Editing Tip #86 – Evoking the Senses pt.1: Sight

I know, you’re probably thinking, “All writing is based on what we see. That’s how 90% of all stories are told.” When actually, I would only agree to that statistic if you’re talking about highly edited and well-informed writing. In reality, many emerging writers tell a story – they don’t show it.

It’s one thing to write:

Samuel walked over the rope bridge. He was nervous but made it to the other side.

Many inexperienced writers (those who are still learning a lot about their craft but may not know it) will see this as a perfectly clear moment.

rope bridgeI know who the focus is on – Samuel

I know what he’s doing – walking

I know where he is – on a rope bridge

I know how he feels – nervous

I know what the outcome is – he makes it across

But this is telling. When you’re working on the craft of “SIGHT” in your writing this is how that one simple sentence might change:

Sweat dripped off Samuel’s forehead as he reached out a shaky hand to grasp either side of the rope bridge. The planks were all there but riddled with cracks and missing knots in the wood spoke of their true age. His chest heaved with wild breath. Placing one tentative sneakered foot on the first rung, he watched as the motion rippled the twenty-meter length to the other side. Sam glanced over the rough hemp-rail to the rocky stream bed below. He pushed down on the plank again. The metal supports spiked into the canyon’s edge drew the rope taunt and held firm. Sam closed then opened his eyes before taking the next step of a measured walk across the old bridge. On the other side, he fell to his knees and touched his wet forehead to the packed dusty earth.

In this version, we learn all the same information and oh, so much more:

We know what the bridge looks like – the state of the wooden planks, the kind of rope, the length, how it’s anchored to the rock…

We know how it’s affecting Sam – sweaty forehead, heaving chest, tentative sneaker, measured walk…

We know more about the setting – a dusty canyon, high above a rocky stream bed…

We see Sam’s nervousness – in the things he does and does not do…

In turn, as readers we’re far more engaged with what’s happening to Sam than we are in that first simple sentence. Here, tension and concern are teased out and that’s what a good set of visual images can do to punch up and make an impact in your writing.

So, when you’re going through your 2nd edit, look for moments where you skim over details that might add to the conflict, tension, suspense or further understanding of your characters. By no means should you go into this much detail if the moment is not important. Sometimes we do need to summarize events, but understanding when to breeze over a point and when to draw it out is all part of learning your craft.

Happy Editing!


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