Posted by: reneewildes1 | July 11, 2011

The 5 Senses – SIGHT

It was a dark and stormy night . . .
She had blonde hair and blue eyes.
He was big and hunky.
He walked toward her.
They rode horses to the beach.
They saw a bird.
What’s wrong with this picture????
What picture????
Exactly.  Whether hopelessly clichéd, hopelessly ho-hum, or hopelessly vague, these are NOT exactly the stuff of legends.  Snoopy aside, once you get past wondering what the heck they’re DOING on a beach on a dark and stormy night, you can’t see a thing.  Even if he was a Navy SEAL and she was a bioweapons expert, and they were on that beach to intercept an illegal, deadly virus shipment that would destroy the world, with description like that, would you stick around to find out what happened?  Me neither.
Is it a rocky beach in Maine in November, with howling winds and snow blowing sideways (in which case it SUCKS to be them) or a black sand beach in Hawaii in the middle of a thunderstorm, with lightning and thunder, in May?
Are her eyes blue or are they cornflower blue or turquoise?  Round?  Deep-set?
Is her hair blonde or gold or platinum?  Long, short, straight, curly?  Blowing sideways so you can’t see her eyes?  (Remember the dark and stormy night!)
Does “big” mean tall and broad-shouldered, or really rotund?  Does “hunky” imply “tall dark and handsome” or a tawny Viking god?
Are they riding a horse or a red mare or a sorrel Arabian mare with a white star?
Is that a bird or an eagle or a juvenile bald eagle?
The whole trick to description is to be specific and use correct terminology.  Really, it’s just that simple.  Try to use more exact, less common words.  Why say green when you can say chartreuse?  Why say black when you can use obsidian or sable?
What do you SEE?   What does your POV character see when they look around?  What do they notice?  What do they know?
  An ornithologist or forest ranger might be able to identify a juvenile bald eagle, but a city girl on her first camping trip might just see a big brown bird and that would be okay.  She might be able to differentiate Marburg from Ebola, but she’s never seen an eagle before.  She might be able to spot an adult bald eagle and identify the white head and tail, unless she’s been living under a rock or never left the lab, but a still-brown juvenile?
 Would your Navy SEAL have a machine gun and a handgun or a Heckler & Koch MP5 and a Heckler & Koch P9S?  Would he have a knife or a dive knife or an Aqualung Master Dive Knife?  Where would it be strapped?  How does he hold it in a fight.
I write fantasy romance.  In my first novel, DUALITY, my hero, an empathic elven prince named Loren, and his white war mare Hani’ena, are riding through a swamp looking for Queen Moira, who managed to escape when the villains took over her castle.  Now think about how boring “Loren searched the swamp for Queen Moira” would be.  Here’s the scene in Chapter 9, in Reader’s Digest form:
            Hani`ena tossed her head.  Insects crawled into her ears, her eyes, her nostrils, but a full body shake would send Loren headfirst into the muck.  She snapped her tail.  Green slime clung to the long hairs and splattered against her sides.
            As Hani`ena approached the monolithic half-circle of fallen stones, Loren straightened with caution and reverence.  The sun was nearly gone, and this was the fourth ruin they’d explored in half as many days.
            The swamp made it impossible to track their quarry.  The stench of decaying plants and swamp gas hung in the air, the maddening whine of insects a constant distraction.  Reduced to prudent sensing, he saw no sign of Moira at the first two Circles.  He was impressed she had managed to elude him so far.
            To her credit, Hani`ena never put a foot wrong even though there was no way to see what the knee-deep pools of murky water hid.  As to her mood, however, her snapping tail and pinned-back ears were all the clues he needed.  Necessary the trip might be, but she was out of her element and not enjoying the experience.  All that soft, sucking wetness was not good for her hooves.  They needed dry country as soon as possible.
            Loren eyed the lengthening shadows and drew his sword.  Layers of moss hung like a shroud from a twisted cypress tree.  The stone circle loomed ahead in the deepening twilight as Hani`ena splashed forward.
Note the mixture of body motion and posture, descriptive words, and specificity.  Normally I absolutely abhor “description in a mirror” scenes to describe characters, I would rather have characters describe each other, but I broke my own rule in Chapter 8 of HEDDA’S SWORD, after Maleta is punished by her goddess Hedda for giving in to her human emotions.  I think it works.  See what you think:
            Cianan was the first through the door; he froze.  Worried cobalt eyes widened with palpable shock.  “Lord and Lady, what has She done to you?”
            Mother Kitta shoved him aside to take a look for herself.  “Hedda’s will be done,” she whispered.  Her voice trembled.
            Her face expressionless, Sister Reva just stared, horror in her eyes.
            “What’s wrong with you people?” Maleta asked, irritation giving way to trepidation.  She was so cold!  All she wanted to do was lie down under a dozen blankets afore a roaring fire.  She reached up with icy hands to feel her face, her hair.  “I’ve still but one head,” she reported.
            “There is a mirror out here in the hall.”  Cianan held the door open.  “You had best take a look at what your Goddess considers ‘fair punishment’.”  There was a harshness to his voice, a bitter twist to his mouth.
            Maleta stepped out into the well-lit hallway.  She stared with growing horror at the reflection in the mirror.  A stranger with her eyes stared back at her.  A pale stranger, pale as death, with colorless eyes and silver-frosted hair.  Her entire body appeared to shimmer with winter frost.  Fear gripped her; an icy fist closed around her heart until it stuttered, leaving her gasping.  Then the ice took hold, and the fear receded.  All she felt was a distant cold.  No warmth at all.  There was no fear after the shock, no sorrow.  As if the lock on her body extended to her heart, to her very soul.
The trick is to be SPECIFIC, whether characters or setting or props.
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