look at. Just sand. Maybe a scorpion or two to make things a bit interesting and painful.
On the other side next to a roaring river and waterfall is the VIVID campground. It’s exciting and has breathtaking views of snow covered mountains, forests of pines and spruce and there’s a guy handing out chocolate-dipped strawberries to welcome you…and there are no bugs. Yea!
If you choose to set up in the FLAT campground, I must bid you adieu. There you will write many abstractions and generalizations, and put people to sleep. Yawn. Instead of appealing to the senses, you will offer judgments and preach-amonies. In the FLAT camp, you will be surrounded by politicians and lawyers (they are good at FLAT writing—for they don’t like their readers to have a clear VISION of what they’re saying. They might then be held to it…and heaven forbid that happen).
In the FLAT WRITING CAMP, you’ll hear phrases like: “I find it best to consider consequences before proceeding in any endeavor.”
AGH! Nightmare on Elm Street!
When you see those types of abstract thoughts in your writing, scream and run away from your desk. They are Freddy Krueger phrases. Make an ugly face to show you don’t like ‘em…and replace those weak abstractions with sensory images and action verbs. Before old Freddy can take the knife to your writing career, use it on him instead. Cut those dull abstractions out so your writing won’t fall FLAT on its face.
Hopefully, you stay far away from the FLAT camp. In the VIVID campground, throw out a hammock and enjoy a chocolate-dipped strawberry while you play your ukulele. Your writing will come alive here…like Pinocchio. With the river roaring in the background, you’ll hear people shout, “Look before you leap!” And with that vision called to mind, your eyes widen and you know you’ve found the perfect camping spot for your writing.
Basically, the motto of this camp is SHOW, not TELL.
I know it’s called storytelling—but a good storyteller is actually a storyshower (I made that word up and am ignoring the spell check that tells me it’s wrong…author’s license.)
The Limbic System
Have you ever heard of the Limbic System?
It has nothing to do with how limber you are (which I’m not). It’s actually the part of your brain that processes all data taken in through the 5 Senses.
When you see, smell, hear, taste or touch something, the limbic system generates intense responses in your body. Your heart rate soars, muscles tighten, you might nervously bite all your nails off (Yikes…that just happened). These kind of emotional responses only happen when information is taken in by the limbic system.
Your goal when you write is to do all you can with the 5 SENSES so that your reader’s limbic system goes crazy. Seriously. I’m talking Insane Asylum. That’s when you know you’ve reached them at an emotional level…and that is true success.
Take your writing out of limbo…and go limbic.
Energize with sensory images and smash the flat campground into the ground (and all those Freddy Krueger abstractions with it). You’ll be glad you did…and so will your readers.
Practice Exercises (if you’re bored and need a challenge):
- Pick a normal scene in your life (your living room, bedroom, backyard). Jot down words to describe it using the 5 senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. Don’t use Flat, boring terms like big or little. Use vivid imagery to describe specific details.
- Describe a person (family member, friend, or stranger) using descriptive sensory imagery.
- What noticeable details do you SEE when you look at them? (this is the easiest sense to describe—blue eyes, brown hair. But push yourself to use non-generic terms, like azure eyes, honey-blond hair)
- What does that person SOUND like? (this takes more work. How does their breathing sound, unique characteristics of their voice, nervous ticks like tapping fingers, chomping gum)
- How does that person SMELL? (hopefully, they wear deodorant; what words come to mind when they get close to you; have they rolled in the grass or just filled the car up with gas, or are they wearing cologne for a date?)
- How does that person TASTE? (I suggest you don’t go up and lick anyone…unless you’re super duper close to them, and then I’d still ask permission. This sense is one of the harder ones to put into our writing, but if you can teach yourself to come up with something, you’ll be glad you did. Be creative. Maybe they wear fruity smelling lotion—then they might taste fruity; or they’ve just returned from the gym and if you licked them (which you shouldn’t) they would taste salty)
- How do they FEEL? (Again, I wouldn’t go getting all touchy-feely with someone for this exercise; just imagine. Do they have hairy arms? A scratchy beard, oily chest, moist lips, sharp buzz cut, silky blouse?)
This is a perfect post for me right now because my writing is stuck in the flat camp: boring, repetitive, and just so blah. I really need these tips. Anytime I use the five senses or force myself to get into the vivid details of the story, my writing is so much better. But for some reason, I forget to do it. Thanks for these great, fun reminders, Char (the horse pic is perfect, too!).
It’s time to energize my WIP! :)
How do you use the five senses in your writing? Any other ways to write in the vivid camp? Comment here.
Charissa Stastny hails from Las Vegas, Nevada, but has never pulled the handle of a slot machine and can’t shuffle cards to save her life. Since 4th grade, she has envisioned herself an author after writing the creative work, The Creature from McGool, and continuing in shame to pen some cheesy romance scenes as a teenager. Thankfully, she has matured somewhat and is a member of the Idaho Writer’s Guild and tries hard not to spread too much cheese around in her writing now. She graduated from Brigham Young University and enjoys writing, reading, hiking and biking. She resides in Idaho’s Treasure Valley with her husband and children (where card shuffling isn’t required).
OTHER MARCH BOOK MADNESS POSTS:
Make sure to check back tomorrow when Sarah Belliston gives us 10 things your freelance editor wishes you knew.
See you tomorrow!
2016 MARCH BOOK MADNESS SCHEDULE :
(Subscribe here to have posts delivered to your inbox)
- Tue, Mar 1: Playing Fair: Good Guys vs. Bad Guys by Rebecca Belliston
- Wed, Mar 2: How to Self-Edit Your Work by J.J. Lyon
- Thu, Mar 3: 6 Ways to Choose Great Character Names by A.L. Sowards
- Tue, Mar 8: How to Energize Your Writing by Charissa Stastny
- Wed, Mar 9: 10 Things Your Freelance Editor Wishes You Knew by Sarah Belliston
- Thu, Mar 10: Creativity: A Process, Not a Product by Teresa Hirst
- Tue, Mar 15: 6 Tips to Avoid Author Burnout by Danyelle Ferguson
- Thu, Mar 17, How Book Clubs Can Help Authors by Charity Bradford
- Tue, Mar 22, The Writing Formula: Success in Any Genre by Jen Johnson
- Wed, Mar 23, Rejection & a Broken Muse by Ranee` S. Clark
- Thu, Mar 24, Writing the Movie in Your Head by Gerald N. Lund
- Tue, Mar 29, Chantele Sedgwick
- Wed, Mar 30, Julie L. Casey
PREVIOUS MARCH BOOK MADNESS YEARS:
- WHERE TO START: Genre | Plot | Setting | Finding Time to Write
- EDITING: Beats | Beta Readers | Chapters | Critique Groups
- CHARACTERS: Accents | Flaws | Moral Dilemmas | Motivation | Non-verbal Cues
- PUBLISHING: Querying | Marketing | Designing
7 thoughts on “MBM: How to Energize Your Writing by @CharStastny”
This was fantastic. I’m going through my wip to see how I can add more imagery. Thank you!
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I liked the horse pic too. If I had to pick an animal to be, that is the one I am every time I try to exercise. Thanks for letting me part of March Madness again. It’s always fun!
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Wonderful article, Charissa, with some great tips and reminders. Description is tricky–not enough and the reader isn’t grounded in the scene; too much and their eyes glaze over. Adding sensory description can make the setting pop without needing too much detail. And I love your horse meme!
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Squee!! This was so much fun to read, Char! I’m sorry that it took me ALL week.
I loved your descriptors and different ‘writing camps.’ It seems so common sense, but it’s amazing how flat my writing can be if I’m not purposeful about energizing it.
You always find a way to inspire and get me thinking. I’m saving the writing exercises, too. I think they’d work well for writer’s block moments. Thanks for such an informative post – this is getting book marked!
(Hello, Rebecca! Thanks for hosting Char – she’s the best!!)
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Great tips and fun delivery, Char! I’m a big fan of imagery. Done well (and not overdone) can really bring a scene or a character to life.
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