Yesterday (and throughout this series), I mentioned that we have to focus on our characters and what they perceive when we detail the sensory information. We’ve talked about how to get into a character’s head (waaay back when), but sometimes seeing with our character’s eyes (or using their other senses) is a bit more challenging than just understanding what they’re thinking.
One thing that I’ve done to work on this (can you tell this is actually what I’m working on now?) is to go through each scene and write down all five senses for that character in that setting. As I do this, I ask myself questions about the character in the setting:
- Which of my character’s emotions or experiences would color this setting? Does the sandy desert remind her of her grandmother’s house, or him of Desert Storm? (Or make up new experiences, if you feel like it.) If you need a setting to have an impact, sensory data could trigger strong memories for your character. Or if you just want your character to have a strong emotional experience, sensory data from the setting might be the way to go. Emotional
- Is this a new setting for the character? If so, keep in mind your character’s personality and purpose there. Someone accustomed to danger might scan for the best escape route first. (And she won’t sit with her back to the door. Don’t even ask.) But if she’s there to meet a friend, looking for that friend will be a close second priority.
- Conversely, is this setting very familiar to the character? If, for example, it’s their home or workplace, they may not “experience” it anymore. So if you need to be in that character’s POV in that setting, focus only on what stands out. Most of us don’t know what our own house smells like (unless we’re the ones buying the air fresheners!), but we’ll notice the overripe garbage.
- In a familiar setting, can I have other people interact with the set? The other characters’ interactions with the POV/owner character’s furniture may suddenly draw her attention to the ratty patch on the arm of the couch where her cat sharpens its claws—or maybe the cat does that itself.
- Do we remain grounded in the setting? Do we go too long without referencing something concrete in the “real world” of the story, devolving into people talking in space? (That’s one of my big things to work on.) Note: we don’t have to redescribe the drywall, but even interacting with a prop keeps us from floating off into space.
- Do we remain grounded in the character? Kind of the opposite phenomenon—do we spend too much time on the description so that we kind of lose track of what the character is doing/thinking/feeling? (And thanks to Andrew for bringing this to mind in the comments!)
What do you think? How do you get into your characters’ senses?
Tomorrow, we’ll have more about picking which senses to focus on for your character!
Photo by Vestman