Posted by: reneewildes1 | January 30, 2017

The 6 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 with a Ph.D. in virology, 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?
Description is entirely dependent on character POV. YOU are not observing & reporting, your CHARACTER is. So you have to use terminology that the CHARACTER would know/use, garnered from their own unique life experience & vocabulary. An academic Ph.D. would certainly speak differently from someone who never finished high school. A scientist would describe things differently than an artist. They see things through a different lens, they can only use words they’re comfortable/familiar with.
People are a product of their world—part genetics, part environment. We are born blank slates, with equal potential. Then we are molded into what we ultimately become. By people, circumstance, experience, training and choices. Our viewpoints, how we see the world around us, is colored by who and what we are. Children see the world differently than adults. A kindergarten teacher is going to view the world very differently than a soldier of fortune.
The best characters are as three-dimensional as real people, with the triviality stripped away. They are the best and the worst of the human race—sometimes in the same package. They have their own viewpoints, their own voice, that reflects who and what they are. They have strengths and weaknesses, beliefs and prejudices, assumptions and fears. For me characterization is interdependent on world-building, because the reader can only understand the characters if they can view the world around them.
Times
Culture (Art/Music/Literature)
Politics
Religion
Education & Training
Employment
Hobbies/Games/Sports
Society & Family Placement/Position
Ethics/Intelligence/Emotions
Rewards & Punishments
Rules
Your character is a product of her world. Once you’ve built it, once you’ve established her history parameters, you are locked in. You have to stay consistent. It’s unrelenting. You can never step out of character for a single second or you’ll lose your reader. The minute your health-nut stops at McDonald’s for a Big Mac or your nun blows her stack and cusses, you’re done for.
But it’s more subtle than that. Every profession has its own vocabulary—and way of looking at things. A spelunker (caver) knows the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite. Military personnel using the word amphibious are not referring to frogs. Horse people referring to frogs are not talking about small amphibians that hop.
 macgyver2
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:
Duality_pr2A
            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:
HeddasSword72LG
            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.
Picture a scene from your own book as a movie with no sound, all you have are the images.  Whether an outdoor café in Paris, a camping trip in a mountain forest, on a beach at sunset, entering a creepy old (haunted?) house, a day at the Kentucky Derby, or a trip to the doctor’s office.  What’s the weather, time of year, lighting?  What kind of animal, vegetable, or mineral?  With or without people?  Remember to BE SPECIFIC.  This is entirely visual, people.
Advertisements

Responses

  1. One thing to think about when it comes to color. Shading can be very powerful, and requires some thought on what effect/affect you hope to achieve.

    Think about GRAY. Bleh. Boring. Or is it? What comes to mind when you say steel-gray? Or storm-gray? Or mist-gray? Steel-gray – hard, unyielding, cold, sharp, piercing. Storm- gray – roiling, turbulent, threatening, full of portent. Mist-gray – softer, but murky, misleading, concealing. So if you have a character with gray eyes, the SHADE you decide on should reflect their inner character, what type of person they are.

    What about black? Take obsidian and raven. Raven is a bird = feathers. Soft & reflective, moves in the wind. Would work for hair. Obsidian is solid volcanic rock – hard and gleaming. Can’t quite picture obsidian, rocklike hair. But what a statement it would make with EYES…

    A simple way to lock in a concrete image and make a single descriptor work multi-task!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: