Draw Your Readers in with Great Imageryby Nick Nebelsky
I just finished reading a blog by Kevin J. Anderson that was featured on the ASU/Virginia Piper Center of Creative Writing website. The clever title actually caught my eye: “On Being a Dictator.” The subject matter is not what you might think it would be. It’s actually about using a portable recorder while you’re out hiking or wherever, and describing what you see as you walk. Thus writing through your descriptions. Anderson poses the question, “Instead of sitting at your cramped kitchen table typing away, instead, why not hike in a canyon overlooking the Colorado River?” He goes on and describes how, for the past twenty years, he’s relied on dictation to write his first draft, instead of writing it down on paper or using a computer keyboard.
Some people might say, “That’s what my imagination is for.” But let’s think about what Kevin says for a minute. Imagination is one thing, but to actually record what you are experiencing as it’s happening would be amazing. For one of his books, he “walked, smelling the frosty air, seeing my breath in front of me, and listening to the wind in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.” In other words, he used four of his senses to capture the feelings around him – and that’s what I believe makes a great writer. If you can capture what you see, hear, smell, and taste. If you can convey that, you’ve done your job. You’re walking through a forest and a stick jabs into your leg. You know what that feels like, because you’re going through it, right there in the moment. By dictating these feelings and emotions, you draw the reader in.
I’ve read that PIXAR and DISNEY send out teams of writers, artists, and photographers to locations to capture what that environment shows them on any given day. Why? Because they want their creative team to have first-hand knowledge of what the terrain looks like, from the smells to the way the clouds cling to the mountainsides. The photographers then shoot animals in their natural habitats. To have first-hand knowledge of your subject matter is priceless.
My challenge as a writer has always been to use my imagination similarly. And I believe many writers do the same. Yes, it can be lonely sitting at the kitchen table typing away, but it’s what we love to do. So if we can embrace every possible way to engage our readers, we’re doing something right. I’ve always been someone who believes in descriptive storytelling. To put your reader in the world that you’ve created and have them feel what you intended them to feel is the ultimate high.
Here is an excerpt from a short story I wrote in 2002, titled “The Unspoken Word.”
The blades of grass eventually warm themselves in the late morning sun, erasing the dew that once defined them. They wave in a melodic trance, as if they were weightless in a sea of nothingness.
My goal is always to have the reader imagine what I see or want them to see. I find great solace in that. So I leave you with a challenge to create your own world, whether you visit it in person and dictate it as your first draft, or imagine it and write everything you feel about that moment or series of moments. I’ll continue to provide my analysis and hope to see you soon.
Nick Nebelsky is President of Ideation at Intense Media, LLC. He is a certified app developer and specializes in creating software apps and media for mobile devices. To date, Nick has published, written, and illustrated 10 apps and two children’s books. He is currently writing his first YA fiction novel, based on his childhood in upstate New York.