Sometimes when I read narratives written by students, I find myself experiencing Polar Bear Syndrome. Have you heard of that? Picture a polar bear in a snowstorm, standing next to an igloo. Maybe he’s eating vanilla ice cream out of a white bowl. Got that picture in your head? What do you see? Yeah, white. Like a blank page. That’s Polar Bear Syndrome–no details.
The characters in your story should never exist inside a blank page. Close your eyes and picture the scene. Fill in the details with six senses (yes, I said six). What do you SEE? Describe colors, sizes, textures, action. What do you HEAR? Describe soft sounds and loud ones, and how voices sound. What do you SMELL? Not all smells are offensive! They can be strong or subtle, enticing or offputting. What do you TASTE? You can taste the air. You can taste fear. You can taste dinner, but please say more than, “It tasted good.” What are you TOUCHing? Describe texture and temperature, size and shape. What are you FEELing? This is the most important one! What are your characters’ emotions? I want to know if they are angry, jealous, in love, bored, or daydreaming. Show me how they feel.
Brainstorm lots and lots of details for every scene in your story, then select a few to leave out. Make the reader do SOME work and let them imagine some of the details (see the post about Thinking About Literature). The more real you make the background, the experience, and the characters’ emotions, the better your story will be.
CAUTION! Please do not suddenly insert a hamburger into a scene just so you can describe a taste. If there is no food, maybe you have a mouth dry with fear, or can taste the salty spray from the ocean. No taste at all? Leave it out before you put in something that doesn’t fit.
Try it! Post a comment describing a scene that we will fall right into.
On my Kindle: The Bum Magnet by K.L. Brady