Thursday, May 19, 2016

Writing Words for Nerds #AtoZChallenge—T is for Touch (your words)

T is for Touch

T is for touch.
It’s the dull weight of
A tiny tangerine
In your hand.
It’s the waxy Texture
Of the skin, the gritty feel
Of the parts of its peel
Stuck under your finger nails,
The tangy Taste on your tongue,
As you take that first bite
And Sniff and Touch and Taste
The sweet and sour fruit.
T is for Touch.

Sorry for the bad free verse, but can you feel it? Can you feel that tangerine?

Long-held writing wisdom says that you should write in a way that lets your reader experience each scene with all of the reader’s senses. We should be able to see it and hear it, of course, but we should also be able to touch it. taste it.  And smell it. If the air is damp and chilly, we should be able to feel that on our skin in a way that gives us goose bumps and makes us shiver.

In recent years, science has backed this up, proving that the word for a thing stimulates the exact same parts of the brain as the thing itself. This is even works with actions, so if I write "giggle," a part of your brain is sort of giggling.

And if I write . . .


Did you smile?

Well, if you didn't on the outside, your brain probably did. Pretty cool, right?

This part of writing, the part where I get you to physically experience the world of the characters, has always been a little challenging for me. I’m not sure why. There could be more than one reason. I like to start with dessert, and for me that’s always been action and dialogue, high drama or low-brow humor. Anything but description. I know my writing needs more of it, but . . . I just don’t like writing it that much.

 Or perhaps it’s because of my background in Theater Studies, cartooning, and illustrating. In those settings, anything visual is simply shown visually. There’s no need to use words to describe anything. So using words to describe something I’d much rather draw or design? It’s a challenge.

And it becomes even harder when you consider that long-held writing wisdom also says you should write in nouns and verbs, and that adverbs and adjectives should be banished from your writing. How do you describe a touch or a taste without using the words that describe actions and things?

The answer often given is to use the most specific verbs and nouns, and that’s hard. Yes, some words can be made more specific. You can write “tangerine” instead of “fruit.” You could write the “tangerine bit back” instead of describing it as “sour,” but isn’t sour clearer? I mean, it may be poetic, but the tangerine isn’t literally biting back.

And aren’t adjectives and adverbs just additional tools for the writer to use? Should we really discard a whole section of our toolbox? What if an adjective is the perfect tool to get the job done? Shouldn’t the rule that says, “use what works” supersede the “write in nouns and verbs” rule? I think it should.

Anyway, here’s one of my attempts at trying to help the reader touch a scene. It’s from Why My Love Life Sucks (The Legend of Gilbert the Fixer, book one). This is Gilbert, lying paralyzed in bed after Amber bit him, reflecting on the events of the night that led up to his current predicament. He’s remembering what happened just after he first met Amber at Bucky Bee’s in New York City. At this point, they’re walking home together. There are many more descriptive scenes in Toren the Teller’s Tale and Ride of Your Life, but I particularly like this one. Hope you like it, too:

She intertwined her fingers with mine, and it felt like . . . like the entire universe in all of time was a giant jigsaw puzzle. All the outer pieces had been put in place first, and then someone had worked his way through that puzzle from the outside in. Over time all the pieces had been put in place until there were only two spaces left: one space for my hand, the other space for Amber’s. When she took my hand and intertwined her fingers in mine, it was like they had been designed to fit together that way, like the universe had been waiting—holding its breath—just waiting for those last two pieces to slide into place and make everything complete.

We continued walking down 9th Avenue and crossed West 34th Street. Everything took on a magical feel—even the smells from the Chinese restaurant, and the lights from the cars that passed and from the illuminated ads on the bus stops—they were all pieces of that puzzle that had been waiting for the two of us. The way we walked side by side; the way her red dress looked with my navy blue jacket over her shoulders, even though my jacket was too big on her in exactly the same way that it was too big on me; the way she smiled; and the way she made me smile: everything was infused with magic.

For a brief second I thought I caught a vision of . . . something . . . It was such a strange feeling, like I was looking into the future, or maybe the future was looking in on me. Or maybe it was the past. Or maybe both. It reminded me of a song, and I began to sing it. “There’s not a word yet . . .”

“. . . for old friends who’ve just met,” she continued. She had such a sweet voice. “That’s Gonzo’s song from The Muppet Movie.”

“You know it?” I asked, surprised.

She nodded. “It’s funny, I was thinking the same thing. It’s like we met in a previous life.”

“I don’t believe in previous lives.”

“A future one, then.”

I laughed. Yes, that was exactly what it was like. “I believe in those.” Or at least I did at the time. Not so sure now.

If you want to read the rest, click the link below. For now, it's just $2.51 on Amazon Kindle:


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