Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Writing Senses


As a writer I feel like I am always on the job.  To me each new day is an opportunity to learn something new, to find something unique or to make new discoveries about old favorites. Even the dawn can be a new sensation, and I wake every day knowing I need to keep an eye out for unique opportunities that might otherwise go undetected.

 Now this may sound strange, but as a writer I am always looking for new ways to write a scene or to describe an even or a scene.  If I am having to write conversations, I need to constantly be on the look out for finding new ways that people can express themselves. Otherwise every conversation between my characters is going to sound the same.  New characters are going to view different sensations and events in different ways and I need to stay alert to what they might be.  My city reporter is going to view a night in the mountains or lost in the prairie different than a cowboy, while that cowboy is going to hear the noise of the city in a different way than the reporter who is used to waking in the morning to blaring horns and people shouting on the street.  For several years I lived above a freeway where the noise of the traffic was such a constant hum that when I visited home or stayed in a cabin in the woods I couldn’t sleep.  The night was too quiet.  Every little sound made me jump. 
Recently I spent a couple of days in Vancouver, BC, one of my favorite places to visit. I was there for a writing convention (more about that in a future blog) but I was also able to spend some time driving around the city, enjoying the sites and seeing how much it has changed. One of my favorite spots is the Hotel Vancouver downtown, and I am working on a story set near there with the old hotel as a backdrop so it was fun to watch the changes in how it looked as each day dawned and during the day and evening.  The movement of the sun was like another character, playing with the building and giving it a certain mood from sunrise to sunset. I sat in my room and wrote several scenes from the story, using the different looks of the building to build the story setting from a cool morning sunrise to the warm brilliance of the afternoon.  

This past weekend we made our annual visit to Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel for tea. It’s always a wonderfully festive occasion and as usual it was fun to watch the young girls dressed up in frilly dresses, sitting very properly on the sofas enjoying tea in dainty cups with their mothers and grandmothers. Some still wear white gloves.  In past years, we’ve attended during football season when some of the men wore orange t-shirts under their suit jackets (this being Denver and since the Broncos would be playing across town)
But again I was very aware of the sounds of the afternoon, the piano player running through a variety of showtunes to all time country favorites, the clinking of the glasses, the steady efficiency of the waiters and waitresses refilling tea pots and gliding by with china stacks of dainty sandwiches, scones and delicious tiny desserts.  The conversation stays at a low rumble below the piano music. And of course, this is all taking place in a stately lobby that has welcomed everyone from world leaders to presidents to the Beatles at one time. The center gallery is open all the way to the roof with its stained glass ceiling and every so often one of the guests on an upper floor can be seen peering over the wooden rails. 

This is one of those places where you want to imagine setting a scene in a novel from any year since the Brown Palace was built in the 1800s to the present when the big area still bustles with out of town visitors, the afternoon tea groups or hotel guests checking in for the night.

I might not use this particular setting for a book, but just being aware of the ambiance and listening for the unique sounds and breathing in the distinct smell of the flowers on the tables and the many small touches that enhance the scene make for a great opportunity to write a scene or practice writing by describing as setting.  It’s like being a painter with a fresh piece of canvas and all the colors on a nearby palette. It’s like as blank slate, just waiting to be written. As the author, I get to fill in the conversations, build the characters to sit in those overstuffed chairs and sofas and tell the stories. 
Look for those empty canvas moments and use them, whether it’s sitting on a lakefront, visiting a new city or trying a new experience. Use the writer’s senses to drink in the scene so you are ready to spill it out in the words and viewpoints of your characters.

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