Soaking it Up

by Chris McMahon

Keeping description vital and sharp is always an important part of storytelling. Reading a nice piece of evocative description is a real treat, and works wonders to support the rest of the action and characterisation. But where does the ‘fuel’ for these descriptive masterpieces come from?

There is nothing like taking in the real thing – the raw images, the smell, the sense of movement, the feeling. Unfortunately the imaginative capacity of most genre writers far outstrips our ability to see everything we write about – after all I don’t think my budget will extend to a visit to the advanced aliens living out at Tau Ceti – although I wish it did!

But we can get as close as we can – like the ‘astronauts’ living in sealed domes in the desert to simulate the Martian environment. Or perhaps if we want to see real aliens we can visit a cosplay convention:) Or to experience the feel of ‘otherness’ we could rush to banks where they actually serve you fast? Or a world where telecom companies give you personal service? OK, maybe some things are just not possible on this planet.

But we can still get out to smell the roses and see new sights, maybe get inspired. It’s worth remembering that all this direct experience is important to your work as a writer as well.

Sometimes with our head down and bum on the seat we forget we need to get out and be in the moment as well – to get the raw stuff that drives the fiction. I guess this is one of the ways in which a writer can always use their experience, in a sense always ‘win’ no matter what happens. You can always use something you have seen, heard or felt.

How do you get out into the real world and “Soak it in?”

7 comments

  1. I like taking photgraphs. But I also have learned to put the camera away and just soak up what’s happening, to feel, to remember the emotions evoked by what is happening.

    I almost forgot that, last night. I’m on vacation, with the whole family, on the northern California coast. It’s been foggy and overcast, but last night was clear, so I stepped out to look at stars, being so far from any city lights. The cresent moon was about a handspan above the horizon, in between the surface fog on the ocean and a few low clouds above. It was deep yellow, and starting to light both clouds and fog bank.

    I could not get the new digital camera to take the picture . . . so I gave up and sat back and just watched.

    “Just” Ha! it was beautiful and eerie, the chilly wind, the sound of the waves below the bluff. I’d distanced myself from it, trying to capture an image. Sometimes you just have to stop doing and just experience.

    1. Great, Pam. I really felt like I was there with you. I love experiencing nature like that.

      I think we have talked about that before – once you are behind the camera you sort of lose the pure moment.

  2. Just soak it in. Let it sink in. And try to notice things like the smells, the sounds, the feel of the air – although I have been in quite a few places where the smells were things I’d rather not notice thankyouverymuch.

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