Friday, April 5

Writing Scenes: Getting Up Close And Personal; Using Sensory Language

Writing Scenes: Getting Up Close And Personal; Using Sensory Language C.S. Lakin, in her recent article Using Close-Up Shots to Give Sensory Detail, continues her discussion of how to supercharge your novel by using cinematic techniques.

This is the kind of post I get excited about. Why? Because C.S. Lakin gives that most valuable of all things: examples!

First she tells a bad (very short) joke and uses it to show how a writer can take a basic scene and use a Close Up to "add flavor and nuance and texture".

The Joke

A man walks into a bar, accompanied by a large piece of asphalt. He goes up to the bartender and says, “I’ll have a whiskey.” He nods at his friend and adds, “Oh, and one for the road.”
I warned you it was a bad joke!

Close-Up Shot

Lakin now uses small sensory details to make the scene come alive.

I'll let you read C.S. Lakin's example in its entirety for yourself--and I hope you do--I'll just quote one small part of it to give you the gist:
The crusty old barkeep came over reeking of sweat and the sour odor of stale cigar smoke. The man’s eyes caught on the long scar running under the barkeep’s lip, but the glint in the old man’s eye told him he’d better not mention it.
Nice! Notice the sensory details Lakin added:

- reeking of sweat and the sour odor of stale cigar smoke.
- The man's eyes caught on the long scar (I can almost feel the scar's raised edge)

The passage sets a mood by helping to flesh out the characters.

C.S. Lakin reminds us:
Novelists can evoke some emotions like smell and touch sometimes more powerfully than a film can. Why? Because instead of showing from a camera’s POV, you are in your character’s head and he is reacting firsthand and personally to what he’s experiencing.
Well put and very true.

C.S. Lakin challenges us to take one of our scenes, one that doesn't have description from at least three senses, and rewrite it. She also suggests writing the description in such a way that it reveals something about the personality of your point of view character. But--in the spirit of the post--make sure it's something she can only see if she's up close!
Challenge: Take one of your paragraphs and make it more evocative. If you'd like to share the before and after versions, that would be awesome! :-)

Other articles you might like:

- The Strange: How To Hook A Reader's Interest
- 3 Elements Of A Great Story Opening
- Kris Rusch: Don't Accept A Book Advance Of Less Than $100,000

Photo credit: "Ballet 3" rolands.lakis under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.


  1. Thank you Karen, We always need to be reminded of how we should supercharge our scenes with flavor and nuance and texture.

    1. Thanks Ben!

      Love your portrait; if that's you I'm envious.


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