Friday, March 4, 2016

Writer Super Power #5: Feeling

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

We made it, you guys! The last week of our Writer Super Power series. If you're looking for the first four topics you can find them here:

Hearing     Smelling     Tasting     Seeing

Last week, we spoke about the power of sight. We talked about the difference between seeing and observing. It's an important distinction, and as you work on describing what you observe in the world around you, pay close attention to texture and weight and temperature. Pay close attention to the way things feel to the touch.

What the WRITER feels
I have a mildly unhealthy infatuation with old buildings and there are plenty in Northern California to visit. Disused gold mines with the owner's cottage still in place, re-purposed saloons, wind-battered lighthouses, and the cell block of Alcatraz Island. 

I'm the girl who drags her hand down every wall, the girl who wants to tuck these places away in her skin so she can carry them with her, recall them later. My brother-in-law nearly falls over every time I do it--he's afraid of germs, you see--but I wouldn't stop myself if I could. 

I want to know what things feel like. Their texture tells a story. A story of place and time. A story of era. A story of atmosphere. That old mine I mentioned up there--every structure on the property was built out of waste rock pulled from the mine itself. The deeper they dug, the more rock they had. Every knobby, sun-heated stone is a part of that story. And though I could perhaps describe what I see, what I imagine it might feel like, there is something magical in the transferring of first-hand knowledge. It rings true to a reader.

What about those cozy pajama pants you wear? Or the chenille throw blanket draped across your auntie's couch? What about the wax that seared your lip when you leaned too close to the birthday candle? How did those things feel? Not just to your skin--though that's of great importance--but how did they make you feel? 

A chenille blanket draped over the arm of a couch sets quite a different tone than a hard plastic chair with metal legs scraping across a tile floor. We've tucked away touch memories and these descriptors bring them to the surface of our mind and they fill the page with atmosphere.

What the CHARACTER feels
In my first book, Angel Eyes, Brielle feels cold. It's a result of the fear that has a hold on her, and it stays with her for quite some time. The hardship came when, as an author, I found myself in need of more words to describe a sensation she feels again and again. I wanted to avoid being repetitive, but it was important for the reader to know that this fear, this cold, was a constant for Brielle. 

To remedy the problem, I began to focus on the obstacles the cold caused for her and the lengths she went to to stay warm. I worked to put her in different situations so I could show how uncomfortable she was instead of relying solely on the reader's own relationship to words like cold and frigid.

I gave her lambskin gloves to wear and a cable-knit scarf that she wraps around her face. I did everything I could to SHOW the reader this girl is trying to feel warm and safe. Her efforts aren't good enough, of course--she needs a different kind of comfort--but fleece gloves and knit scarves and fuzzy beanies are visual and textural representations of a need inside Brielle. They're items with a distinct touch that many readers can identify with.

Which brings us, one last time, to . . .

What the READER feels
My mom, like all the best moms, tells stories over and over. Many of them are about my dad and his lack of fashion sense. Don't feel sorry for him. He's very aware and is usually the first to laugh at himself. 

One of my favorite stories is the one she tells about his leisure suit. I'm sure I'll get the details wrong, so I won't even try, but the image I'm left with is a 20 year old version of my father arriving for a night out on the town in a baby blue leisure suit, his jacket tucked into his trousers. Every time my mother tells the story, she can't finish it without blurting, "It was polyester, for crying out loud!"

Nowadays, I can easily visualize what she's talking about. I even know what a polyester leisure suit feels like under my fingers. But when I was young, my fabric vocabulary was seriously lacking and I came to believe that polyester must be avoided at all costs. It was hideous, to be sure. For crying out loud!

It's all frame of reference, isn't it? I've encouraged a fair amount of drawing on nostalgia as we write from our senses, but keeping your target audience in mind is of great importance. Finding the words to describe how polyester feels against your skin might not always be necessary, but creating a sensory experience for your reader is. Touch should be a part of that. And adjectives, though valuable, will only take you so far. 

Readers need context and scope and corresponding action. The texture and weight and purpose of an object must be shown. For example:

My feet cause me so much trouble. There's something very Fred Flintstone about them. I can't wear sneakers for long periods of time without losing a toenail and while I can jam a thumbtack in my big toe and feel very little, the push and shove of shoe leather is enough to have my toes screaming "Violence!" My ankles don't help things, sitting crooked on my heel and though I'm not at all a shoe person, I will gladly chop off your hand if you hide my slippers.

Now, it's your turn to free-write. Don't worry about editing or grammar. Just write. 

You ready? You have five minutes:

Tell me, how do your feet feel right now? What are they touching? Cold hardwood? Fuzzy socks? Holey socks? Stiff army boots? A braided rug? Does the sensation against your skin conjure a story? 
Tell us!

26 comments:

  1. They're cold. I'm in the swivel chair and my legs are too small to touch the ground all the way, but the edge of my bare feet are touching the plastic sheet that allows the chair to move as opposed to the carpet. But it's just my feet that are cold, everything else is fine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "... my legs are too small to touch the ground . . ." I totally understand this! Great job.

      Delete
    2. Lol! Yeah. What is the plastic sheet (out of curiosity)?

      Delete
  2. My feet are bare, the cold toes snuggling together for extra warmth. As I type, I rub one foot against the smooth wooden sides of my desk, hoping to rub some circulation back into it. The other foot rests, motionless, on the ticklish berber rug below. A tingling sensation shoots up my leg from that foot, pulsing strong and insistent. I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm getting the foot cramp of the century.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh no! Stand up! Walk around. Foot cramps are no joke! Great job, friend.

      Delete
    2. Thank you! (I did stand up after I wrote this :D)

      Delete
    3. I hate it when my foot cramps so much ... I've found breaking it in or moving it in the opposite direction helps, but it's a make-it-or-break-it deal. Or when I'm walking down stairs and then contemplate how it would feel to tumble down the stairs ... Sorry for the ramble, but I HATE FOOT CRAMPS WITH A PASSION, your section was very good:)

      Delete
    4. I hate them too! Haha, tumbling down the stairs. I've fallen down the stairs several times when I was younger (not because of a foot cramp though) and it was NOT FUN, I can tell you that :P I'm glad you liked it!!

      Delete
  3. My feet are warm and cusioned against my fuzzy warm socks, despite the chilly, winter day. They are snuggled in my warm winter boots, which are just starting to fall apart. I can feel my right foot start to cramp, due to the fact that I've been sitting in the same position for the last hour. My legs cross at the ankle.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Right now . . . my feet are tired. They're glad to be free from my sneakers after about five hours, but they still want to be rested for a long, long time. They're wrapped in soft cotton socks and they're resting against the berber rug--which is fuzzy, but not as soft as it could be.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I wriggle my toes deeper into the layers of the sofa. The blue waves are smooth and swirly, but feel like sand taking me back to that time on Fraiser Island. Turquoise waters white sand and laughter. But no. Dreary Pennsylvania in the worst time-- early spring, cold but no snow-- was nothing compared to that. Huh. Now it stopped feeling like sand.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Love this! Frasier Island sounds amazing!

      Delete
    2. Love the setting!

      Delete
  6. I love this series! Thank you for posting it :) I have a somewhat unrelated question:
    I have 3 WIPs and I'm enjoying being able to go from one to another as I see fit. However, at the moment I'm at the difficult place in all of them and with no NaNo happening I find it hard to stay motivated and to force myself to get through the difficult places. My parents are also telling me to finish a book... they think it would look good for colleges but I'm trying to ignore them because I feel like that will tamper my creativity if I'm just writing for colleges or something along those lines... *sigh* The question is: do you think that I should do some writing prompts and use those to get excited about writing again or force myself to go through the difficult spots until I get re-excited about my current WIPs? I feel attached to my WIPs and don't want to just abandon them but I don't have much motivation for working on them...
    Thank you so much for helping (and sorry you had to read all of that :D)!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for reading and sticking with me through the series! <3

      In answer to your question, I have a few thoughts, but the decision will be yours. I'm a huge fan of listening to the advice of parents so definitely keep them in the loop when you decide. Of course I think you should finish a book, of course! That said, you only get to be a kid once, so there's that. I don't begrudge you other interests.

      If you do decide to move forward, I say do it with whichever manuscript makes you the most excited and then do yourself a favor and, if you're determined to finish it, tuck the other ones away for now. There is a time for hopping all over the place, but if you're trying to see a story through to completion, do it with all your creativity focused in that direction.

      You asked about free-writing. I think free-writing is always a great way to get moving on a story. If it helps you, do it. If it starts becoming something of a distraction, set that aside too.

      Here's the thing. Not every writer who wants to be a novelist will see a project through to the end. They just won't. The ones that do write even when they're not motivated. They write their way through soggy middles and somehow find themselves on the other side, a novelist. Until you do that, you'll never know that you can. You really can write your way through the funk. You just need to prove it to yourself.

      I heard this quote once and I have no idea where it came from, but it's gotten truer and truer the longer I've been at it. It went something like this: Most writers don't love writing, they love having written.

      The process can be excruciating. There are some wonderful moments--where the words and the motivation and the plot is just flowing. And then there are all the other days. The days we write because we're writers. Period.

      It's on you to decide who you want to be. And there's no judgment either way. It's a simple choice and the good news is, you have years and years and years to give it another go if you decide now's not the time.

      Delete
    2. Thank you so much for this - this is very helpful! I really appreciate how you take the time to think out answers to everyone's questions :)

      Delete
  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  8. My feet are propped on the wooden support of my table, as they often are when I sit at the computer. Covered in generic white socks, they are not cold or warm; they have reached that state of foot equilibrium that makes me feel as if I'm not paying enough attention to them, or else they're only there for walking and not for feeling.

    Maybe it's time for a change of footwear to make days a little more... interesting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lol! I like this. I got a bunch of fuzzy Christmas socks at a dirty Santa game, and they're so fluffy however I wear them (inside out, mismatched, different lengths etc.).

      Delete
    2. Very thoughtful! Thank you so much for sharing!

      Delete
  9. Just wondering... GoTeenWriters is such a great community; are there any Camp Nano cabins set up for/by us?

    JEM Jones

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm going to say, I doubt it. Only because neither Jill nor Steph have Nano'd (to my knowledge). I'll check with them and see if they'd like to look into it. Thanks for the suggestion.

      Delete

Home